© Steven.D.C.Ostler 1998

  Retrovisor Metropolis


The Retrovisor was an up-to-date colour television receiver with a difference. It was based on a classic British design - the Bush TV22 !  Only 48 of these sets were ever made. Most featured built-in rabbits ears or loop aerials, remote control and on-screen display when adjusting the controls. Various cabinet colours were available. The Retrovisor was on the market between May 1993 and February 1995.


How it all began.

In 1986 I founded Radiocraft, a business which specialises in the restoration and supply of vintage radios to the the general public. Almost right from the start, it became plain that only a few of the vintage radios available were always the most popular. These were sets such as the 'ovaltiney' Philips 634A and the 'round' Ekcos. Since the supply of such sets was limited, I found this frustrating. Many sales were lost due to my inability to obtain the exact type of set a customer wanted.

I started to ask myself what could be done. By concentrating on obtaining the few most popular sets I was just helping to push the price levels ever higher. But if I could create from scratch a product that could be just as sought after as these radios, I thought I could be on to something.

Looking back at the regular 'photopacks' detailing my restored radios and which were despatched to all on my mailing list in the '80s, I see for Christmas 1988 I was promising a new product to be released in the near future called 'RRT'. This 'project number' actually stood for 'Radiocraft Replica Television' and the illustration showed a Bush TV22 with a colour picture inserted (photographically) onto its screen. This was the idea for the product which was later to become the Retrovisor television. And the 'RRT' was later to pop up again, for the new product's model number was to become: 'RRT 1950'.

In the following years various studies were undertaken to explore the feasibility of the project. I remember I commissioned one by an associate at the time called Terry Harvey. Terry was a Canadian engineer working at the time for the BBC here in Britain. His, incidentally was the working 1938 Baird T18 receiver which had the distinction of being shown at the final closedown of the BBC's 405-line service from Crystal Palace. This receiver had earlier passed through my hands but Terry had completed its restoration. In fact it was nearly never shown at the closedown. Following a special reception that evening at the B.B.C. for those who had been involved, the 405-line service was summarily taken off the air. But it was then re-opened later that same evening following a special request. But that's another story...

Back to Terry's commission: He studied the feasibility of producing a 14-inch version of the Bush TV22 shape, since 14-inch tube chasses were far cheaper to obtain than 10-inch ones. But we didn't want to change the overall 'look' of the cabinet, which we considered central to the charm of the TV22 . Obviously our priorities were different from what Bush's had been, since, presumably seeking to keep the design up-to-date and accomodate a larger tube, they went on to develop in the early 'fifties the TV32 and TV62, which were more 'slab-sided' in appearance. The only way we found it possible to fit a 14-inch tube to the TV22 cabinet was to add 42mm of width and mount the tube well back - just behind the the cabinet 'shoulders'. The extra width resulted in a broader frontal appearance which looked impressive but decidedly 'american'. This was not pursued.

I remember in about 1991 I mounted an exhibition of my radios at a craft fair situated in a public shopping mall. This was at the invitation of one of my customers who regularly organised such events. On my stand I displayed a working Bush TV22. The response was fantastic !  The public had never seen anything like it. I had crowds of people gazing goggled-eyed at this wonderful working piece of television history. The impact quite put my radios in the shade. There were many requests to buy the TV22 and of course I had to spend a lot of time explaining why such a set would be impossible to use to watch today's 625-line UHF programmes. This event left me with a strong resolve to produce a set with this sort of dramatic appeal and which could be used with today's programmes !  And so I started developing the new product in earnest.

In 1992 I started work, hoping to have something ready to show by the time of the following year's national vintage communications fair at the N.E.C. in May. To make a go of this, I needed to be able to manufacture these sets without too much initial capital investment being required. This would mean making the cabinets and buying the modern tv chasses in small quantities to start with. I soon learned that it just wasn't possible to buy bare tv chasses in the small quantities I required, so it would be necessary to purchase complete sets. In any case I was told that the proportion of value in the cabinets compared with the electronics was minimal and would have barely affected the price. The various manufacturers I approached didn't seem to mind what use I intended to put their sets to, so long as their name wasn't implicated and they had no responsibility for service cover. From their point of view all sales were good news and if I was going to become a good customer, so much the better !



How to get the cabinets made to a good standard at an affordable price was more than a problem than might be expected. Injection moulding would require a mould tool costing fify to a hundred thousand pounds. Apart from being out of my price range this would be a risky course to follow while the size of the potential market was still unknown. Low cost tooling was essential to start with. I looked at all the options, ruling out nothing.. I first considered pottery. As expected it turned out the finish would be very good but the cabinet would be prohibitively heavy and brittle. The 'toilet-bowl-televisor' was therefore to remain a fantasy !  There seemed to be simply one option - fibreglass. But would the quality be up to scratch ?

A bakelite-style 'marbled' look would be very difficult (and expensive) to obtain in fibreglass. Indeed, the brown cabinets were to always prove a problem throughout the Retrovisor's production run. Brown cabinets had a tendency to turn out a lot lighter than expected from the colour chart, and unless the brown was very dark they never ever did look right without a marbling pattern. As a result I later tended to more heavily promote the black and cream models, which looked correct with plain colours.

Talking of the colours, I considered all sorts of these as options. To begin with, I wanted to try out all sorts of ideas on this beautiful shape !  First, there were the black and there were the cream models. The idea was to supply the black with chrome trim, making a 'black & chrome' format, In fact, because of difficulty in moulding and fixing original TV22-style knobs (which were to be plated) there was only one true black-and-chrome model ever built; the majority were actually 'black with contrasting bright trim'. However the shade of the cream model was made to be an exact match to the Bush cream used at the same time as the TV22 - on their DAC90A radio. So if ever there had been a cream TV22 it would have been this colour !  I always thought this turned out to be one of the more successful Retrovosor options and this colour was always my favourite.

In November 1992 I took a TV22 cabinet along to a local glassfibre moulder for copying and left it with him. From the start I specified a special fire-retardant fibreglass resin on all the cabinets. Sure enough there turned out to be quality problems. The sharp-ridged profiles of the original wrap-round TV22 grille could not be reliably reproduced in fibreglass gel and suffered from chipping. The only possibility was to soften the corners and mould to a smoother curved profile. Once this was done, the process worked. The finished cabinet now even had the correct dense sound when rapped with the knuckle - similar to bakelite !  It felt and looked solid and the finish was pretty good.

But not only the cabinet had to be specially made. A cabinet back had to be specially designed and moulded to protect the tube neck and give easy access to the rear controls. Also the screen mask (framing the picture) had to exactly frame a 4:3 aspect ratio on a modern square-profile 10-inch colour tube while maintaining the correct 'vintage' appearance. And a separate front screen glass was necessary to complete the illusion. For various reasons, it was also found advantageous to make the cabinet a little deeper than that of the TV22, but the cabinet's back was in turn to be rather flatter. All this meant substantial design and tooling effort.

The first knobs were initially moulded - in the same way as the cabinets. This proved unsatisfactory. There were chipping problems and also difficulties with mounting them neatly and firmly on their spindles. The original TV22 knob had been push-on using a heavily recessed shaft. This was very difficult to achieve in fibreglass gel and in any case there wasn't now enough room to take the recess. All but the very first Retrovisors were therefore to use (modified) bought-in knobs.

Unfortunately the moulder soon started to report problems maintaining consistent results without spending an inordinate amount of time on each cabinet. He now didn't want to go on, and so we parted company. By now the Retrovisor had just been launched. But I had lost the means to manufacture any more cabinets !

We needed to find another cabinet moulder - and fast. I was recommended a young man who was now starting up afresh following recently having left a larger firm. I went along to see him in Marlow. He was busy promoting a new process called 'cultured marble' which was a light-weight ceramic material and which could be moulded into any almost shape. This process also promised the easy replication of a bakelite-style brown marbled finish.

But he proved unreliable, partly due to the many other demands on his time. The cabinets themselves were of poor quality and I repeatedly had to reject them. Since I was by then desperate for more cabinet sets (cabinets, backs, masks) urgently I took him up on his offer to have another go, working in fibreglass. But then there were still more problems - with warpage and colour uniformity. By now I had had enough. So, in December 1993 I sued - for the losses I had incurred due to his incompetence and broken deadlines. In the event we settled before the case came to court.

Following the debacle with the second cabinet moulder it was necessary to find yet another. Fortunately this time I was luckier. Another contact recommended an excellent firm, Cee-jay Ltd of Great Dunmow, Essex. From my point of view, the only problem was their location. Essex was 140 miles from my home in Sedgeberrow with no major roads running in the right direction. Regular visits were needed to oversee things and the journeys became long-winded and expensive. But they were worthwhile. One of the first jobs Cee-jay insisted on doing was to make a complete set of new moulds. This meant more money out of the pot but this time the job was done properly. A flange was added all around the rear of the revised cabinet which made it much more rigid and less prone to warpage. Cee-jay were soon producing excellent cabinets and these cabinets were fitted with the MkII chassis. This revised Mark II was designated the Mark IIa.



The launch was scheduled for May 1993. The early months of 1993 were hectic as I kept busy re-engineering the chosen chassis - a Nikkai unit from Taiwan - to adapt it for use in the new Retrovisor cabinet. I had to bear in mind also that everything I did had to be practical and cost-effective to reproduce in a mass production environment. A lot of the work was concerned with ensuring the vital user controls came out to just the two knobs at the front. The chassis was mounted vertically to one side, with the speaker on the opposing side. Since the grille flutes of the Retrovisor cabinet were now smoothly curved, I considered it too unsightly to keep the speaker at the front, since the speaker orifices were now much more visible than they had been when facing downwards under the slats - as in the TV22.

The job was done in time for the launch at the N.E.C.- when five Retrovisors were fielded. But in August 1993, only three months later, a serious problem arose. The Nikkai units around which the Retrovisor had been engineered ceased to become available. I was told that henceforth I would still be able to obtain them, but only in a minimum quantity of one container-load at a time. That would be 700 sets !  Clearly this wasn't an option for me. As a result I now had to set immediately to work and re-engineer the Retrovisor all over again. A new Alba/Goodmans unit originating from Malaysia was chosen and this in turn necessitated a re-design on the cabinet-back moulding to give it enough room. Again the following year (1994), another Alba/Goodmans unit (this time made in China) was fitted. Consequently the Retrovisor had to be revised internally every year during its production. It ran to three different editions, designated as Mk I, II and III.


Special editions.

While discussing production matters it's worth mentioning the three Retrovisor models where only one of each was ever made. The first was a true black-and-chrome model . The cabinet was black with a coachline of bright trim and the knobs were copies of the TV22 design plated in chromium. This set was purchased at the May 1993 launch by a well-known dealer from the midlands.

The second 'special' Retrovisor was maroon in colour. It was manufactured to order - to match the 1930s decor of the room in Harrow which was used to shoot our colour sales brochure. This set was given to the owner of the room in lieu of payment.

The third set was the Retrovisor with an 'all-chrome-look' cabinet. This used a standard enclosure coated with a conducting surface and then heavily plated in nickel over copper. The result was a much heavier cabinet with a mirror finish that looked like it had been carved out of solid metal. The bright nickel finish actually had a slightly warmer tone than chrome so the set looked as if it were hewn from solid silver !  Even if it had been possible, this experimental model would have been prohibitively expensive to produce commercially. I could only find one plating firm in the UK who could handle a cabinet of this size and even then they swore they would never attempt another !  Nevertheless the one they did make turned out to be very fine and I have retained this set ever since for my personal use. This model - the very top of the range - I have called the 'Retrovisor Imperial'.



Marketing is a vital part of any business venture and one often overlooked by beginners. This is unwise, because few people will risk buying a product lacking a recognised brand identity, especially when it's relatively expensive. Unfortunately effective marketing and 'brand positioning' costs a lot of money and this can put it out of reach of the smallest ventures. To keep costs under control I realised I would have to link up with friends who were skilled in marketing and who would be prepared to share the risk - with their fees related to actual eventual sales. An old friend of mine, Graham Gosling offered to help. He and a partner, Alan Wood, operated a marketing consultancy operation called DeBray Ltd. They put together a plan for the Retrovisor's launch which was to climax in a celebrity event featuring Linford Christie, the well-known athlete. Their plan was initially aimed at supplying sets in large quantities to up-market hotels - in order to lend a touch of individuality (and added value) to their rooms. For various reasons this never came to pass and fairly early on DeBray Ltd and I amicably parted company in favour of an association with Bryan Webb who ran - and runs - with his wife Lou, a successful marketing & management consultancy company called Wizard Solutions in Alton, Hants. Bryan was to acquire two Retrovisors and, being a collector himself (and a 405-Aliver), understood very well what the Retrovisor was 'all about'. He had plenty of marketing ideas and was to supply me with monthly progress reports. He remained in charge of marketing throughout the Retrovisor project.

On May 16th 1993, the Retrovisor was launched at the U.K National Vintage Communications Fair at the N.E.C. in Birmingham. The full range of the new sets was on display. Bryan and I had no idea what the response would actually be. In the event there was lots of interest - but little of it was serious. The display did create quite a stir . Nothing of the Retrovisor's like had ever been seen before. There had been no other 'retro-t.v' on the market anywhere in the world. Two sets were sold during the day, but both these were to people who had got wind of what was happening before the show and decided to act fast. Virtually everybody to whom we spoke thought it was a 'great idea' but few seriously considered dipping into their pockets, or perhaps thought they would take their time before deciding. The Retrovisor was again displayed at the N.E.C. National Vintage Communications Fair in the following year (1994), but with similarly disappointing results. It became clear that the N.V.C.F might well be an excellent swap-meet for collectors but perhaps was not a suitable venue for selling products such as the Retrovisor. We also had a similar experience at the Art Deco Fair in Greenwich. Bryan and I now were to concentrate on more conventional up-market outlets, initially in the London area..

Part of any marketing effort is the use of effective promotional literature. Following the launch, Bryan and I were soon hammering out the text and design of a new colour brochure. We agreed the image we needed to project should be unashamedly 'yuppie' with more than a touch of 'Dan Dare' early 'fifties space-fiction style thrown in. The computer setting work was carried out by D.V.A. Ltd in Basingstoke. Photography was undertaken by Alan Seawell in London on a recomendation by Bryan. Strangely, I had encountered Alan before. As a boy he had lived with his family in the same house in Ealing where I had had 'digs'. This was back in the early 'seventies when he was about 13.

We now needed a suitable setting for the photographic 'shoot'. I knew someone who had been a loyal Radiocraft customer and who lived in a perfectly restored 1930s semi in Harrow with all the original '30s fitments right down to the carpets. In fact it was through this person I had originally met Bryan Webb !  It was arranged to use his front parlour for the shoot. In payment it was agreed I would supply a special-edition maroon Retrovisor to match this room. This model, the 'Arcadia' is mentioned above as one of the one-off 'specials'. To the best of my knowledge it continues sit in the same room to this day. The shoot went ahead and the brochure eventually was released in early 1994

There was now a big push to get the Retrovisor seen in fashionable and design-conscious venues as soon as possible. Bryan and I covered a lot of ground. Among many prospective or actual retailers, we covered places like the Design Museum on the South Bank, The Victoria & Albert Museum, Harrods Ltd., The Conran Shop, Liberty and others. The Conran Shop, owned by Sir Terence Conran - who early on in our presentations got to examine a set for himself - was perhaps our most successful venue, drawing as it did (and does) a well-heeled clientele interested in furnishing out their homes in high style. Of course, to make money on the small sales volume of any hand-made product, the store had to mark it up quite heavily. Even at a high price they sold reasonably well, sometimes going to design-conscious visitors from abroad who made their purchase knowing full well this set would not receive tv transmissions in their country !  At the Conran Shop the Retrovisor was priced at £695 and even so, our initial feedback suggested that the Retrovisor was actually undervalued. At the time we were planning for the Retrovisor to sell as an integral part of an interior design package - and available in a large range of individual finishes. Contemporaneously with the Retrovisor another television set became available - also with a unique style. This was by the French designer Phillipe Starck. The market seemed ripe for this sort of approach !

For UK customers we included 'Golden Arrow' personal service to our customers as part of the up-market package. This involved my personally visiting all customers at their homes to install their new Retrovisor and ensure that the customer was totally happy before I left.

We also considered important continued sales efforts to reach collectors and enthusiasts. In 1994, '405-Alive' carried a two-page advertisement in one issue, then with the next issue gave away a free Retrovisor colour brochure.

There was a fair bit of advertising in newspapers and magazines. A typical experience of this was when we mounted a couple of colour display ads in the 'Independent' Magazine. Following this exposure we received several hundred inquiries. But not one of them was converted into a sale. The product attracted a lot of attention but seemed just too 'different' for people to try. They would do a double-take; there was a lot of chuckling and "they don't make'em like that any more". I was forever trying to clarify a common confusion in people's minds : Was this or was this not an 'old telly' I was trying to sell ? The concept of a modern 'retro-tv' was very alien to the public and often it seemed they just couldn't grasp the concept. Later on, looking later at the sales which had been achieved, I noticed that most of them were actually made to people who already had a collecting interest of some sort, and whose minds were already receptive to the idea behind the Retrovisor.

At the start of 1995 we were contacted by Buena Vista Productions, who were the marketing arm of Walt Disney Films in Europe. They wanted a Retrovisor as the top prize in a competition being mounted in conjunction with the 'Independent' - to promote the release of the film 'Quiz Show' in Europe. The competition duly took place - and the set, a black 'Metropolis' was won. A few days later I received a phone call from the prize winners. They wanted to sell the set. They had only entered the competition for cash and the set didn't actually interest them at all. So I bought the set back and then happily it sold on to a very appreciative household in Brookmans Park, where it remains to this day.



Like with any new product there were unfortunately some teething problems which only came to light one the product had been on the market for some time. By early 1994 it was becoming clear that some of the first sets were prone to internal structural problems following a rough journey in transit, even when properly packed. (In passing but not connected to this, we also had some very bad luck when the first sets were delivered to Harrods - they all arrived smashed !) The original material used to bond the four internal tube mounting lugs to the inside of the cabinet was to blame. There was a lot of weight and stress on these lugs and in extreme cases their failure could cause the tube to shift its position inside the cabinet. All the sets suffering from this problem were put right under guarantee at which time the original material was replaced by epoxy. Later on still, things were still further improved by the use of a special polyurethane bonding paste with primers. This final method of fixing the tube lugs was massively strong. Today it is unlikely that any uncorrected sets still remain in circulation.

There was a minor problem with the front knobs, which would often become loose on their shafts. This was easily rectified by re-tightening the grub screw under the bottom of the knob. Unfortunately it never proved possible to source suitable collet-type knobs , which would have provided a complete cure. The ‘rabbits ears’ aerials (which were fully retractable into the cabinet back) could also be problematical. If they were over-extended they had a distinct tendency to ‘flop’.

It was important that teething problems like these were rectified before we entered into any agreement with a servicing company to provide national service cover for our customers. Serviscope Ltd eventually were brought in to fulfill this role and they handled service support for all Mk IIs and IIIs. I'm pleased to say that their help was then never needed !In general all three variants of these sets enjoyed excellent reliability. One example was the black Mk III Metropolis which ran continuously without problems for three years in the reception area of a central London advertising agency.


The final phase.

By mid-1994, a year after launch, it was becoming plain that in its present guise, the project just wasn't making money. Even with a relatively good profit margin on each one, the Retrovisor wasn't selling in sufficient volume to permit re-investment to finance growth. In fact it wasn't even paying my household bills ! It seemed obvious that the only way forward was to team up with a larger outfit which already had an established position in a similar market and who might be prepared to plough in some capital.

As it happened we didn't have to approach anyone to start with - we were approached. The first occasion was in July 1994 when Steepletone got in touch. Like everyone else (as it turned out) they wanted to field the Retrovisor as part of their range but didn't want to join us as business partners, invest in the product or supply any capital. Basically we found that all our subsequent 'suitors' liked the concept of the Retrovisor and thought it could add interest to their product ranges, but they didn't want to share any of the risk. Quite reasonable really, but not much use to us !

The Retrovisor was eventually discontinued in February 1995. Now our whole effort could be concentrated in finding a suitable backer for what was a fully engineered product which already had had some market testing. For a while we had serious discussions with Franklin Mint. But our most hopeful contact was with Bush, who were considering including the Retrovisor (re-badged as a Bush) as part of their 1996 range of 'retro' products. (Incidentally they later told us they originally had been considering sueing us because they thought we were 'passing off' the Retrovisor as a Bush. This in fact wasn't true. The whole matter had been caused by clumsy labelling of the product by one of our major retailers - any 'passing off' had been carried out without our knowlege.)

At their headquarters in St Albans Bush already had a rather lovely showroom devoted to their 'retro' range - consisting of various radios, telephones and other products - but no retro-television ! Here they would meet with a wide range of retail buyers from the major store chains and naturally we lent them a Retrovisor to add to their display. This made a very useful sounding board for us. In this way the Retrovisor could be fielded to buyers who really knew their markets - by a firm that already had an established presence and market credibility. Later on Bush also displayed our product at various major trade fairs, including in Hong Kong. But it was hard to accurately rate the response from all this. Retailers seemed happy to try the product, but they didn't get so very enthusiastic that Bush then felt impelled to make us any sort of offer. Eventually we felt the whole business was dragging on without resolution and so we withdrew.

Finally we worked our way through a list, approaching many other well known names in the consumer electronics industry, this time with more emphasis on actual manufacturers rather than straight trading companies. None took us up seriously. And thus rather sadly, in autumn 1996 the Retrovisor project was finally wound up .

Today the project is in abeyance. I still own the rights to the cabinet design, and may one day re-start it if a suitable arrangement can be negotiated. In the meantime details and illustrations can be found on my web site. In this way it can reach interested parties all over the world.


Key facts.

All Retrovisors are colour sets having two controls at the front using spring-return centre-biased rotary switches. The left hand knob controls volume - the right: channel selection. All other controls are accessible at the back. The major functions are also duplicated by the remote control. The internal spring-return mechanism which was fitted to the front control shafts of the MkII and MkIII models worked better and was more resistant to abuse than the simpler mechanism fitted to the MkI.

The Retrovisor was only ever produced for use with the UK television standard. The only other countries where a Retrovisor would work unmodified are Hong Kong and South Africa.

The remote control receptor sits discreetly just under the screen housing.

Sets sport at the rear a round 'Retrovisor Television' logo over the tube protruberance. This includes an image of the Alexandra Palace mast. All sets bear the designation: Model No: RRT1950.

All Retrovisors were sold with an instruction manual and two-year guarantee. Due to strict quality-control and a rigorous rejection policy, even the early sets (manufactured when there were cabinet quality problems) have fine cabinets. The standard of finish is normally rather better than that found on bakelite.

Some models were made 'deluxe' to order. These have baseband video and audio sockets included at the rear.

Selling prices varied between £349 and £695 depending on the model, the mark number, and the sales outlet. In addition three sets with slightly inferior cabinets were designated the '60 popular' series and sold at £234.

Inevitably as experience was gained, the constructional methods used to make later sets were an improvement on those used in the earliest ones. However the Mk I sets using the Nikkai chassis always gave the best pictures. Any particular set can be positively identified from its serial number by referring to the section below.

Bryan Webb owns the first Retrovisor - a cream 'Festival'. I have the last - also a 'Festival'.


Model descriptions:

Mk I: Serial numbers: 8001 - 8009. Vertical Nikkai chassis. Front control switches fixed to cabinet. Flat back with round-profile tube protruberance. 9 sets produced.

Mk II: Serial numbers: 5011 - 5020. Horizontal Alba 100 chassis. Front control mechanism fixed to internal bearer panel. Back exhibits extrusion at bottom and cylindrically shaped tube protruberance. 9 sets produced.

MkIIa: As MkII but back exhibits a more rounded tube protruberance. Very solid back fastening. 14 sets produced. Serial numbers: 9021 - 9035.

MkIII: Serial numbers: 4037 - 4051. Horizontal Alba 110 chassis. As Mk IIa but has flat back with rounded tube protruberance. 16 sets produced.


Colour variants were produced in the following quantities:

Coronet (Bakelite Brown): 12

Festival (Devonshire Cream): 11

Metropolis (Jazz Black): 23

Arcadia (Maroon): 1

Imperial (Silver-Mirror): 1


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