Gandolfi, Frederick Louis 1904 - 1990


Frederick Gandolfi, camera-maker with Louis Gandolfi and Sons Ltd, was born in London in 1904.

As a young man, he joined his father's (Louis') family camera-making business with his two brothers Arthur and Thomas) and two of his three sisters. Over the years, father, mother and five of their six children worked in the business. The work ethic was a necessity in their lives, which ultimately ensured their survival as England's oldest camera manufacturer, and to later fame but no fortune for Fred and his brother Arthur

By 1930 the Gandolfis were over the worst of the 1920s recessions. The eldest son, Tom (born 1890), having survived service in the Great War, devoted himself to cabinetmaking, whilst the middle son, Fred (born 1904), who could do most things, was showing business ability. 'Young' Arthur, having left the business during the 1920s to learn clerical work, returned to fill the job of assembly and finishing. Louis was happy that his three sons could continue the family concern in his tradition and passed the family business onto the three sons after his death in 1932.

None of the Gandolfi brothers was called up in the Second World War. Tom was too old and Fred and Arthur were in a reserved occupation supplying portrait cameras and tripods to the Admiralty, Air Ministry and War Department. Ironically, the brothers were offered a government contract to supply 1,000 cameras, which they soon realised they could not fulfil. The contract went to a rival maker, Watson, who used outworkers. The Gandolfis spent much of the war repairing the results.

Post-war the market for prison 'mugshots' revived a 1935 product. No fewer than 38 prisons and police authorities in the UK alone were customers. There was also an export business to the colonies.

Always a supplier to educational and scientific bodies, the 5 x 4 in format 'Precision' camera was the cheapest of its kind, with the result that the burgeoning photographic colleges bought them by the dozen. This gave rise to a brand loyalty amongst the ex-students, who created a demand unknown before. Rather as with the Morgan sports car, waiting-lists grew from months to years in the early 1970s, which was a situation that the Gandolfis never exploited. Their cameras were fetching a premium on the open market, with the result that dealers' orders were no longer accepted and private customers were subject to some searching questions.

Tom Gandolfi died in 1965, adding a further burden to Arthur and Fred. It was not until 1976, when Tom's son Tom junior - after taking early retirement from engineering - was persuaded into the firm, that delivery times began to improve.

By 1980, it was obvious to Arthur and Fred that they could not go on much longer. They had achieved an ambition of 100 years as a family of camera-makers, wanted to reach 100 years of the Gandolfi company, but realised that outside help was necessary.

With a too-full order-book, there were many would-be purchasers for the company. Fred and Arthur were not prepared to let the family name go easily. A compromise was made with Brian Gould and his partner Sir Kenneth Corfield, who purchased the company in 1982, supplied the last apprentice, and every Gandolfi from then on carried a satisfaction certificate signed by Fred. The brothers saw their 100 years' ambition achieved, and were awarded honorary life memberships of the Royal Photographic Society and the British Institute of Professional Photographers, in recognition of their services to photography.

Sadly, the two brothers both became very ill at the same time. The photographer Ken Griffiths - who had known them for 20 years - found that both were in hospital and immediately set up an appeal. The result was that Griffiths and his then PA, Val Simmonds, organised Arthur and Fred back into their home of over 50 years, with resident professional nursing care. Fred died in his own home in 1990, and Arthur likewise, on 22 January 1993.