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The Bombardier Hart Moment


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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The Bombardier Hart Moment

1 Nov 2020 10:00AM   Views : 570 Unique : 369


I love quotes, but you’ll have to look the relevant one up: it’s not suitable for a nice website like Ephotozine. It comes, if I remember rightly, from Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall by Spike Milligan. The book relates part of the story of Milligan’s time in the Army during World War Two, and comes at a point when Milligan and a number of other new recruits have failed to put up a large tent. Further, one of their number is trapped under yards of Army canvas when the Sergeant Major arrives and asks what’s going on here. Bombardier Hart explained. I paraphrase: ‘Sergeant, we have utterly failed in our endeavours, and have indeed made things worse than if we had stood still. There is no excuse for our pathetic performance. We wish we had never been born.’ But he said it in four words. Three of them were we, it, and up.

It’s that moment when you realise that it’s all gone pear-shaped. Down the tubes. Up the creek, sans paddle. And it’s all your own fault.

I’ve had a few of those with cameras and developing tanks. And even with Compact Flash cards. Usually, I have had no chance to share the blame, but just occasionally, others have contributed.


When I was a teenager, along with the Zenith, Zorki and Fed cameras that Technical and Optical Equipment Limited imported came some more exotic and less-known things. For instance, there was a developing tank that took a whole roll of Double-8 ciné film, around twenty-five feet. There was also a little round device that you pushed the dried film through, so that it was divided precisely in two.
(This was necessary because Double-8 cameras used film 16mm wide, with twice the number of perforations that 16mm film had. The film gate in the camera was offset to one side, and you ran the film through the camera, then swapped over the two spools just like that hospital scene in the film of Catch 22 with the drip and drain bags. Consequently, you ended up with fifty feet of film, with fogging in the middle as well as at both ends…)

And a further miracle was that TOE imported film and chemicals to go with the tank. Technopan was black-and-white, while the colour emulsion was called Technocolor (one letter different from the popular movie process, you note). And here’s where it went a tiny bit wrong, because the instructions for mixing the chemicals were missing, and the bags were unlabelled. Worse, there wasn’t a single bag to each processing bath, but most involved two or three. Weirdly, there were instructions for making up the necessary processing baths from raw chemicals.


I was ingenious, though, and by weighing the bags of chemicals, I worked out which bags must correspond to which bath, making the natural assumption – which, 50 years on, I realise was not necessarily valid – that the manufacturer would supply precisely the same chemicals as in the ‘make up your own’ formula. ‘Twas not so.

Colour positive processing was a long business back then: not the two baths and half an hour of E-6, but around 90 minutes and six or seven baths. So my own Bombardier Hart moment was delayed quite a long time. Only when I opened the tank did I find that the way I’d mixed the chemicals had led to a magenta-tinged negative mess…

But eventually I reached that moment. I had utterly failed in my endeavours, and had indeed made things worse than if I had stood still. There was no excuse for my pathetic performance. I wished I had never been born.


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dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
1 Nov 2020 10:02AM
I started writing this some days ago, but had to delay posting until I found the tank.

It seems singularly appropriate that it's ready the morning after the English have seen Bombardier Boris keeping everyone waiting for two and a half hours to revert to his slogan from March. (Good slogan: possibly should have stuck with it?)
kaybee Avatar
kaybee 19 8.7k 28 Scotland
1 Nov 2020 10:21AM
Anyone who has done darkroom work has had their own " Bombardier Hart" moment ............ some of us many more than once.
JuBarney Avatar
JuBarney Plus
12 36 7 United Kingdom
1 Nov 2020 10:58AM
You are very brave to tell us about it and at least you no doubt learnt from the experience. We all know that when things go wrong, they have to get better!
AltImages Avatar
AltImages 3 4
1 Nov 2020 11:00AM
I've had two such moments back in my teenage years. My first proper camera was a Zeiss Ikon (6x4.5cm) that used 120 film. I thought I'd experiment with my first film (Afga CT18) to see how the frame numbers showed in the windows in back of the camera as I wound them on. Anyway that meant that I had to wind the film back to the beginning under the bedsheets. So all the photos on my first film had a rather pleasing orange coloration 😊 But my real Bombardier Hart moment was at the age of about 17 when I attended a photography night-school 'life modelling' evening. I'd shot three rolls of 120 film and when developing I'd kept the best film until last. But after I'd unsuccessfully tried and tried and tried to get the film into the Patterson spiral I turned on the light on, out of frustration! If you remember the old tanks those had transparent polystyrene spirals, which weren't compatible with being dried on the fire hearth. It turns out one of the spirals had deformed with the heat and joined to its neighbour! Maybe that's one of the the reasons why they moved over to the white nylon spirals with their 'System 4' tanks a scary number of years ago. Then printing said images from the other two films also presented a challenge - in the darkroom of my Catholic boys school!
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
1 Nov 2020 11:08AM
Oh yes. I have a couple of much older Paterson tanks... I think that a very good reason for the nylon spirals was general robustness... As you can see, the Russian tank for 8mm film had a polystyrene spiral. The top was reversible, so you could use it to develop half a Single 8 or Super 8 film at a time, as well. The body of the tank seems to be more Bakelite than polystyrene. I'm quite surprised it hasn't crumbled with age: the rubber hoses have...

There's a story of nudes and developing - but maybe that's for naother day.
AltImages Avatar
AltImages 3 4
1 Nov 2020 11:18AM
As a digression John, your mention of Russian developing tanks reminds me of a conversation I had in the shop when I was buying my first Olympus OM-1 in 1975. We were talking about the price mark-up in the distribution network. As I'd read that the then £149 Olympus left the factory at only a tenth that price. And I said that I couldn't fathom how the Lubitel 6x6 camera could be sold for just £6. He said that it was 'dumping' by the Russians and that his brother worked for Technical and Optical and the Lubitel cameras came into the country costing just six pence each!!!
mistere Avatar
mistere Plus
10 37 8 England
1 Nov 2020 11:26AM
“As the old saying has it 'The man who never made a mistake never made anything'.
or, "We all make mistakes" - as the Dalek said climbing off the dustbin. Blush
And as I have mentioned on many occasions, every day's a school day.
Happy silly Sunday, one and all.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
1 Nov 2020 1:20PM
I owned a Lubitel, from around 1971 to 1972: a drop onto concrete totalled it. Fragile plastic.

I bought it on a schools cruise in a tourist shop in St Petersburg (aka Leningrad, then), and it cost me £2 in assorted change from all the countries we'd already visited. Essentially, the USSR desperately needed foreign currency, and selling cheap brought it in.

Happy Silly Sunday, Dave! And everyone.

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