IN BUGLE 805 we printed a selection of photographs taken from old BSR promotional material that had kindly been brought to us by Brian Siviter of Rowley Regis, and this week we have more pictures taken on the factory floor. Brian briefly worked at BSR in the 1960s but his father, Clarrie Siviter, worked there for many years. The pictures reprinted here have been given to us by another ex-BSR employee, Harry Houghton of Kingswinford.
Harry said: "I was interested in the pictures of BSR and the mention of Clarrie Siviter. I remember him very well and I have a photograph of the two of us together."
The photograph was taken for another promotional leaflet for the BSR apprentice training scheme. Harry had joined BSR in 1959 and first worked as an apprentice in the toolroom. He then went on to be a trainee production engineer. The photograph shows a smart young Harry, wearing a suit, standing next to Clarrie Siviter in his white coat as they inspect the work on one of the production lines. The photograph was taken some time in the early 1960s.
Harry has a second photograph, also taken for the apprentice brochure. This shows him in the paintshop, standing alongside Bill Laville.
Neither of these pictures were used in the final brochure but another photograph of Harry did appear, this time showing him in the toolroom.
The late 1950s and early '60s was a period of rapid growth for BSR. Under the heading 'Careers with a Future' the recruitment brochure says, 'The need for skilled technicians in industry is ever increasing. It is the same at BSR Limited - and with our expansion programme accelerating our needs in generally greater than many other industries. BSR Limited is a young and virile company with developing interests throughout the world. Over 70% of BSR products are exported and there are manufacturing plants and distribution networks in many overseas countries. Our main factories in the United Kingdom are located at Old Hill, Staffs., Stourbridge, Worcs., Londonderry and Drumahoe, Northern Ireland and East Kilbride in Scotland. Subsidiary companies manufacture small tools, drills, reamers and various other machine tools and automobile equipment and accessories.'
From humble beginnings in the Black Country BSR had grown to be the biggest maker of record turntables in the world. The business was founded by Daniel Mclean McDonald, who was born 4th September, 1905, at Fort William, Scotland, the son of a grocer. After graduating from Glasgow University with a degree in electrical engineering Daniel went to work for British Thompson Houston at Rugby in 1927, designing amplifiers.
In 1929 Daniel transferred to the BTH works in Cakemore Road, Blackheath, and he went to live in lodgings with Ben and Sadie Shepherd in Highfield Road, Blackheath. Ben was foreman at T. W. Lench, and Daniel became friends with the Shepherd's son, Percy, who worked as a toolmaker at Lench's.
In 1930 Daniel left BTH, deciding to strike out on his own, making amplification equipment, working either in his lodgings or at Percy Shepherd's house. The situation was far from ideal so Daniel set out to find a workshop of his own. The following account is taken from Just for the Record: The Story of BSR and its Employees by Alan R. Cox and published by Black Country Publications in 1997:
"During 1931 Daniel had decided on a small workshop to deal with the variety of work in hand. He found a suitable outbuilding locally, which stood in the rear garden of Ben and Arthur Tromans, in Perry Park Road, a mere 500 yards from his lodgings.
"It was a brick-built, 400 square feet workshop, previously used to manufacture bellows for supply to the local nail-making tradesmen, so common to the area around the turn of the century. However, trade had all but disappeared so the Tromans brothers had turned their hands to a business in tailoring, which they were able to run from the house.
"The house and out-buildings were constructed in 1907, built by the Tromans brothers themselves. The location itself was quite isolated as it was the only residence standing near the top of the road - The workshop which Daniel rented was actually half of the original unit and initially access was through the area containing the forge, occasionally still in use at that time. A disagreement between the brothers had led to the unit, and even the house, being divided into two between them.
"Existing workbenches were utilised, fly presses, a small guillotine and all the other tools of the trade were installed and Daniel would eagerly stroll the short distance very early each morning and stay engrossed in his work until quite late at night."
It was at this workshop, at rear of 41/42 Perry Park Road, that Daniel founded Birmingham Sound Reproducers in January 1932.
BSR quickly established a strong reputation, particularly for its public address equipment. In May 1932 BSR took on its first employee, Nancy Rotham, to do the bookkeeping and office work. In June that year Percy Shepherd left Lench's and joined BSR and in December Daniel married Percy's sister Winifred in a service at Old Hill parish church.
In January 1933 BSR moved to part of a joinery yard, in Claremont Street, Old Hill. From these premises the growth of BSR really took off. The production of record changers and turntables in the 1950s saw rapid expansion. In 1951 BSR opened a factory in Derry, Northern Ireland. 1953 saw BSR move to new headquarters, the Monarch Works in Powke Lane, Old Hill. In 1954 the BSR factory in Australia opened. In 1957 BSR floated on the stock exchange and two years later BSR built a new factory at Wollaston, Stourbridge, re-routing the course of the river Stour.
In 1968 Daniel McDonald retired and sold much of his shares in the business. However, in 1971 he set up a new business, Glenburn Engineering, as a rival to BSR with premises in East Kilbride and Wollaston and attracting many BSR workers to join him. This led to BSR buying out Glenburn Engineering in 1974 for £4 million. By 1977 BSR was at its height, making over 250,000 units a week, with almost 90% going to export. BSR made a staggering 87% of all the world's turntables for all the leading manufacturers of record players. It employed many thousands of men and women in the Black Country, and bussed in more workers from further afield.
However, disaster was just around the corner. In 1978 a sudden strengthening of the pound against the US Dollar saw a dramatic fall in profits and orders. Far Eastern manufacturers then began to make deep inroads into BSR's customer base. The result was a terrible slump for BSR, with thousands made redundant. The factories in Old Hill were closed in 1983 and a year later the last BSR record deck was made. Work continued at the Wollaston site under the name of Astec (BSR) Plc, producing power units for computers and other such items. Daniel McDonald passed away, aged 85, on 26th February, 1991, and in 1997 the Wollaston factory was sold to Sunrise Medical.
We have a final picture of Harry Houghton, taken at the Powke Lane works in February 1960, when he was a young apprentice in the toolroom.