Thursday, 20 June 2013

Ilford Advocate: Why Ivory?

The article on the Ilford/Kennedy Instruments Monobar camera in Amateur Photographer earlier in the year reminded me of a question that had niggled me for years. Why was the body of the Ilford Advocate ivory in colour?

In its day the Advocate was not a popular purchase or seen by most amateur photographers in Britain as an object of desire. In the early 1950s it could be seen in chemists’ shop windows (pharmacies) amongst the display of Ilford film. But the objects of desire were not this British-designed and built 35 mm but German black leatherette and chrome, even when imports of the latter were restricted to cheap models in the aftermath of the war and protection of the £ sterling currency.

The Advocate was relatively expensive and the colour really did put people off. Serious cameras were black — full stop. Somewhere Ilford marketing had failed. The bright, sunny Ilford displays with their bright white (well ivory) camera had not worked and the cameras were eventually sold off at sale prices.

I read in the AP article that the Advocate was designed and built by Kennedy Instruments. A good deal of laboratory equipment in the 1950s and 1960s was stove-enamelled in ivory. Therefore, I wondered if Kennedy Instruments were scientific instrument makers who then manufactured the Advocate. To satisfy my curiosity I bought the book, Faces, People and Places. The Cameras of Ilford Ltd 1899-2005, by Andrew Holliman from the author*. It appears that Kennedy Instruments (partly from 1949 and then totally owned by Ilford) were not instrument makers in the laboratory sense but came from automative engineering to camera design and construction (including cameras for the Keartons in the 1930s and for aerial reconnaissance).

The ivory finish of the body was, it appears, chosen deliberately. Holliman writes:
   The most distinctive feature of the Ilford Advocate, especially against other cameras in any collection, is the ivory enamel finish. However, other colours were considered. Various methods mostly of different paint finish were assessed in an attempt to give the camera a black and chrome appearance but they came to nothing.
   At one time several bodies were produced in six different enamel colours, Red, Green, Blue, Brown, Yellow and Black, and presented to the Ilford Board for consideration. These were rejected by the board.
Holliman also describes the problems Kennedy Instruments had in trying to get lenses in sufficient quantities from British manufacturers. Dallmeyer could supply with consistency and ‘quite high quality’ but not quantity. Wray had problems with quality control leading to many of their efforts being rejected. Ross also could not supply a suitable lens. The price of the Advocate remained high because economies of scale could not be achieved.

The high prices achieved for these cameras in sales, even of wrecks on eBay, to present-day collectors is a result of marketing and manufacturing failure. Successful cameras are not that rare.

By contrast, consider the later Ilford Sportsman, made in Germany by Dacora. I was surprised to learn that Ilford at one time held over 50% of the UK 35 mm market with the Sportsman series and that this level of sales is thought to have helped them (with the little stickers in the film compartment) to capture the major share of the 35 mm film market. The cost to Ilford of the original Sportsman was less than £3 which was less than the cost of the lens for the Advocate. Dacora were not at the premium end of the German manufacturers but for the British mass market of the 1960s a low headline price held (and sadly still holds) sway.

Finally, looking at the Ilford/Kennedy Monobar in Holliman’s book, I cannot help but think what a superb technical camera it would be with a 24 x 36 mm digital sensor instead of the film holder.

*Andrew Holliman’s book (ISBN 0-9655342-1-2) was published in 2006. It can be obtained from him through his website: