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Title: Thorn-EMI  
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Thorn EMI
Industry Music, Video, Defence Equipment
Fate Demerged and subsequently broken up
Founded Merger of Thorn Electrical Industries and The EMI Group, 1979
Headquarters London, England, UK
Key people Sir Richard Cave, Founding Chairman
Sir John Reid, Founding Chief Executive
Parent Reeves Communications
Subsidiaries EMI

Thorn EMI was a major British company involved in consumer electronics, music, defence and retail. Created in October 1979 when Thorn Electrical Industries merged with EMI, it was listed on the London Stock Exchange and was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index but it demerged again in 1996.


The Company was formed in October 1979 when Thorn Electrical Industries merged with EMI.[1]

In May 1984 the Company attempted to merge with British Aerospace and in July 1984 it bought the micro-chip manufacturer, INMOS.[2]

Thorn EMI acquired the Mullard Equipment Limited ('MEL') division of Philips in 1990.[3]

On 16 August 1996, Thorn EMI shareholders voted in favour of demerging Thorn from EMI again: the Company became EMI Group plc, and the electronics and rentals divisions were divested as Thorn plc.[4]


Thorn EMI's wide range of business covered five principal areas of activity; television broadcasting, retail/rentals, defence, music and consumer electronics.

Television broadcasting

Thorn EMI was, until a share flotation in 1984, the majority shareholder in the London-based ITV broadcaster Thames Television.

This shareholding was inherited from the 1967 purchase of the Associated British Picture Corporation by EMI. The deal included their interests in the ITV company ABC Weekend Television. Through an enforced merger with Rediffusion London, this became Thames.

In 1985 the company attempted to sell their stake to Carlton Communications but this was blocked by the governing body of ITV, the Independent Broadcasting Authority.

Retail and rental

Radio Rentals, DER (Domestic Electric Rentals Ltd) and Rumbelows (which was sold in 1995) Rent-A-Center.

Big Brown Box was launched in Australia in 2008 by Thorn and was later sold to Appliances Online, subsidiary of Winning Appliances in 2011. The site was an online retailer of AV equipment, consumer electronics and appliances.


From its formation until the mid-1990s Thorn EMI was one of the United Kingdom's largest defence companies.

The MEL Division, acquired from Philips, was involved in radar, electronic warfare and communications. The MEL communications business was sold to Thomson-CSF, now Thales.

In 1995 the various defence businesses were sold:

  • Thorn EMI Electro Optics to Pilkington Optronics
  • Thomson Thorn Missile Electronics to Thomson-CSF, now Thales
  • Thorn Sensors Group to Racal (to become Racal-Thorn Wells, now also part of Thales)


The EMI label expanded greatly as part of Thorn EMI. In 1989 Thorn EMI bought a 50% interest in Chrysalis Records, buying the outstanding 50% in 1991. In one of its highest-profile and most expensive acquisitions, Thorn EMI took over Richard Branson's Virgin Records in 1992.

Computer Software

Main article: Creative Sparks

In the early to mid-1980s, Thorn EMI Video Programmes released a number of games for several home computer formats, initially under their own name. They received a lukewarm reception with no major hits (though Snooker and Billiards did reach No. 6 in the UK Atari Charts). These included Snooker and Billiards, 8-Ball and Tournament Pool, Darts, Cribbage and Dominoes (1981) Gold Rush, Mutant Herd, Road Racer and Volcanic Planet (1983) and River Rescue (1982). The label was later renamed Creative Sparks.

In 1991, its consulting, systems integration, and outsourcing service division - Thorn EMI Software, was a subject of a management buyout[5][6] and started to trade as a separate company named "Data Sciences Ltd". The staff and management paid £82 million for the £117 million turnover division. In 1996, IBM acquired Data Sciences plc for £95 million.[7]

From 1981 until about 1983, Thorn EMI Video Programmes was based in the Thorn EMI head office near Seven Dials in central London. They moved from there to an office in Soho and the name changed to just Thorn EMI Video. TEV later became Creative Sparks.

Security Systems

Thorn Security installed and serviced all types of electronic security systems from their bases around the UK. The business was absorbed into ADT soon after the EMI demerger and all but a handful of the famous red 'THORN' bellboxes were replaced. However, the Fire products especially are still to be found in many premises and until recently spares and complete systems of Thorn heritage continued to be manufactured by ADT.

Business Communications

This division, based in Marlow provided hotels with televisions and related equipment. It also embarked upon a project called Hotel 3000 which provided interactive Set-Top-Boxes for hotel rooms in the late 1980s.

After Thorn's demerger, this division started operating as

Advanced Product Development Centre

This small subsidiary further developed existing products as well as introducing new ones. It was based in St.Lawrence House, Broad Street, Bristol.

Consumer electronics

Ferguson Radio Corporation was owned by Thorn EMI and it made consumer electronics like TV sets, radios, etc. TVs were designed and manufactured by Ferguson in the UK until around the early 1990s, although before this, some Thomson-designed models were introduced to the Fergsuon range of TVs for sale in the UK. Some of these Thomson-based models were even manufactured in the UK, although in later years, these models were made outside the UK by Thomson.

By 1992, the Ferguson TV factory in Gosport had closed, ending a long period of manufacturing of Ferguson TVs in the UK.

VCRs were sourced until the early 1990s by a joint company called J2T, established by JVC, Thorn (Ferguson) and Telefunken. From around 1991, VCRs were sourced from Thomson alone.

One important aspect of Thorn EMI’s business was its ability to manufacture, say, one of its Ferguson televisions and then to make it available for rental through its rentals sector or sell it through its retail sector.

Prism Micro Products was owned by Thorn EMI for a short period in the 1980s.

Domestic appliances

Kenwood Limited: The company is now owned by DeLonghi.

Thorn EMI Video

Thorn EMI Video was established in 1977 and produced three made for video films for the British market: Cross Country (1983), Strange Invaders (1984) and Bloodbath at the House of Death (1984). Thorn EMI became popular with rental stores. In the U.S., Thorn EMI released films on video from various film companies including Orion Pictures (First Blood, The Terminator) and New Line Cinema (The Evil Dead, Xtro), and Universal (Bad Boys, Frances) in the 1980s.

Thorn EMI joined HBO in 1985 to be named Thorn EMI/HBO Video. In 1986, Cannon films bought Thorn EMI's video library, but HBO stayed and the company became HBO/Cannon Video. Cannon left operations and the company was eventually just called HBO Video in 1987.

After Demerger

Thorn was purchased by Nomura Principal Finance Group in 1998,[9] which subsequently became Terra Firma Capital Partners. It disposed of Thorn in 2007 to a private buyer.[10]

See also


External links

  • Detailed Company History
  • Quadriga, a former division of Thorn
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