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dreamt of operating them, but alas by the time I arrived at Television Centre as a new camera trainee they’d already been replaced by Link 110s and 125s.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!”
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.”
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.
“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.
“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’.
“36 years later I was reacquainted with the camera on the ADAPT project where we made a 1970s-style programme using vintage equipment.”
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.
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.