Rationing was still fresh in the memory and contemporary design was mostly a niche commodity as Britain slowly shook off post-war austerity.
A new prize gave manufacturers a nudge of encouragement to inject affordable desirability — even elegance — into what they made. It declared unmistakably that Britain could have it and that business and design should team up to provide it.
It underlined the message in its first ten years, honouring a succession of products made for a nation learning to enjoy itself, spend its money in shops like Habitat and, eventually, let its hair down.1959
Prestcold Packaway refrigerator for Pressed Steel Company
In a Britain still emerging from post-war austerity, a fridge was a luxury for many.
At £58 (roughly £500 today) the Packaway wasn’t cheap, but it was at least practical. At 33 inches high, 21 wide and 18 deep it was built for cramped spaces. In really tight spots it could even hang on the wall.
The judges admired its neat, less-is-more brand of elegance and its ‘unusual refinement of detail’. Its miniaturised inner workings did its reliability no harm. When the Daily Telegraph asked readers for examples of durable appliances in 2007, various owners reported their trusty Packaways were still going strong.1960
Neal French and David White
Apollo tableware for WT Copeland & Sons
The range was originally called ‘the Royal College Shape’, as French and White were still at the Royal College of Art when they designed it. The judges liked Apollo’s simple, easy-to-handle shapes, but not the patterns, only awarding the Prize for the undecorated version. The 25-piece dinner set retailed at £30, 17s.1961
Rio transistor radio for Ultra Radio & Television
Marshall’s understated, functional design in grey, black and white won for achieving a ‘trim, attractive effect in plastics’. Sadly, it couldn’t help Ultra beat off foreign competition.
The Gosport firm sold out to Thorn the same month that Marshall’s award was announced and the brand disappeared altogether in 1974.1962
Furnishing fabrics for West Cumberland Silk Mills (Sekers Fabrics)
Originally, Sekers Fabrics’ reputation rested on fashion.
They supplied Pierre Cardin, Givenchy and Dior, as well as the silk for Princess Margaret’s wedding dress. But they switched to furnishing fabrics in 1960 as the brocade in which they specialised fell from favour. Sekers made a bold entry into their new sector with a silk, acetate and rayon range of ‘remarkable richness’ for curtains and light upholstery.
It was characterised by colours of ‘unusual beauty’. Nicolas ‘Miki’ Sekers, a Hungarian émigré who co-founded the business in 1938, was knighted in 1965 and died in 1972. The business, now based in Dundee, is still thriving.1963
Milward Courier cordless shaver for Henry Milward & Sons
Milward had planned to make an American razor under licence but decided an original design would suit the European market better. The battery-powered Courier, a ‘fine sculptural form’, was clad in black or white melamine and came in a cellulose acetate case. Together, they exemplified ‘total and elegant design of a product’.1964
Cut crystal glassware for Webb Corbett
Cut glass’s traditional sparkle and intricacy didn’t match the simplicity of 60s design, so Queensberry (renowned and still successful ceramics designer and the 12th Marquess of Queensberry) cast them in a modern light with diamond patterns, random cuts and vertical fluting. The result showed the ‘close relationship between industrial design and skilled craftsmanship’.1965
Auditorium seating for Race Contracts
Tip-up seating for cinemas, theatres, lecture halls and law courts must be comfortable but practical, making most use of limited space. Dickinson cracked this problem with a slim, simple u-shaped frame. It was quick to install and maintain, offering under-seat storage space and ample room between rows thanks to its shallowness.1966
Precious jewellery for HJ Co.
The Prize side-stepped industrial practicality to recognise jewellery’s liberation from the twin burdens of WWII and a 125% purchase tax, finally cut in 1960. Grima’s boldly unorthodox and flamboyant high-fashion jewellery, often inspired by natural forms, was a magnet for royalty and celebrities. Grima died in 2007 but the family business continues with daughter Francesca in charge.1967
R. David Carter
Wales Gas Board Gas-Flo system for Thomas Glover & Co.
The Gas-Flo system overhauled the control points and fittings that linked the gas supply with domestic appliances like heaters, cookers and fridges. Their ‘handsome sturdiness and coherent character’ was a real advance, said the judges, for an industry boosted by recent North Sea gas discoveries.1968
Nova tableware for Ecko Plastics
Powell was praised for breaking away from the common practice of using plastic for ceramic designs.
He came up with new forms — and bright colours — more appropriate to the material. The two-colour Nova set was made from a new, more rigid and stain resistant plastic suitable for speedy injection moulding. It was easy to clean, relatively inexpensive and space-saving and stackable, which appealed to caterers and airlines as well as households.
Ecko was farsighted in making Powell, its chief designer, a company executive with roles in product planning and management. All his products also bore his name.