Then I stumbled upon a
maintained by an American tape recorder collector who had pictures of an Acme Model 1500 portable reel to reel tape machine in his 'miscellaneous' department. And lo and behold, this turned out to be the exact same model as used in the Thunderbirds sets, the only visible difference being the red/white sticker at the bottom of the instrument panel which covers the brand name. Unfortunately, the owner of the page didn't have any information about the apparatus, other than name and model. More specifically, his comments are the following:
"This next one is a mystery, have not found any information about it. Made by Acme model: 1500. 6 Volt battery operated, has built-in speaker and classy chrome microphone. 2 Speed mono recording. Very well built with hardly any plastic. Faceplate is chrome and in very good condition. It also works. If you know anything about this model please contact me." [I did sent him an email, detailing my quest and it's outcome].
So I returned to Google, this time asking for 'Acme Model 1500 tape recorder'. No such luck. No hits at all. I returned to my previous search and, to my surprise and delight, I quite by accident found another picture of the diminutive device. A British museum[?] has one in its possession and was kind enough to put up a picture of it. Better yet, this picture was labelled as 'benkson.jpg' which made me surmise that the original manufacturer's name probably was Benkson. Thus, back to Google in search of Benkson. 'Benkson electronics' pointed me to a brand name index. So far so good, apparently Benkson was [is?] indeed a manufacturer of electronic equipment. However, 'Benkson hi fi' and 'Benkson tape recorder' did not yield anything worth pursuing. 'Benkson' by itself resulted in a flood of hits [as was to be expected], most of them not pertaining to my search. As a last resort, I typed in 'www.benkson.com' and 'www.benkson.co.uk' but no such luck. Apparently, the company went out of business a long time ago.
Addendum: the above searches were done before the advent of Google's 'image search' so, again having nothing much at hand, I decided to revisit the subject, this time using an image search, asking for 'Acme Model 1500 miniature tape recorder'.
This time I had more luck. The first page I stumbled upon was from a Swiss radio museum which labeled the device as a Homey HR-408A. Looking a little further, I finally hit the jackpot [well, more or less] when I found this delightful site: Dusty Gizmos. The owner is a British collector of 50s and 60s electronics and he had a nice picture of the machine. Better still, in the accompanying text he even refers to its use in Thunderbirds set decoration and identifies it as a Homey.
Apparently, the little contraption was manufactured in Japan in the early 60s and is known not only as an Acme Model 1500, a Homey HR-408A or a Benkson but also as a Honeytone, a Consul Deluxe HR-408A, a Rubytone, a Noam, an Exeter or an International. The only difference being, judging by the photos on the Dusty Gizmos page, the colouring of the plastic the volume control knob and the rotary switch are cast in.
There even appeared a modernized black version under the 'Claricon' moniker; judging by the styling, it dates from somewhere in the early to mid 70s. Admittedly, the volume control knob and in– and output jacks are in slightly different places and the housing for the erase/playback heads has been redesigned but the thing has obviously been build on the same chassis, recognizable by the large speaker grill on the left and the rotary switch on the right.
Addendum 2: then I found a mail in my inbox from Geoff Brownsey, a UK resident, who wrote in with the following:
I have a boxed tape recorder, originally purchased in the UK from Woolworths in the 1960s. It's a Benkson-68 model 4 transistor Tape Recorder, Model number HR-408A. It's been in the loft for years.
Needless to say this piqued my interest so I wrote back to Geoff, asking for pictures of the minute machine and he was kind enough to send me the one at bottom right. And as you can see, the Benkson 68 is identical to the other models that were issued at the time, again apart from the color of the plastic used for the volume control knob and rotary switch.
As far as I am concerned, this solves the 'riddle' of Thunderbird 5's tape recorder once and for all: by Geoff's own admission the device was bought at a Woolworth's store and references to AP Films personnel aimlessly wandering through the local Woolworth's looking for suitable material to decorate their sets and models with [and more often than not perplexing store attendants in the process] can be found far and wide. Also, the color of the volume control knob and rotary switch are the same whereas the ones on the other incarnations of the device clearly differ. So I daresay we may safely conclude that the tape machine used by Bob Bell's art department was a Benkson Model 68.