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Genius!2: Penny & Giles and the fader #5

Did you know the brand is also famous for groundbreaking development in aeronautics?

In professional audio the name Penny & Giles is forever associated with high-quality faders for mixing consoles. In a parallel existence it is known for groundbreaking development in aeronautics, significantly the Black Box recorder.

Professor William Penny and the late James Giles teamed up in 1956 to produce precision wire-wound potentiometers for aircraft flight tests. A year later came the research that would lead to the first aircraft accident data recorder, which recorded magnetically on to stainless steel wire.

P & G diversified its research, producing an improved version of the carbon granule-based linear fader. Its alternative ran on conductive plastic tracks, which are less susceptible to noise. First seen on top-of-the-range music recording desks such as SSL, these later made their way into radio broadcasting.

Iain Elliott, co-founder of Canford Audio, which still stocks replacement P&G fader knobs, was a young engineer at commercial station Metro Radio when it went on air in 1974. The studios were opposite a coal washing plant and one of Elliott’s jobs was to take the P&G desk faders apart to clean the coal dust from them. “You couldn’t do that with the traditional carbon fader,” he says. “The design also helped when DJs spilled drinks into the desk. P&G were the innovators and their faders became the de facto standard.”

When Professor Penny received an honorary degree from Bournemouth University, he was described by University Orator Alan Hunt as someone who “led by expertise and example with much emphasis on teamwork and achievement”. Penny’s response noted that, “It requires great skill and endeavour from a whole team to convert ideas and designs into a viable industrial enterprise.”

The fact that the names Penny and Giles are still associated with mixing faders is testament to the achievements of William Penny, James Giles and their teams.

Published earlier this year, Genius!2 is the second edition celebrating those clever people whose inventions have transformed the world of professional audio. The 30-page supplement is also available to read in a handy digital-edition form