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My connection to the ‘father of hi-fi’
A MALVERN man’s family research led him to uncover the fascinating story of an audio pioneer often referred to as the “father of hi-fi”.
David Briggs has spent the last four years researching the history of his grandfather’s cousin Gilbert Arthur Briggs, who designed the famous Wharfedale loudspeakers that remain commonplace in living rooms around the world to this day.
The results of his research have just been published in his new book entitled A Pair of Wharfedales.
Gilbert Briggs was born in Yorkshire in 1890 and grew up to become a director of a textile firm in Bradford.
A passion for music had led to an interest in loudspeakers, but it was only as the textile industry collapsed during the Great Depression of the 1930s he was forced to turn this into his fulltime profession.
Wharfedale Wireless Works, founded as a sideline in 1932, became his main focus the following year and he designed the speakers himself for the next 20 years as they became a musthave accessory around the world.
“He had no relevant theoretical or practical training yet both he and Wharfedale became internationally famous,” said Mr Briggs.
“And when he died in 1978 obituaries referred to him as the ‘father of hi-fi’.
“His contribution to the development and popularity of hifi was unique and profound.”
Prof Briggs, aged 63, of Woodfarm Road, Malvern Wells, said he had heard family members make reference to “Cousin Gilbert” but had no idea just how closely related he was, or just what a remarkable character he was, until starting his research.
A breakthrough came when he tracked down Gilbert’s two daughters – one of whom, Valerie, was by sheer coincidence also living in Malvern Wells.
From there he found further relations and a host of Wharfedale employees who helped him fill in the blanks.
“It almost felt as I reached the end of the project as though Gilbert himself had been pulling the strings all along,” said Mr Briggs.
“Whenever I hit a brick wall something completely unexpected would happen to get me back on track again.
“One common thread from everyone I spoke to was that Gilbert was just such a charismatic character.
“No one who met him or worked for him ever forgot him.”
The title for the book was inspired by Prof Briggs asking complete strangers whether they had heard of Wharfedale during his research.
Almost invariably for those aged over 50 the answer would be a ‘yes’, followed by either ‘I have a pair’, ‘I once had a pair’, ‘I wish I could have afforded a pair’ and so on,” he explained.
Prof Briggs interweaves his history of Wharfedale with a biography of Gilbert Briggs, who also wrote more than 20 books explaining audio for the layman, selling more than a quarter of a million copies, and staged audacious ‘live versus recorded’ concert demonstrations in venues including the Royal Festival Hall in London and New York’s Carnegie Hall.
Published by IM Publications and priced at £30, the book is available from Malvern Book Co- Operative, in St Ann’s Road, Ledbury Books and Maps and online at apairofwharfedales.com.