BET (British Electric Traction) plc
Stratton House Picadilly
History and development

The British Electric Traction Company plc  was founded in 1895 as the British Electric Traction ( Pioneer ) Co Ltd,
The principal business interests were: Passenger and Freight transportation and Electricity Generation and Distribution.
BET moved on to manufacturing them with the purchase of  Brush Electrical Engineering in 1901.

It became the leading tramway operator and by 1906 and was responsible  for operating 15 per cent of the tramways in the UK . After the First World War British Electric Traction began to develop bus transport on a large scale as a replacement for trams. It also continued to run tramways until the 1920s when its tramway leases ran out and local authorities exercised their rights to take over the tramways.

Drawing on their electrical expertise, British Electric Traction  developed a broadcasting system by rediffusing radio signals along their existing overhead power network (a supply system installed for supplying the tramways) and bringing an affordable radio service into British homes and the Broadcast Relay Company was born. BET acquired a substantial minority interest in Broadcast Relay Service Ltd (Rediffusion) in 1947. This became a controlling interest in 1967 and BET acquired the remaining  36 per cent of Rediffusion's equity in 1983.

In 1947 the British Government sought to nationalise the Tramways by a compulsory purchase of the leases first issued in the 1920's and this somewhat forced
British Electric Traction's hand to diversify it' s business interests.


In the suceeding years
British Electric Traction acquired interests in the following sectors with business activities organised into six divisions: 

Standard joinery and prefabricated steel for the construction industry, doors, windows, staircases, cupboards
                      and kitchen units. Plant hire, including scaffolding, cranes, forklift trucks and the like.

Acquisitions:    1949  Edison Plant Hire, 1968  Boulton and Paul Ltd.,  Grayson Ltd.,  J D White Ltd.,
1985 G W Sparrow & Sons plc

Industrial Services    
Textile maintenance, particularly linen, cabinet towel and workwear rental. Waste disposal.

BET first acquired an interest in laundries in 1934 when it formed  Laundry Services Ltd to acquire control of several laundry and cleaning  companies. In 1935 Laundry Services Ltd and Advance Laundries Ltd together established Advance Linen  Services Ltd to tackle the hotel and restaurant table linen market. Subsequently the joint venture company moved into the cabinet towel market, and BET built up a 25 per cent interest in Advance Laundries Ltd between  1937 and 1952. In 1955 Laundry Services Ltd and Advance Laundries Ltd  merged to become a subsidiary of BET, which subsequently increased its  holding to 80-8 per cent. Advance Linen Services Ltd remained a separate entity although wholly owned by BET and Advance

BET's involvement with Initial dates back to the 1930s, when BET acquired a small stake in the business. The move followed a decision by BET to move into the profitable service business of laundries, and its acquisition of the Advance Service laundry business.
BET's investment proved timely. Shortly after the Second World War, Initial established itself as the largest towel-rental company in the United Kingdom, and began expanding into Europe, Australia and, later, the United States.In the early 1980s, BET increased its stake in Initial to 40%, and in 1985 BET acquired the remaining 60%. Allowing it to merge Initial with Advance Service's laundry operations - while retaining the Initial brand name.

Acquisitions:    1971 Biffa Ltd (industrial waste and household refuse disposal) and Re-Chem International Ltd (processing toxic
                        industrial waste)

Rental and cable TV, flight simulators, computers, radio and TV  communication equipment, business and
                      music services. Commercial radio (home and abroad).

Acquisitions      1955  1968     Wembley Stadium Ltd        Walport Ltd        Humphreys Holdings Ltd   
                                               The Ditchburn Organisation Ltd

Leisure           T
V programme contractor, film and video equipment, instructional and feature films, stadium management, 
                     music and other equipment. Film and video processing.

The operation of specialist freight vehicles home and abroad and the operation of buses on a large-scale in  
                     Africa. Also operates touring companies freight forwarding, container and transit services internationally

Acquisitions     1956 a 20 per cent stake in United Transport Company  having already participated with the latter in African and 
                    Jamaican  transport ventures. United  Transport Company became a wholly-owned subsidiary of BET in 1971.

Magazine and local newspaper publishing at home and abroad including some on computer tape. Conference
Acquisitions:     1966   The Argus Press Group in  greatly extending its interests in printing and publishing.

These divisions had a combined turnover of some £1,263 million in 1984, including about £487 million overseas. Nearly 50,000 persons were employed, almost half of this number overseas mostly in transport. All the other five divisions are predominantly home-based.

1985 saw a name change and
British Electric Traction became BET.plc

By the mid 1980s large conglomerates such as BET fell out of favour, and BET chose to rationalise it's businesses. Interests in Thames Television were disposed 1985, along with Rediffusion followed by the company's construction interests.
At this time BET concentrated on it's core businesses:  Textile;  Plant;  Cleaning;  Distribution:  Security:  Catering and Facilities

BET group Employees: By 1995 the total number of BET employees was just over 100,000. Those employed in the UK amount to 77,207. The greatest number are employed in cleaning services with a total of 55,207 fte’s.

By 1996 BET had become a market leader in the business support services sector with its Initial branding and ripe for takeover or merger.  Rentokil saw merger as a platform to acquire new business areas. The outcome was that the company could offer a wider and more comprehensive range of business services than ever before.
The acquisition raised questions about branding ( Initial or Rentokil ) and the decision was taken to use both the Rentokil and Initial brands, and to name the company Rentokil Initial. So it was, that in October 1996, Rentokil Initial was born.
Tel: 0171 629 8886
Fax: 0171 499 5118
The information on this page is for interest purposes only and not neccessarily factual and correct.  No claim is made to the rights.
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email - Gerald Clode
Read more about the outright purchase of Rediffusion in 1983
Read more about the sale of Rediffusion in 1985