Transcriptors-David Gammon versus John Michell

Both claim to have designed for and worked with Stanley Kubrick on his 2001-A space Odyssey movie culminating in the moment that the movie was shown for a select audience where John Michell said “Look, that’s my turntable” whereas David Gammon, also present, said “I’m sorry but it’s not. It’s mine”. Fact is that the turntable used in Clockwork Orange (1971) was definitely a Gammon 1964 built HR, which gives a little more credit to David’s side of the story.

Let us see if we can determine what’s what according to a timeline. Transcriptors started out more or less as a joke in 1960 when a couple of designs by David Gammon and Brian Allen for a Fluid arm and brushes were sent over to a HiFi magazine that picked up on it. Around end of 1962 the first Reference (as far as I know without pitch control) was created. Then came the first experiments with pitch control by means of applied friction on strobe wheel. The one at the Museum of Modern Art in NY is such a type.

And in 1964 the first Hydraulic Reference saw the light in a workshop with 7 employees. 1965 brought an expansion and a move to Theobald Street, with larger quarters. 1967 brought the creation of the Saturn, with once again an expansion in production. This was around the time that John Michell came into play, as David Gammon had to outsource production of parts as he did not have the necessary machinery and manpower. 1971, the year of the London Design show, where Transcriptors were awarded the honors they deserved, thus increasing once again public demand. 1973 brought the design of the Skeleton and Vestigal arm, and the move to a larger factory in Carlow, Ireland where David granted John the manufacturing rights under license (the Technical Agreement) of the Hydraulic Reference as that was the current best selling product.

The Agreement was revoked in 1977, and this is when Michell started their own production, according to the history page of their own website, , the Electronic

Electronic Reference, inverted  weights
Electronic Reference, inverted weights
Electronic in marble, no platter weights title=
Electronic in marble, no platter weights

(Reference) where pitch control was done by direct voltage control to the motor by means of two potentiometers. Later followed by the Prisma series, basically the same concept but in a different setting with plexiglass plinths, but with usually Shure SME arms mounted. They claim, also on their history page, that the Focus was developed later as a low budget turntable to give more people access to HiFi equipment. Now I’ve seen and taken apart my share of Focus turntables, and I can only say it is a simplified version of the Hydraulic Reference, no speed control, no brushes and no Fluid arm, no platter weights. But feet are identical, be it a mite smaller, motor deck fairly identical speed selector, pulley and half size Crouzet motor (it did not have to pull the weight of 6 platterweights, if I’m not mistaken the same type motor was used in the Saturn, as this one had hollow platterweights.) Motor suspension almost identical, as well as featured shapes.

The Blue Hydraulic
The Blue Hydraulic
This goes for the prisma as well
This goes for the prisma as well

1977 also brought the design of the Transcriber, another first in linear tracking. Unfortunately David passed away after a long illness, perhaps also due to his inventions being used and copied by others, who knows what kind of other audio brilliance his genius might have come up with.

After this period about which neither Gammon nor Michell want to make any proclamations, both companies went their separate ways, Transcriptors eventually headed by Michael John Gammon developing the TR6 , the new Spyder and the RF 1 , Michell with their Gyrodeck, Syncro’s, Mycro’s and others like the Orbe.

When John died in 2003 the company had already been run since the beginning of his illness at 2001 by Trichord Research (his associate Graham Fowler’s company). Further offspring is Joachim Rake’s Transrotor, who used to work as an apprentice for Michell.

Michell TransRotor, a deviation of the Electronic, with perhaps a touch of Rake ?

Conclusion I personally am inclined to believe that the Michell Electronics, Prisma and Focus line have been based upon the Hydraulic reference as designed by David Gammon, after the rift between the two in 1977 when the Technical Agreement was revoked. I know that in the 4 years of production of the HR covered by the Technical Agreement a lot of changes have been implemented either by Michell or instigated by Gammon (other feet, grounded AC, counterweight on Fluid arm) Perhaps this was not to David’s satisfaction, causing the rift. Once again it is very difficult to determine what changes were made by Gammon, and which by Michell as there is definitely a grey area involved in the production of the Hydraulic Reference.

And let me state clearly that I am not accusing anybody of infringement of copyright, theft or whatsoever, I am just stating a couple of conclusions based upon my work with Hydraulics, Focus, Electronics and Prisma’s where it was inevitable to see a lot of similarities in design and parts used. For starters I would say that Michell was trying to visually enhance the HR by using other materials, marble, perspex, before making design changes that led to other types.

So I hope I have not been mortally offending people, it is just that it would be nice to lift a tip of the shroud covering this grey area, so we Transcriptor friends would know a bit more as to how certain changes in design came about.

Michell “Transrotor”? with inverted platter weights but with the fluid pitch (see knob right hand side of platter) We will have to determine whether this was a mistake with the wrong platter fixed on or a deliberate thing.

Or for instance this badge, on what appears to be a deck with regular platter weights.

Doesn’t this look a bit out of proportion either ?
Doesn’t this look a bit out of proportion either ?

Anyway, life at Transcriptors NL remains full of surprises.

NB the pictures of the Michell products were taken from their web site.