Welcome to A Brit Excellent, a small celebration of British brands, foods, people and places that I love. Every week I give a little nod to our humour, our quirkiness and all the excellent things we make.
I have always loved the radio. The jaunty music from The Archers would waft from the kitchen where June had it on and we would fall asleep in the car as Dad listened to the football scores coming in. I remember hearing Zoe Ball on the school bus in the mornings and scribbling “M&M” on my revision the first time I heard Eminem being played. I fell in love with Sara Cox and would wait in the car after school to hear Comedy Dave’s tedious link. I grew up with Radio 1 but being up north I listened to The Revolution, Key 103 and XFM all the time as well. I went university in Aberystwyth where there wasn’t much in the way of hearing new music, so Jo Whiley was a lifeline to my beloved indie. I once impressed a lad in the student union by knowing all the words to Golden Touch by Razorlight, something I do owe to Jo.
My first Roberts Radio was baby pink and had DAB, which was terribly advanced then. Like contactless payment or going to Pluto might be now. DAB or “dab” as parents took to calling it, was new and exciting and it’s weird to think now that I work on a completely digital station compared to how foreign it was then. I had the baby pink leather one, June had the red one and had it again in cream for the summer house. I think there was one Christmas in particular when the only thing The Powells seemed to give each other was DAB radios.
Roberts began when a group of chaps started making portable radios from a little shop in London. The company was founded in 1932 by Harry Roberts and Leslie Bidmead, who sold his motorbike to pay for their factory. At first they could make only three radios a week but in 1940 they got a letter saying The Queen had bought a Roberts radio in Harrods. It turns out it was her second and she’s been buying them ever since.
There’s a lovely story of Stan, who remembers Harry coming up the stairs in the factory with a tray of champagne for everyone and saying Roberts Radio had been appointed as radio manufacturer to Queen Elizabeth II. Roberts now have two Royal Warrants, still to Liz and also The Prince of Wales.
In 1956 they created the first Revival radios, which are the rectangular ones covered in leather with the grill across the front that June and I have. Harry had been inspired by the design of his wife’s handbag for it. In the 1980s Roberts went through a bit of a low but when the R200 radio appeared in Martini advert, suddenly everyone wanted one again. Now they make the Revival radio in over sixteen colours, including baby pink.
In 1999 they created their first DAB radio and then began to sell BBC World Service branded radios for when you’re on holiday or if you really like the BBC World Service. Apparently, for many years only Roberts radios were permitted in UK prisons, but I don’t know what the set up is in there anymore.
Roberts say they are proud to make radios that last and I still have baby pink one, splattered with pasta sauce and marmite from living in the kitchen. I moved it to next to my bed earlier this year when my boyfriend bought me a hot pink Revival Mini, which I am completely in love with. The hot pink I think was limited edition and the sale of it made a contribution to Breast Cancer Care, which makes me feel proud to have the little guy next to the bread bin. Roberts still sell the most portable radios in the UK and I am delighted that I can cart around my little radio from bathroom to bedroom to kitchen.
I love is how iconic they are, you can spot them a mile off and everyone knows exactly what you mean when you mention one. To the point that June rang me the other day yelling “There’s a rat in the cat shed!! It’s the size of a Robert’s Radio!!”