Les Dutfield's Story


Les Dutfield joined Ilford Ltd in 1955 after doing his National Service in the RAF working in photographic processing.  Initially Les was based at Victory Garage in Ilford, which was owned by Ilford Limited and housed the Service Department and Transport Department, he was taken on as a service technician initially to service Ilford Azoflex equipment; an office dye line system but with the understanding that with his RAF experience he would be routed to a new department being planned that would install a new range of mechanised black and white photo processing equipment.

Within a few months Les was sent for training on the Ilford Roll Head Printer; a contact printer with automatic exposure and the N Printer; an enlarging projection printer. This was followed by a course at Kennington and Bourlet Limited who had their works in Chiswick, on the Kennington Synchromat; a projection contact printer and the Kenprinter; an enlarging projection printer. Les also was also trained on their new Kennington & Bourlet Paper Processor and the 3 foot and 4 foot water-jacketed glazers that worked with the processor.

Ilford Limited had designed and manufactured the Roll Head Printer and the N Printer themselves along with the Ilford Roll Film Processor and drying tunnel. These products were Ilford projects and K&B were not involved in their design or manufacture. By 1956 Ilford Ltd had then acquired Kennington and Bourlet. The Ilford Roll Head an N Printers were mainly leased to the customers with a contract tying up their use with Ilford paper and chemicals. This was not the case with K&B printers and processors that the photofinishers had purchased outright.

Up to this time the Ilford equipment was installed by a couple of reps and the K&B equipment by K&B staff. About four other technicians had been trained and Les was the youngest and newest. A senior technician was asked to take a Land Rover and trailer loaded with Roll Head Printers around Scotland to install and demonstrate the machines. Les was in the manager's office at the time. The technician replied that he could not do it as he had not installed or demonstrated one. The manager replied  "You have been on the training course, why can't you?" He then turned to Les and asked if he would do it. Les had never been to Scotland and jumped at the chance and said "yes."

Les was away in Scotland for nearly two weeks. Once he had done one installation the others were easy. Les was soon promoted, a new department was formed called "Photomation" and Les was second in command, the manager being a colleague called Geoff Pattenden who had been with Ilford Ltd for several years. In 1958 the Service Department was moved from Ilford to the new factory in Basildon, Essex and here there was a definite separation of Azoflex and Photomation. Les was very much involved with K&B and by this time Reg Kennington and Les were on first name terms. Les did not meet Mr Bourlet who he understood was the financial backer for Reg Kennigton but was not involved with the day to day running of the company. Les comments that it became obvious that K&B and Photomation needed to work closer together and in about 1963/4 K&B moved out of their Chiswick works and set up on an industrial estate at West Drayton. Geoff Pattenden and Les also moved over to West London, Ilford Photomation being in the same building as K&B. At this stage K&B were just R&D and manufacturing whilst Photomation was responsible for installation and after sales service for the Ilford Printers & K&B machines. Ilford tried to get into colour processing equipment by becoming agents for the American company, PAKO and Photomation were responsible for that but it did not work out.

Before Les was promoted to a managerial position he was a hands on service technician and made several trips to Europe to service problem equipment and advise the distributors.  He also visited Great Yarmouth making service calls to J Barker & Sons Ltd who were mainly involved in street photography (walkies) on Great Yarmouth seafront and Regent Road as well as taking photographs in holiday camps. He also visited E Fisher Limited. Mr Fisher had his darkrooms and photofinishing equipment in a basement under the Regent Cinema in Great Yarmouth.

K&B had produced an XRay processing machine and a prototype colour Kenprinter that Les says was very unreliable. One of these printers went to Deardens at Hunstanton but had to be returned. Ilford had also produced together with K&B a twin track colour film processor. This was a development of the earlier Ilford black and white dunk and dip roll film processor. This machine could process say Kodak film down one track and say Ilford or Agfa down a second track. With the demise of the Ilford Colour Negative Film it was Les' responsibility to go around to clients with the Ilford configuration and offer them compensation, a job that Les did not enjoy.

By this time Les had become the Field Service Manager responsible for all the service technicians around the country. He organised 24/7 servicing because of the X-Ray equipment contract with the NHS. One of K&B managers became Workshop Manager for the repair of any equipment brought back to the depot. It was obvious to many of the work force that both Ilford equipment as well as K&B equipment had lost its way and one by one people from both

Photomation (Geoff Pattenden) and K&B started to leave. Les could see the writing on the wall and joined Pavelle Limited, later to be known as Durst (UK) Ltd in 1969 to set up their new service department. Read more about Les' time at Pavelle on Maurice Fisher's photomemorabilia web site.

Les sent me a couple of photographs of vehicles used by Ilford Ltd in the time he was working for them. One is of a Landrover with "Ilford Service" lettered on its sides standing outside the cinema in St Andrews in Scotland on the first journey Les made to Scotland. The other shows Morris 1,000 Travellers with Ilford Sunburst logo and "Photomation Services" lettering.

I am very grateful to Les for the information he has supplied to me.