Cathodeon Crystals Limited (CCL) was started ‘inside’ Pye Cathodeon Ltd by Brian Gough in 1952 but spun out as a separate activity in 1953. Norman Rolfe was recruited from STC (Standard Telephones and Cables, then ITT, and latterly Nortel) to run the company. The main factory in Linton was built on a green-field site in 1960 and extended in 1971.
Initially, all products were delivered to Pye Telecommunications (the raison d’etre for the company) but, in line with the Pye Group philosophy, soon began supplying products to the general telecommunications market.
The company grew rapidly and became one of the three key suppliers of frequency control quartz crystals to the UK market. The largest customers were Pye Telecommunications and Racal Tacticom (for military and para-military radio). Staff numbers peaked in 1978 (approximately 550 - many of whom were part time ladies from Linton) but were reduced from thereon.
Despite the success of its products, in the late 1970s Cathodeon Crystals suffered from the conjunction of three forces: -
- Communications relay via satellite became a reality and the (very significant) supply of crystals and, especially, crystal filters for certain military and para-military radio applications died almost overnight.
- Electronic techniques generally improved: specifically, the phase-locked loop frequency synthesiser became a reality; whereby the 24 crystals required for a 12 channel radio were replaced by just a single crystal, a phase-locked variable frequency oscillator (VFO) and some (very clever) integrated circuits.
- Japanese industry expanded: in essence, and in line with their strategic plan, the Japanese electronics industry did exactly what the Pye Group had done in earlier times i.e. they set up a vertically integrated infrastructure to supply components to their equipment manufacturing companies in line with their predictions for world trade.
As a result, from circa 1980 onwards Cathodeon Crystals (in line with the whole of the UK electronics industry) was fighting a rearguard action to repel the invaders.
This scenario may seem very clear in hindsight but, at the time it was not so obvious. The three big crystal companies (STC, Salford & Cathodeon) were each fighting for market share with ever-tighter margins and the industry was unaware that, in reality, it was fighting inevitable market forces rather than just each other.
In 1981 ownership of CCL was transferred by Philips into Cambridge Electronic Industries along with other ex-Pye ‘B’ companies.
Of the three main UK suppliers, Cathodeon fell first (in 1988/89) by which time the staff had been reduced from the high of ~550 to just over 200.
This was by no means a disaster for Philips as the factory was demolished and the site sold for housing. Basically, the real estate (which was transferred to head-office in 1983) had become worth more than the company as a trading entity.