There was a time when we actually used to make stuff in Britain, rather than just provide financial services and television talent show templates for the rest of the world. These products, especially those from the middle part of the 20th Century never had the elan of things made in say, Italy, but they reflected everything what we like and admire about ourselves: dependable, sturdy, unspectacular. Not going to let you down. Good value. Those sort of things.
The Roberts Revival radio reflects this spirit perfectly. A wooden box covered in leatherette and boasting a gold-coloured speaker grille on the front, it defines a pre-swinging London world of plain food, rationing and make-do-and-mend. Roberts had been making valve radios from their central London base since 1932, but it was only in 1958 that the company made the set that would define them – the RT1. A transistor radio, it wasn’t their first portable – the earlier R66 was the template for its instantly recognisable shape – but it was the best. With a battery life of two years and an unusually powerful speaker, it became the radio to own and a favourite with the young Queen Elizabeth II, who granted the company a Royal Charter in 1955. Say what you like about the Germans, they know quality when they see it.
The Revival (an updated RT1) is the sound (and sight) of middle England at home. Of course, its satisfyingly hollow interior provides excellent acoustics for music, but it’s primarily a radio for speech – ideally Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time or even better, Test Match Special. There’s something soothing about the timbre that immediately takes the listener back to childhood and far-off days at the grandparents’. It’s a radio for kitchens and garages – something to accompany life rather than to provide a distraction from it.
Like many British classics of the period, there are various twists on the Revival, but apart from the move from analogue to digital, outwardly at least, it remains the same. And while it was never meant as a fashion item, its unchanging, simple shape means that it complements the look of any room: from the messiest workshop to the most minimal apartment. A real turn-on indeed.
This article appears in the latest issue of Umbrella Magazine