Are You Receiving?

The 'Defiant' range was one of the Co-operative Wholesale Society's most successful late 20th Century brands. From the early 1930s until the mid 1980s, gramophones, radios, sound systems and TV's were produced by CWS to be sold by independent co-operative societies.

Did you own a Defiant product? Was it a floor-standing cabinet radio, a portable or a rented TV? Have you ever wondered where the ‘Defiant’ name came from? 

Stop, Start...

The Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) began in 1863 as a wholesaler producer for the co-operative movement. They had many factories which produced goods to be sold by co-operative society stores and legally could only sell to other co-operative member owned businesses. The popularity of radio technology and early broadcasting after the First World War meant that co-ops wanted to get in on the action.

The Barnsley British Co-operative Society was an early success in wireless sales, making a turnover £14,000 from 1922-1925. In 1925, the co-operative movement’s first specialist wireless shop was opened by Barnsley British. Following this, stores selling gramophones and radios continued to increase in popularity. By 1930 there were five million radio sets in Britain’s homes and so this was a significant market to be part of. 

Spirit of Radio 

Though there seemed to be initial agreement from competing small manufacturers for the CWS to sell their goods, by the early 1930s there were disagreements between what had become major manufacturers and the CWS. Manufacturers felt that the CWS should sell radios without a dividend return to co-op members as they saw this as a form of discount - meaning people would only buy such an item at the co-op. This undermined the basic principle of the co-operative movement which was to share profits in terms of dividends with their members and for a high ticket item which appealed to young people, most co-ops were determined to be able to offer this perk. The CWS firmly stuck to their principles and so the big brand manufacturers refused to supply goods for sale in co-operative stores. 

In response to this boycott, CWS felt encouraged to begin production of an 'own brand' of radios. After seeking out subcontractors, the first run was undertaken by the General Electric Company (GEC) - but this was short-lived and ended after sustained pressure from the big brand names. From 1934, models were produced by Plessey, who assembled the radios using values supplied by Mazda and cases made in the CWS cabinet works. 

Page from Defiant Radio Catalogue 1940-41

The casings made by CWS were iconic, smart-looking wooden units that were in harmony with the brand’s style of domestic furnishings and were welcomed by co-operative retail societies. 

‘Both Models are built in cabinets specially designed to harmonise with the furnishing scheme of any home. The ‘defiant’ sets are introduced with a view to helping societies to maintain the goodwill of their members, who are looking to co-operation to supply the needs of the home – in leisure hours as well as during the day’s work.’ 

Showroom featuring Household Electronics c 1950s

The name for this new brand was initially planned to be ‘Challenger’, but another company was using that name and so the radios were given a new name - ‘Defiant’ - a nod to the CWS having been defiant in the face of the radio industry monopoly. The first Defiant radio was unveiled on 5th December 1933 in Manchester at a trade show for retail buyers. 

Knights in Armour 

The defiant range used the image of a castle keep on the first brochure. This was changed to an image of a knight, a symbol of defiance, boldly situated on the front cover of brochures, advertising pages and stickers on the units. Through the early 1940s, during World War Two, the Defiant brochures also featured an image of the Boulton Paul Defiant fighter plane which was deployed during the Second World War as part of anti-enemy aircraft campaigns. 

Brochure Covers for Defiant Radio from 1946 and 1940-41

On My Radio    

Despite the expensive price-tag of radios in the 1930's - often costing the equivalent of two weeks’ pay - Defiant was a success and CWS produced various models over the years. 

The first brochure showcased two style and valve options, increasing to over 85 models by 1967 when the CWS expanded to produce record players, transistor radios, and from the early 1950s, television sets.  

Pages from the first Brochure for Defiant products from 1933 showing the Model 333 and Model 533

Throughout the 1950's to the 1970's, they were among the top radio industry figures of the time – rivalling the likes of Bush and Phillips. They were also successful within the television rental industry. At its peak, over a quarter of a million homes had a rented Defiant television receiver. Plessey had stopped manufacturing TVs by 1967 and the Bush Murphy Company took over the actual production line, replaced by Philips in 1981 - ironically, as they had been part of the competition efforts which had led to the brand in the first place.

Production had ceased entirely by 1987, but the Defiant brand remained an iconic reminder of how the CWS stuck to their co-op values instead of bowing to capitalist markets. 

Advert for defiant products c 1960s

What Do We have?

The co-operative archive has a collection of publicity material that covers the period from 1933-1967. You can find details of the collection on Archives Hub -  

If you wish to view the material, you can make an appointment to visit the archives - 

Information for this post has come from the archives we hold and a retrospective article ‘Story of Defiants’ published in Co-operative News, July 30, 1991.