Skip to content

By Charlotte Howard on

Collecting camera memories: The EMI 2001 television camera

We’ve collected memories and stories about the EMI 2001 television camera from BBC alumni, highlighting how this iconic piece of equipment was used.

This year we are working in partnership with the BBC to develop an exhibition celebrating the last 100 years of broadcasting. As part of this we have been collecting memories from the BBC alumni group to gain a better understanding of the working practice of objects held in our television collection.

The iconic EMI 2001 television camera received the most nostalgic responses—read on to discover how they worked, what they were used for and why they were so well-loved.


Simon Curtis, Broadcast Cameraman and Camera Supervisor, 1987–present:

“I joined the BBC in 1987 having had the ambition to be a BBC cameraman since the age of eight—at school I might as well have said I wanted to be an astronaut! The EMI 2001 was certainly iconic with the BBC logo on the side and I’d dreamt of operating them, but alas by the time I arrived at Television Centre as a new camera trainee they’d already been replaced by Link 110s and 125s.

“Fortunately, soon after with shifts allocated at BBC Elstree I found, to my delight, that the 2001s were still being used on EastEnders. I’d finally achieved my dream and I do so wish a photo existed of that time with me and the camera with the classic ‘BBC TV Colour’ signs on the side! How they all fitted in the sets back then and with cables virtually the size of a man’s forearm, is almost beyond me!”

EMI 2001 television camera
EMI 2001 television camera, c.1968, last used on EastEnders in 1991. Science Museum Group Collection

David Short, Broadcast Cameraman, 1981–present:

“The EMI 2001 was the first television camera I operated. Ask any TV cameraman of a certain vintage, and the EMI 2001 comes out as a favourite camera to operate.

“It was such a classic design it even featured on a Royal Mail stamp which, I believe, was given to all staff at the time.

“Before the days of hand-held cameras, I recall doing a shot on Angels, a hospital drama, with four of us ‘hand-holding’ an EMI 2001 camera to simulate a patient’s point of view on a hospital trolley.

“They were, of course, tube cameras (pre CCD) and the technology couldn’t always handle highlights in the shot. If you watch some of the old Top of the Pops shows you may notice some of the lights in shot tend to smudge and smear. This was known as ‘comet tails’. Also, when makeup and costume would come onto the set to take their continuity Polaroids, they would warn us before taking the picture with a flash, by saying ‘flashing’ to give us time to pan off the cameras to avoid damage to the tubes.

“One thing that only cameramen would know was the little ‘message’ system we had with the EMI 2001. The zoom-demand handle has a screw-thread end stopper on it. During idle moments on long programme days you would unscrew the end to see if someone had left a little ‘note’ in the hollow. If not, then you could add something for a cameraman in the future to read. Inevitably, the notes would range from the banal to the inspired. I wish I had kept some of them!

“The EMI 2001 was retired from TV Centre in the late 1980s but some were moved up to Elstree studio C where, in 1991, EastEnders became the last programme in the world to use EMI 2001 cameras.”

EMI 2001 television camera in operation
David operating an EMI 2001 for the production of Morte d’Arthur at Pebble Mill with the choreographer Gillian Lynne directing. Image credit: BBC Radio Times

Robin Sutherland, Broadcast Cameraman, Camera Supervisor and OB Craft Leader, 1966–2016:

“My first memory of using EMI 2001s was when I was a junior cameraman at Television Centre in 1968. They rapidly replaced the first colour camera in service, the unloved Marconi Mk 7, an extremely big and unwieldy camera with a long lens sticking out of the front. The 2001 was a revelation to operate. Compact and well-balanced, almost half the length with the zoom lens buried in the body, it was an instant hit with cameramen, enabling them to achieve complex development shots with ease without assistance. Everyone loved it!

“I transferred to London Outside Broadcasts in 1969 and again saw the 2001 come into service in the second generation of OB Mobile Control Rooms. They gave great service on all the main units and specialist vehicles such as the Roving Eye, mounted on the roof of a Citroën estate car. The cameraman sat exposed on the roof with a driver and engineer inside and it towed its own power generator. The signal was transmitted back to a receiving point in the grandstand. [It was] used on the Grand National, Royal Ascot and many other race meetings.

Camera mounted on top of car
Colour Roving Eye built by BBC Outdoor Broadcast Units to enhance TV coverage of horse racing. This 1970s version with the EMI 2001 on top of a Citroën Safari estate car gave a very smooth ride

“OB cameras have a much harder life, being constantly rigged and derigged for each programme and then transported in a truck to the next location. Despite all this they were very reliable and gave wonderful service for well over a decade.

EMI 2001 television camera in use at a horse show
Robin operating OB Camera 2 at Olympia Horse Show in the early 1970s

“The design of the 2001 meant all the main components were placed at the rear of the camera. When the lens was removed to reduce weight for rigging, it meant the camera was twice as heavy at the rear end. One particular cameraman, Bob Buttimere, always seemed to choose the lighter front end when it had to be carried around and it entered OB folklore, universally known as ‘the Buttimere end’.

Two men carrying EMI 2001 television camera
EMI 2001 camera on final rig before coming out of service in 1980. Chris Eames on the left has the lightweight ‘Buttimere end’ and Alec Wright leads with the heavy end on the right

“36 years later I was reacquainted with the camera on the ADAPT project where we made a 1970s-style programme using vintage equipment.”

Robin recreating a 1970s outdoor broadcast with period equipment
Robin recreating a 1970s outdoor broadcast with period equipment for the ADAPT project, May 2016

The ADAPT project (2013–18) researched the history of British broadcast television technology between 1960 and the present day. Find out more at the ADAPT project website.

Robin conducting a period 1970s recreation in the foyer of the National Science and Media Museum
Robin conducting another period 1970s recreation, this time in the foyer of the National Science and Media Museum in November 2017

In 2022 we are celebrating the last century of TV, radio and streaming with Broadcast 100, a bumper year of exhibitions and events across the Science Museum Group. Visit us this summer to see more objects from the BBC Heritage Collection on display.

13 comments on “Collecting camera memories: The EMI 2001 television camera

  1. As engineers we referred to them as “watercolour cameras” as they had four tubes, the main sharpness coming from a mono tube selected for it’s sharpness and the colours painted in with 3 colour tubes. Lining them up was an art form, and you could really see the fruits of your labours on screen.

  2. I enjoyed reading the comments from other cameramen and how they loved their cameras. Thank you for sharing your love of a craft that seems to be disappearing due to technology of microprocessors.

  3. A coloured card cut-out model of an EMI 2001 on a Vinten Hydraulic Pedestal is available from Bernie Newnham – profits to charity – via the BBC Tech Ops website – an example is shown on this page: http://tech-ops.co.uk/next/colour-supplement/
    Please contact Bernie via email.
    The site includes a large number of references to the EMI 2001 and stories associated with its use.
    Also available FREE is a coloured card cut-out model (1/12scale) of a Vinten Heron – a camera crane often paired with EMI 2001 on Top of the Pops: URL is
    http://tech-ops.co.uk/next/vinten-heron-cutout-card-model-1-12-scale/

  4. Fantastic to see this page of information about this iconic camera , The EMI 2001 was the camera that got me interested in broadcast TV and cameras .
    I used to look out for cross dissolves and red tally lights on TOTP, trying to figure out which camera was taking each shot .
    The camera was so iconic for many reasons, from its relatively compact design ( lens encased within the camera body, to the four tube system ) love it!!

  5. I always thought they used Thompson cameras, wasn’t aware of the EMI model, very interesting read, I wanted to do that when I was a child so when I was older bought my own video camera, nearest thing to real thing.

  6. … there are many things in the history of television broadcasting that could be considered “iconic” … the EMI 2001, however, is not one of them … the beeb bought quite a few because they had a hand in its design and were required to “buy British” but, other than that, hardly anyone else anywhere else in the rest of the world bought them … so maybe the word you could properly use to describe them would be “beebish” …

  7. Brilliant post! I always remember seeing the titles of Swap Shop as a child and seeing one of thosd cameras! Hearing the memories of operating them is a delight thanks!

  8. I joined the BBC in 1979 as a women cameraperson. In the interview process I was asked to undertake a spinal X-ray to check that I would be able to lift the camera equipment!

  9. This is a very interesting article as long, long, long time ago I had a dream of being a cameraman but unfortunately due to my disability in those days it precluded you from getting in. I am still interested in all that goes on in the TV & Film industry (more behind the scenes) so if there is every an exhibition it would Great to view. Thank you for the article.

  10. I joined the BBC in 1969 we had 3 months training at BBC Wood Norton there was only one 2001 there and we were told it was for “engineers” only and us cameramen on pain of death must not play with it! So it wasn`t till I arrived at Television Centre that I got to use it.
    It was a joy to use ergonomically it was so good and I have so many memories of using it you put the panning handle vertical and it became a part of you, also watching other senior staff create magical moments, be it Ron Green on Stuart Morris variety shows or Jim Atkinson and Dave Mutton on dramas. On youtube there is the opening sequence of the Mikado, one long shot by Jim .
    Something I do remember and I wonder if you have one in your collection was a left over from turret camera days,a strip of paper which had lens angles marked on it so you could programme the “shot box” on the 2001 a very useful tool on fast sit-coms and music shows to hit the mark.
    How about getting some stories about the other “tools of the trade” peds and cranes -Moles Herons and Nike`s

  11. CeeJay is correct.
    If this camera was so good, how come virtually zero were sold abroad?

    Only the UK ran this camera as it was so big, heavy, no real choice of lenses, old-fashioned, expensive to run and expensive to buy. Cameramen may have liked it, but it just didn’t sell, hence it was effectively the end of EMI Ltd. in cameras. From these perspectives, it was a failure. A commercial disaster area . . .

  12. I joined the BBC in 1969, and there was a mix of b&w and colour cameras. I learnt to go to stores and get specialist lenses for the turret, and how to change them using a crank handle or motorised turret.

    But I also learnt on the 2001, which was a masterpiece of engineering. Its compact size and good balance meant it was easy to control and pivoted how you wanted it – and it was easy to avoid camera shake. Focus was so smooth, although I often had difficulty with getting a smooth start on a zoom.

    The really easy to use shot-box helped the transition from turrets, and the pan handle was really comfortable and customisable (although I never got on with the idea of putting it business end vertical). A 4-man lift, it’s true (and what about those who managed to fail to locate the mounting wedge properly and a push on the ped had the camera on the floor!)

    They were definitely iconic, in that they were what most people recognised as a BBC TV camera.

    Unlike turret cameras and those with stick-out zooms, 2001s really felt a part of you when you used them. Above all, with the 4 tubes, the picture quality was always superb as the luminance signal didn’t depend on the alignment of the colour tubes.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.