Keracolor Design Introduced in 1966, Eero Aarnio’s futuristic Ball Chair made regular appearances on the ITC television series The Prisoner, filmed in 1966-67. With the arrival three years later of the similar sphere-shaped Keracolor televisions, designed in England by Arthur Bracegirdle, the Keracolor’s spherical design might have been inspired by Number Two’s Ball Chair on The Prisoner, and perhaps also the mysterious spherical bubble nicknamed “Rover”, which emitted a high-pitched whine and an occasional frightening roar as it patrolled the surreal prison environment of The Village, intercepting any would-be escapees. It is sometimes misreported that the Keracolor designs were inspired by an astronaut’s helmet “after watching the first moon landing” and similarly – that they were designed to resemble the spherical Sputnik satellite launched in 1957. Both theories have been vehemently denied by Arthur Bracegirdle himself.
The Keracolor is an example of pure space age design, a movement that made considerable use of spheres. Its design is consistent with the work of modernist designers of the ‘50s and ‘60s (such as Eero Aarnio, and Charles and Ray Eames) who eschewed traditional forms, substituting futuristic uses of basic streamlined shapes and testing the limits of new materials. The swivel tulip base used on some of the Keracolors resembles the Tulip chair of Finnish-American industrial designer Eero Saarinen. Tulip bases also appear on more conventional television stands of this period, sometimes with a tilt adjustment. The Keracolor’s design was envisaged in 1968, which defines it as a product of sixties modernism, although the sets didn’t go on sale until late 1970. Readers familiar with The Prisoner will recall how the opening sequence incorporated claps of thunder, timed for dramatic effect. Resonating with this is the name – Keracolor. It was derived from the Greek word keraunos – meaning “thunderbolt”. The Keracolor brand was described as being “synonymous in the television industry with the very latest and most modern and up-to-date design concept in the world”. The “U” in KERACOLOR was left out for aesthetic reasons – in order for the brand name to look symmetrical when displayed adjacent to other controls on the side of the set.
Electronic, Arthur Bracegirdle was both a designer and businessman, but he lacked the technical knowledge to install the Electrical components required to put his new design into production, therefore in the spring of 1970 he placed a job advertisement in The Manchester Evening News for a qualified colour television engineer, the advert was answered by a young and talented television engineer by the name of Howard Taylor.
The pair arranged to meet one evening in a pub in Wilmslow, Cheshire, over a beer the pair decided they could work together on the new project which at time Howard hadn’t even seen, therefore the pair arranged a second meeting at Arthur’s home in Cheshire a couple of days later. When Howard arrived at Arthur’s home the pair entered Arthur’s garage under great secrecy, this was the first time Howard would see the ground breaking spherical design & he was taken back by the beauty of the design. The combination of Arthur’s business attributes and Howard’s technical ability proved to be a winning combination in the success of Keracolor. It was decided that Arthur would approach Decca Televisions with a view to using their 10 series chassis in the first cabinets, along with the Mullard colour picture tubes that Decca were using at that time. Decca Managing Director Mr Spencer was very pleased & excited about the project as their own design team had been working on a sphere-shaped cabinet which following the success of Keracolor never made it into production, the original plan was to use the Decca 10 series chassis, but Aurther was offer Decca new 30 series chassis instead which was being manufactured in Decca new Northern factor in Bradford, this later became know as the “Decca Bradford Chassis” this new design had advantages as it had removable panels. Howard then set about installing all of the new components, this was not a straightforward task as special brackets had to be fabricated, a special wooden shelf made for the chassis to sit on, they also designed a swivel mechanism so that the entire set could be easily rotated there was also a wooden wedge fitted so that TV viewing angles could be adjusted. The Decca chassis available at this time used valves, which generated a great deal of heat in the fibre glass case, the heat build-up in the cabinets was managed in part by convection, this aloud a large volume of air in the cabinet to circulated and dissipate the heat from the valves evenly. This allowed for fewer unsightly air vents in the back of the set. Once the various design problems had been worked out, the pair built the prototype Keracolor.
Cabinets, The first production run of Keracolor cabinets was made using fibreglass (GRP). There were floor-standing models, ceiling models, hanging versions, and even a conventional square table model. Cabinets could be ordered in any colour or even with a teak wood grain effect. Beautiful white and sophisticated black were the most recommended colours (to match any décor). The 26” model with a built-in Decca 8-track cartridge player fitted (with twin speakers for full stereo) was considered the top of the line. It took twelve months to build a wooden sphere from which a fibreglass mould could be taken. The first cabinet was produced by a company called Waterside Plastics Ltd. located in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, Northeast of Manchester. Interestingly, the following year, Waterside built one of the space-age “Futuro” fibreglass leisure houses. The utopian prefabricated “Futuro” dwellings were originally designed in 1968 by a Finnish architect – Matti Suuronen. The pair assembled the first 100 Keracolors whilst still working in Arthur’s garage, before they moved production to a factory on Middlewich Road, Northwich Cheshire in 1970. At this point they were still using Waterside Plastics to produce the cabinets until there was some kind of falling out. They then moved production of the cabinets to another company that made a small number of cabinets, but due to the poor workmanship from this second company (not using enough resin in the making of the cabinets) Arthur decided that the only way to maintain quality was to make the cabinets themselves.
The first Keracolor was supplied to Harrods of London in late 1970, priced at £375, with another four sets delivered the following week. The exclusive exposure of the Keracolor in Harrods was a very shrewd marketing move by Arthur – it catapulted the new design into the public eye. Once people heard about the ground breaking design in Harrods they asked their local dealers were they could but the Keracolors Televisions. Orders started to arrive, many of the dealers were a little skeptical about these new sphere TVs until they discovered they were fitted with the Decca Bradford (30 series) chassis which had a good had a reputation for reliability, and service information and spare parts were readerly available. In some of the very later Keracolors, the Decca 80 and 100 series chassis were used, and special order sets were also produced with Decca first remote control TV, the remote that came with the sets were RC1 a very basic Sonic clicker device.
The sales brochures at the time read “KERACOLOR offer a picture with crystal clear clarity, controls as easy as any, sound from the centre, in fact a safety-first set of British design and British manufacture — in all a colour receiver for the connoisseur”.