How I met Britain's first operational robot 50 years ago - and now he's up for sale

Gygan is still here, 50 years later - and is to be auctioned next week at Christie’s in London, with bidding expected to reach up to £12,000

Gygan wowed crowds in 1957

"I saw Gygan in about 1963,” says British robot expert David Buckley, “Back then robots were very rare. Gygan was no doubt the only operational one in the whole of the UK - maybe in the whole of Europe.”

The robot could accept spoken commands - he stood nine feet tall, with giant lead acid batteries in his feet. He wowed crowds with abilities such as dancing and crushing cans.

Amazingly, Gygan is still here, 50 years later - and is to be auctioned this week at Christie’s in London, with bidding expected to reach up to £12,000.

When he was unveiled in 1957, his Italian creator claimed that his metal face was modeled on a “proud Englishman”. By 1963, though, some of the sheen had worn off - and Gygan was “working” outside a Ford dealership in Leeds.

Buckley says. “He looked in need of care and attention - and he was billed as Mr Moto. He was standing outside a Ford dealership in Leeds where he was used as a promotional attraction. I am not sure what they were using him for. He was not working and under repair with one foot taken off.”

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Even in 1963, Buckley says that the robot still drew crowds. “I couldn’t get close enough to see the drive train or gears,” he says. “The foot construction amazed me, it was a box of 1/2 inch thick aluminium with a huge lead acid battery in the middle, I don't think there was ever any chance of Gygan falling over!”

Gygan - also known as Cygan - was created by an Italian inventor, Dr Fiorito, who claimed that Gygan had 300,000 parts inside him.

An electronics journal said that many of his interior workings were made from Meccano.

“Cygan is positively enormous!," Radio Control Models and Electronics wrote at the time. "It is over eight feet tall and weights over 1,000lbs. This weight includes batteries and accumulators which give an operational time of 4 and a half hours.”

The robot could respond to coloured lights, and walk using motorised legs and “wheeled trolleys” in his feet. Gygan was among the first robots to tour Britain.

“There had been Peter Holland's Mr Robotham in the Model Maker magazine (1955) and I had seen pictures of the American robot Garco (1953) in the Junior Sketch paper and the film robot Robby in Forbidden Planet (1956) but that was about it,” says Buckley.

Buckley built his own “aged eight or nine” and created Zeaker, Britain’s first commercial desktop mobile robot, and Shadow Biped, Britain’s first humanoid biped walking robot.

The robot is to be auctioned on September 5, at Christie’s in London - at a special “Out of the Ordinary” auction alongside a stuffed ostrich, a triceratops skull and an “ornithopter”, a pedal-powered flying machine with flapping wings.

“Last I heard in 2007 it had been sold by a second hand shop in London but the shop owner wouldn't tell me who bought it,” Buckley said. “It would appear from the Pathe News film that Radio Control Models & Electronics have misnamed Gygan as Cygan. Personally I much prefer Cygan - as befitting 'a proud Englishman'”