R.F. Hunter Ltd. was an importing and distribution company based at 51 Gray's Inn Road, and previously at 40 Doughty St., in central London, England - who included various cameras, cine films and slide strips in their products. They seemed to specialise in quite odd-ball cameras, such as the gravity-control shuttered Purma and the stainless-steel fronted Gilbert box camera with rotating viewfinder.
In the early 1930s,'Hunter's' distributed Celfix cine projectors and cameras and Hunter-rebadged Bingoscope cine projectors, and supplied films and film strips for these.
(Added - April 2013) - Their most famous distributed brand was the Franke & Heidecke Rollei Products Range, at the time possibly the most powerful cameras on sale in the UK. They were appointed prior to World War 2 as the UK Distributors, the first outside Germany. Herr Franke brought his son to the UK due to his Hitler concerns, just prior to the declaration of war between the two countries. Due to their close friendship, he asked Cyril Hunter, the Managing Director of R F Hunter, to look after him during the war years. This he did, albeit with having to report to the police frequently with Franke's son!
After the end of the war the cameras went into full production, these being the Rolleicord, the Rolleflex Auto and later the 3.5F; the superb Rolleiflex 2.8F, the Tele-Rollei and the Wide-Rollei, with the Baby Rollei 4x4 compact using 127 size film. They were restricted in import quantities by licence, and it was not until the late 1950s that, one afternoon, the licences were lifted and a free flow of product could be imported. This was the door opening for the Franke & Heidecke Company to expand fast and impressively.
Over the coming years, they added to their range with the wonderful small Rollei B35 and Rollei 35 cameras, the Rollei 110 sub-miniature camera (a lot of interest shown in this by MI5 and MI6), the superb Rollei 35 slide projectors with two models, the Rollei 35 and the Rollei 35AF with remote control.
But they had their failures, too, one of these being the Rolleiflex SL66, brought out to capture the Hasselblad camera market. It was dogged with problems and never really took off, but it was supplemented with the later SLX and 6000 series cameras that were used on the Space Shuttle.
They also brought out the very first computerised flashgun, this made in the US by Honeywell and licensed for sale under the Rollei brand. It was amazing, with its 50,000th of a second rapid fire flash capability. It was snapped up by a certain well known photographer... later to be known as Lord Snowdon (who married Princess Margaret). He was commissioned by the Sunday Times colour supplement to capture images of bees, birds and similar, on flowers, for publishing. The high speed of the flash was able for the first time to capture them in flight.
Due to age, R F Hunter decided to go into discussions with Franke & Heidecke, and eventually it was announced that their offices, still in Gray's Inn Road, were to close. The business would move to Wellingborough and re-open as Rollei UK Limited. At this same time Rollei very bravely opened a production plant in Singapore to enable the products to be produced at Japanese production prices. Not long after the opening there, Queen Elizabeth II visited, along with the Duke of Edinburgh, and, somewhat ironically, formally opened the facility! Rollei gave as 'thankyou' gifts superb Rollei 35 cameras for Her Majesty, the Duke of Edinburgh, and for Princess Margaret, too. But these were not standard models! They were equipped with the ƒ/2.8 Tessar lens (usually an ƒ/3.5 version), the camera bodies were gold-plated and the normal black leatherette wrap around the camera body was changed to snakeskin!
Over the coming months and years there were many press photographs taken of Her Majesty and the family members taking pictures with these cameras. But, as pressures came on from cheaper cameras and projectors coming out of Japan, the company went in to serious financial problems and eventually closed down. The well known Dixon Group in the UK benefitted greatly from this by buying much of the liquidated stocks at amazingly low prices and selling them in the then most powerful media publication — Amateur Photographer magazine — with huge double page advertisements.
Later owners of the Rollei line included United Scientific of the UK and then the Mandermann family in Germany, followed by Samsung. Then by an employee buyout, which was not successful and ended in liquidation. Today the Rollei name is used for marketing film and accessories.
(The above information has been written by Bernard Hawkes (initailly a commercial traveller for R F Hunter who then progressed to Field Sales Manager and finally Sales Director of Rollei UK)
Other Cameras & Lenses supplied
- Celfix cine
- Gilbert box, c.1953
- Gugo viewfinder camera (made by Goldammer, c.1953)
- Hunter 35 (a rebadged Steinette, made by Steiner, c.1957)
- Hunter 35 R (a Hunter 35 with a rangefinder)
- Hunter cine (Bingoscope)
- UK Paterson Darkroom products (Developing Tank being their main product)
- Purma Speed, Purma Special, Purma Plus
- Rolloroy (a rebadged Nagel Pupille, 1930)
- Schneider lenses
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