31 May 2015

Wells Coated Ekco

Four of Ekco's five round radios (not the AD75) were available for special order in a variety of colours, the cabinet formed of urea formaldehyde instead of the usual Bakelite. There are understood to be extant just three genuine colour A22s - two red ones, and a marbled green one, this last made especially for the 1946 Britain Can Make It exhibition. There are known to survive two genuine green AD65s - one was sold in 1993 by Academy Auctioneers of Ealing for £17,500 - and possibly a genuine ivory one. Beyond that, all sightings of colour Ekcos are either speculative, or of copies/fakes.

Gerry Wells, who died in December 2014, famous in vintage radio circles, made wooden reproductions of Ekco AD65s. The presenter of a TV programme on which Wells appeared said that Bakelite had been used by Ekco as it was impossible to make the round shape of the cabinets in wood. Gerry proved the theory wrong by forming the front panel from turned and routed MDF and the cylindrical body from steamed plywood.

The Wells copies are proper valve sets, made in batches of 15. The first six sets, made in 1993, were exact copies of the original, including the chassis. Some later sets were jointly made by Gerry, Eileen Laffey and Tina Sandell, of the British Vintage Wireless and Television Museum, Dulwich. Some were fitted with a solid state FM front end by Benito di Gravio, also of the museum. A final batch, of 17 sets, with the correct chassis but an added FM head, was made in 2006 by Wells, Ian Johnson, and di Gravio.

The cabinets were spray-painted in a variety of colours, most commonly marbled green, red and ivory - the colours of the rare genuine survivors. Others were sprayed brown, black, light green, yellow, white, and blue. (A blue one was given to John Paul Getty II, a patron of the museum.) The very first set was marbled green. Eileen's own one-off set was Marks & Spencer green, and Tina's one-off set was a slightly metallic dark blue. The final batch included one each in silver, chrome, camouflage, two-toned metallic, and pink. The very last set was ivory.

The set pictured was Tina's own. The chassis was built, under the tuition of Gerry, by Sandell, who started as a Saturday girl at the museum in 1993. It has a FM front end, and was completed by Benito (by whom it is signed) in July 1996. Tina, from whom the set was acquired, confirmed that Wells had intended to make more AD65 copies than the 152 that are thought to have been made. Someone, though, took from the museum the form used to guide routing of the front panels.

The cabinet of the AD65 was largely designed by the architect Wells Coates. The original sets have printed on the back that they were made at the Ekco works, Southend-on-Sea. In a play on names, and referring to the spray-painting process, a Gerry Wells reproduction AD65 sports a label stating that the set is a RAD65, a "Wells Coated Radio", made in Dulwich.

25 May 2015

Zwolle - Foundation Museum

The building that now houses the fine art collection of the Museum de Fundatie - the Museum Foundation - has had a number of lives. It started as a courthouse, built between 1838 and 1841 by Eduard Louis de Coninck, of The Hague.

The neoclassical building was renovated in 1977 to provide offices for the Netherlands' National Planning Department. The architect who oversaw this work, Arne Mastenbroek, returned in 1994 to convert the building into a museum. Architect Gunnar Daan had his turn in 2004/05, when the museum was adapted for the display of fine art.

The rugby ball-shaped roof extension was added in 2012/13 under the auspices of the architectural practice Bierman Henket. The two storey ovoid is covered with 55,000 blue and white three-dimensional tiles that mirror the sky above.

16 May 2015

Stockport Air Raid Shelters

Stockport's civilian air raid shelters, although far from being the largest in the land as claimed by the city's museum, did open in good time, in October 1939, the month after war was declared. Construction had commenced in September 1938, a rare instance of local authority foresight.

Cut into the soft red sandstone that underlies the city, the shelters provided accommodation for up to 6,500 people. Seven feet high and with a total length of just under a mile, the shelters were fitted out with benches, bunk beds, warden posts, first aid posts, small canteens, tool stores, male and female toilets, and electric lighting.

This was 'plush' by WWII air raid shelter standards, and led to the section of the shelters that can be visited by the public being nick-named the Chestergate Hotel. The nearby Brinksway and Dodge Hill shelters are not accessible to the uninitiated. The shelter complex was essentially closed by 1943.