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Widget Of The Week

Benkson 65 LW/MW Radio, 1963

Remember Woolworths? The chain of shops that sold everything from sweets to saucepans was a fixture in British high streets for almost 100 years. In 2008 the company went into administration and a year later all of its UK stores had closed. Usually that’s the end of the story but remarkably, some of the products sold by Woolies have attracted the attention of collectors, with prices to match. At a recording of the Antiques Roadshow in Kent in 2016 I watched in amazement as one of the show’s experts waxed lyrical over what I thought were a pair of tacky hand-painted wine glasses. Apparently they had been made exclusively for Woolworths in the fifties and originally sold for 10 shillings (50 pence); the expert estimated their present value at £75.00! I doubt that this little Benkson 65 two-band radio, sold more or less exclusively by Woolworths in the early 60s, will ever get on the telly, or be worth anything like those glasses, but it’s probably worth a little more than it originally cost. What makes it interesting though is that it beat the odds and survived, and it might even stir a few memories for those of us who grew up in the 1960s, when secretly listening to pirate radio stations under the blankets was considered quite rebellious -- it was a more innocent time….

 

Benkson was almost a Woolworth’s house brand for radios and small tape recorders, though some of their products also turned up in larger branches of Boots. The Benkson 65 was the step-up model from a cheaper Medium Wave only model. I know that because that was the first proper transistor radio I ever owned when I was a lad. The addition of Long Wave reception added another ten shillings to the price, which put it beyond my meagre pocket money and paper round income. The 65, like its more rudimentary stable mate, is a 6-transistor superhetrodyne receiver, a fairly ordinary design, housed in a purple plastic case and apart from the cosmetics and extra waveband, it was similar to hundreds, if not thousands of pocket transistor radios being made in Hong Kong at the time. The only other significant difference between the two Benkson models was the layout. My MW only tranny was a typical upright shirt-pocket shape; the 65 is a near identical design but in what amounts to ‘landscape’ orientated case. This makes it look a little larger and possibly a bit more grown up. I may be reading more into the shape than it deserves but my guess is the addition of Long Wave – better for receiving the BBC’s Home Service (now Radio 4) in out of the way places -- the shape, and the fact that it came with a sturdy leather carry case, may have been meant to appeal to adults, who could easily afford the extra ten bob.

 

We needn’t dwell on ease of use and performance. There are just three controls: on/off volume and tuning thumbwheels and a wave change switch, oh yes, and it sounds quite tinny. The fact that it still works says a lot for the build quality, or more likely it has been well looked after and spent most of the past 50 plus years in its case, in the back of a drawer. I found it at a local car boot sale – where else – and the slightly tatty leather case and the stallholder saying that it didn’t work helped me to negotiate the price down from £5.00 to £1.00. He might have even got his fiver if he had bothered to install a fresh battery because that was all that was wrong with it. Normally I am prepared to do a bit of work on old transistor radios but apart from a new battery and a few minutes spent cleaning the case, inside and out, the only small defect is the name badge. This has faded with time but it’s really not a problem. They are really easy to replicate by scanning the original and after restoring the logo with some digital trickery a very passable facsimile can be printed onto spray painted OHP film.

 

What Happened To It?

The name and fate of the Far Eastern company that made it will probably never be known. In sixties Hong Kong there were countless small factories churning out these things but it seems likely that this radio, and the Benkson badge was commissioned by UK importers, Benkert Ltd, based in Mare Street in Hackney. The name appears on at least a dozen portable radios, various toys, mini TVs and several small rim-drive and cassette tape recorders sold by Woolies from the early 60s and later, by independent retailers, up until the mid 1980s. The tape recorders include the Benkson 79, and one of my all-time favourites, the Benkson 68 ‘Thunderbirds’ machine, also featured in dustygizmos. Tracing the fortunes of Benkert Ltd has proved quite difficult. There is a Benkert UK Ltd in Scotland, part of a German owned multinational, but since they appear to be involved in the manufacture cigarettes it seems unlikely they are connected to the Benkert Ltd responsible for this radio.

 

To be clear the Benkson 65 is not an unusual design. It has no notable features but there are not many of them around – if any -- and for me at least the brand will always be associated with Woolworths. Unfortunately it’s a somewhat obscure connection and I doubt that it adds anything to its value. It may even be the sold survivor; I have yet to see another one on ebay, but if and when does appear it will probably sell for as much as similar models, typically between £5 and £50, depending on the brand, condition and whether or not it comes with its original box. If it has any added value it is in the memories it conjures. On the other hand its relative obscurity can be a good thing and it means that there is still a fair chance of picking up old radios like this one for a few pounds, but maybe not for much longer. The supply is finite and if they ever appear on the Antiques Roadshow you can kiss those boot sale bargains goodbye.


First seen:                    1963?

Original Price:             39/6 - £1.95 (1217)

Value Today:               £5.00

Features:                     MW/LW tuning, 6-transistor superhetrodyne, ferrite antenna, 60mm speaker, 3.5mm jack earphone socket, rotary volume on/off & tuning, leather carry case with strap

Power req.                       1 x 9 volt PP3 battery

Dimensions:                     116 x 83 x 35mm

Weight:                            255g

Made (assembled) in:       Hong Kong

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest)      5



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