If you collect cameras watch out, Channel 4 television may be waiting to pay you a surprise visit!
Words and pictures Tim Goldsmith
'Does the customer need a steak knife with the emu?' may not be a phrase you often hear coming from a restaurant kitchen, but that's what I heard after ordering my dinner a few weeks ago. So why exactly was I sat in a pub well over 200 miles from home, in the middle of the week AND eating emu? And what does it have to do with camera collecting?
Well, rewind about 10 days to when I answered to the telephone to a voice that said, 'Hello, I am a researcher from the Channel 4 television programme Collectors' Lot. I was wondering if you would like to bring some novelty cameras along and be filmed for the show?'
Without thinking too hard I said that I would, since Channel 4 are based in central London which is a fairly easy run for me. After a few questions about the collection the researcher told me to expect a letter with full details through the post.
Sure enough, a few days later a letter from the Collectors' Lot production company dropped through my letterbox. After reading it through I was surprised to find that the filming was not to be done in London, but just outside Plymouth, over 200 miles from home! I guess that will teach me not to volunteer for anything too fast in the future. Anyway, I had said that I would do it and secretly I was actually quite looking forward to it.
So, the day before filming I drove to Ugborough, a tiny village in South Devon where I had been booked in to the Anchor Inn, 01752-892283, for the night. As an aside, this pub is definitely worth a visit if you're ever in the area as it has, without doubt the most impressive menu I have ever seen - anywhere! Apart from emu I could have chosen from over 50 main courses which included wild boar, kangaroo, ostrich and even alligator! I was very tempted to order the latter from this list, just so I could say 'I will have the alligator please, and make it snappy!' but I wasn't sure the waitress would see the joke.
Next morning (after a more conventional breakfast) I followed the instructions I had been sent to find the farm where the filming was to take place, even though I was not due until lunchtime. It was a good job that I had left plenty of time to spare as it turned out to be more than a little difficult to find. Eventually I came across a muddy track that didn't look too promising, but as I approached some farm buildings I saw a large catering trailer, billowing steam from the open windows. Somehow I knew I was in the right place!
After being introduced to the researcher and finding out where to set up my cameras I arranged a time to return (just in time for lunch, obviously).
So, later that day I found myself in the biggest kitchen I had ever seen in a private house, it was massive. Apparently the owners had only recently converted what was originaly an old grain store into their new home and in the process had created a very large, but practical living space. It had been decided that the crew would film my collection spread around the kitchen, so they told me where each of the three TV cameras would be and I set about laying out my own, somewhat smaller cameras.
After about half an hour Tom, the researcher, and myself were just putting the finishing touches to the layout, when in came the director. He took one quick look around the kitchen - and decided that he would shoot from the opposite direction after all. I spent the next half an hour resetting my layout.
Finally they gave me the OK and said they would be ready to film in an hour or so, as soon as they had finished next door with the previous collector. After a few minutes two of the cameramen came in with their equipment, the third being the only one still needed for filming. Surprisingly, within just a few minutes they were both set up and ready and we inevitably started talking about cameras and filming. I asked a few questions about the light levels they needed (not very much as it happened) and before long they started playing with MY cameras.
As cameramen, they were obviously quite knowledgeable about photography in general, but I was surprised that they seemed to recognise so many of the cameras I had such as the Minox, Hit type sub-miniatures and several others. As time was starting to drag, and I was discovering that you need plenty of patience to be involved with TV production, I gave the crew my Noddy car camera to play with.
This camera was produced by Nestle in Australia as a promotional item and is a very simple 35mm camera built into two halves of Noddy's car. Even though I have owned this camera for a while, I had never managed to get the thing open. I issued the cameramen a challenge and told them there was a drink in it for them if they could work out how to get it open. This did the trick and kept them busy for quite some time before one of them finally managed it (although he did cheat a bit and forced open a part that was not actually designed to open).
I had always assumed that for a TV show such as this, the various sections are filmed then taken back to the studio to be edited into a complete programme, but this is not the case. The editing is done on-line and at the end of the day they end up with a finished programme. It was at this stage they started to film the '...and after the break' piece, with David Stafford, the show's presenter. It had been decided that he would sign off by appearing to take a photo straight to camera, so one of the runners came and asked me if I had a camera that made an unusual noise they could borrow.
I had several talking cameras with me so I grabbed one and gave it him. A couple of minutes later he was back. 'It lasts too long' he said. So off he trotted with another but was soon back again 'Still too long' he said. I then reached for my talking Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle camera. When a button is pressed on this camera it plays a recording of the Turtle's catchphrase, 'Kowabunga - Smile!' and then the shutter fires.
Interestingly everywhere else in the world these cameras have the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles logo, but here in the UK they were not allowed to use the word 'ninja' on children's toys. All the Turtle merchandising, toys and books (and even the TV cartoon series) had to be re-named as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles before they were allowed on sale. As a final surprise, each of these cameras has a tiny insert that prints one of the Turtle characters in the corner of each photograph taken, see right. There are at least 4 different styles of Turtle cameras designed for 110 film, plus one for 35mm film. Add to this the fact that each was probably available as 'Ninja' and 'Hero' version and you have plenty of variations to search out.
In the end this camera was still not suitable, so they settled for an Action Tracker style camera that has a rotary shutter that makes a nice 'buzz', and for the required length of time.
Finally, at around 5 o'clock the time came to film my section. I was introduced to David Stafford and he looked at the assembled collection and asked some fairly educated questions about them. Those he was particularly interested in, like the colourful Coronet Midgets and the 110 format can cameras were moved to more prominent positions so I could get to them during the filming. Unfortunately, as Channel 4 is a commercial station none of the names or logos on the can cameras were allowed to be seen, which almost defeats the idea behind them!
After a quick powdering of my sweating brow by the make-up girl, we got the countdown to begin the actual filming. David started by asking me why I decided to collect novelty cameras. I told him that cameras such as Charlie the Tuna and the Nestle Cow made me laugh and put me in a good mood for the day.
The Cow is actually quite an unusual camera. Unlike some similar novelty cameras, this one is quite modern and is designed around a 35mm camera, it even has a hot shoe were you can attach an electronic flash. It was made in China and marketed by Nestle, mainly in Australia I think, to promote Mio, a yoghurt style fruit drink aimed at kids. I presume that the various fruits shown on the cow represent the different drink flavours that were available. To obtain one of these cameras the purchaser simply sent in a number of carton tops, plus a few dollars. To date, this is the only example I have seen in the UK (and I have the original box).
David then moved on to the 110 can cameras and I told him all about those. I had just got into my stride when I heard '...and that's all we have time for in this edition. Join us again on Collectors' Lot next time.' I couldn't believe it was all over so quickly - but it wasn't. We then went through the whole procedure three more times. Each time we talked about different cameras, including David's favourite, GEC Radio camera. This is a Kodak Instamatic camera literally bolted to a simple transistor radio. These tend to be quite sort after as they appeal to both camera and radio collectors.
After a run-through of the videotape the director then filmed several close up shots and these were cut into the relevant places. Finally, after nearly two hours of filming, my section was finished so I packed up and headed for home.
A week or so later I settled down to watch the programme. Although I had been in the studio for nearly seven hours, my entire slot lasted just over four minutes! No wonder the production company gets though 12 collectors in every three-day filming session. Still, it was an interesting exercise and you never know, someone watching the programme may just have that elusive blue Coronet Midget I have been after for so long, just sitting in a cupboard and waiting for a good home.
Oh, and in case you are interested, yes, you do need a steak knife with emu!