The history of the Stylophone™, one of the greatest British ‘gadget’ success stories of the 20th century, is almost as colourful as the musicians who have come to embrace its ‘unique’ sound over the years.
Brian Jarvis; along with Burt Coleman (managing director), and Burt’s brother Ted Coleman (artwork and finances); had formed a company in 1967 under the name Dübreq.
The company was built on the broadcast and film industry, with their particular expertise being in the field of DUBbing and RECording – hence the name Düb-req. (The umlaut and Q in the name were added to make the name sound more ‘Germanic’, the idea being to try and give the impression of Dübreq being a high quality pan-European electronics company).
The company was primarily a film production and recording studio, but also built equipment for studios as well as portable projectors for promotional films (the pre-cursor to laptop presentations). In all the ideas and products of the firm were well ahead of their time.
Early in 1967 Brian was asked by his niece Jackie to repair her broken toy piano. He took the broken toy to his home workshop and, in true British inventor style, rather than just ‘repair’ it… he improved it! The piano was fitted with a new electronic keyboard with contacts under each key to make a connection and play a sound. Some months later, sitting round the boardroom table and chatting over ways to expand the company, Brian, Burt and Ted got on to the subject of how toys would be a great area to get into. Brian immediately remembered the toy piano he had worked on some months earlier and suggested an electronic toy organ would be a great product. Burt rightly pointed out that making all of the moving keys on a traditional keyboard would be a VERY costly exercise. Brian’s mind immediately went into overdrive and he began picturing a way to play an electronic keyboard without keys. Thinking aloud he said “Well, if you pulled the PCB forward and printed the keyboard as pads on the circuit itself… you could then touch a metal pen on them to play the notes” At which point Burt uttered the immortal words “Don’t just sit there, go make the bl**dy thing!”
The rest, as they say, is history. Brian made a prototype of the new product within a few days and showed it to the rest of the team… it was obvious to them all they had a potential hit on their hands here.