Great British Cameras:

Ilford Advocate

Series 1

Series 2

Series 3



The Ilford Advocate was introduced in 1949 and as such I believe it to be the first British 35mm camera. Other British 35mm cameras, like the Reid, were advertised earlier, but were not actually available to buy until after the Advocate. The Advocate is also unique in having an stove ivory enamel finish which, when it is good condition, makes this one of the most attractive cameras ever made (yes, I mean it!).

The camera was made by Kennedy Instruments Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ilford formed specifically to manufacture cameras for Ilford. Kennedy's were a well known motor engineering company and the formation of Kennedy Instruments was a result of a friendship between Mr Kennedy and one of the Ilford Directors, Mr Mitchell who had been at school together.

Ilford had no intention of becoming a camera manufacturing company. Like Kodak and Ensign, they saw cameras as the obvious means to advertise their film - by the use of those little stickers still found inside many cameras of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. The more cameras they sold, the more film was needed and Ilford hoped it would be their film that was bought.

The camera was launched in 1949 with a Dallmeyer f4.5 lens of an unusually wide (for a fixed standard lens) 35mm focal length. The shutter had 9 speeds from 1 sec to 1/200thsec.

The Advocate remained essentially the same over its production life from 1949 until about 1960. The main change that was made in 1952 when the second series was launched (Dec 1952) with a faster f3.5 lens, to enable users to take advantage of the rather slow speed colour film that was gaining in popularity. Flash synchronisation was also added, although Ilford's decision to fit their own 2 socket system was perhaps not a good one as the co-axial flash terminal had established itself as 'the standard', and to attach a flashgun with one of these meant chopping the co-axial plug off the end and connecting it to a length of wire with suitable plugs for the Ilford sockets. Ilford thoughtfully provided just such a piece of wire as an accessory!

A particularly interesting feature of the very early cameras is the use of a chrome pressure plate. I know of 19 cameras with this feature with serial numbers indicating that about the first 650 cameras (and no more than 677!) had a chrome plate. The rest of the Advocate Production run (1000 in total) reverted to the usual black pressure plate we see on almost all other cameras.

Kennedy Instruments may have started with a chrome plate because being highly polished it would have minimum drag on the film and the smooth surface would not scratch the film. The reason for the change to the mor normal black pressure plate is unknown, but I'm guessing that they might have had problems with light passing through the emulsion and reflecting back from the chrome pressure plate causing some detrioration in the image. This would perhaps only happen where there were particularly bright highlights (if anyone has had experience of this or would like to experiment to test the theory, please let me know the outcome!!). This may have been the reason for going to a black plate, or it may just have been that a black painted pressure plate was cheaper to manufacture. I have asked those who made the camera, but they couldn't remember the camera in that level of detail. I often have to remind myself that the cameras I am so interested in were made by engineers for whom it was just another job and so they made this thing for a while and then moved on to another, they did not think that in 50 years time some strange person would come along and want to know every minute detail !

The Advocate body was such a good solid casting that it was used as the basis for many specialist cameras. You can read about these and all the other cameras Ilford made from 1899 - 2005 in Andy Holliman's excellent book 'Faces, People and Places', a bargain at £17.80, see: and click on Ilford Cameras. This very comprehensive book includes a small contribution from me in the form of the detail of my research on the Advocate production numbers.