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Tom Karen: Designer behind famous British products dead at 96

Mr Karen designed several iconic British products, including the Raleigh Chopper bicycle, the three wheeled Bond Bug vehicle, and Marble Run.

03 January 2023

Tom Karen, the man behind some of the UK’s most recognisable designs, has died aged 96.

Mr Karen died peacefully on New Year’s Eve surrounded by his family.

He was managing director of Letchworth’s OGLE Design from 1962 until 1999.

During his tenure, he designed several famous British products – including the Raleigh Chopper bicycle, the three-wheeled Bond Bug vehicle, and the children’s game Marble Run.

CONSUMER Chopper 1
(Raleigh/PA)

A retrospective of Tom Karen’s career is currently taking place at One Garden City in Letchworth.

Town historian Josh Tidy, who curated the exhibition, said that Mr Karen was “thrilled” with it.

“Tom was a true great,” he said.

“I had the pleasure of meeting him several times over the last year or so, putting together the exhibition which celebrates his life and work, and runs until March 10th, (we will have a condolence book in situ, which we’ll pass on to his family).

“I’m very pleased in retrospect that we were able to do the exhibition last year – timely as it turned out, and as we feared. I know Tom was thrilled with it which makes me happy, at this sad time.”

Speaking to the Guardian, his daughter Eugenie said it was a “privilege” to have been close to “such a creative person”.

“He had such an extraordinary life and found such happiness living his last couple of decades in Cambridge,” she added.

Bond Bug vehicles at a classic car rally (Alamy/PA)

Mr Karen was born in Vienna in 1926, but settled in England during the war in 1942.

In 2019, he was appointed OBE in the New Year Honours.

Reflecting on Marble Run on his website, Mr Karen called it “my most inspired creation”.

He said the idea came to him while watching his children play with a simple wooden marble run.

“It occurred to me that if such a game could be made up of a number of components and be assembled in alternative ways to make up a run, it would offer an inviting test and end up with a hugely satisfying reward,” he said.

He added: “I find it hugely rewarding to know that millions of children round the world have derived endless pleasure playing with my marble run.”

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