Gratispool ~ Means Free Films

Gratispool was arguably the first, and certainly the most famous, of the UK photographic film processing companies that dealt directly with the public via mail order. In various guises they operated from the early 1930s through to the early 1980s, whereafter the company was sold to a succession of new owners over the next 20years, during which time the Gratispool brand name disappeared. Increasing competition from High Street colour printing facilities, and ultimately the digital era, lead to the demise of what had once been a substantial international organisation. I must thank Farquhar McKenzie, a former Gratispool emloyee, for providing much of the information on the post-1981 dissolution of the previous Gratispool 'empire'. The early history of Gratispool, through to the 1970s, has come to me from Martin and Richard Stead, and Michael Adler and Suzanne Lipschitz (née Adler), all being offspring of Gratispool's originators.

The following is an attempt to record the history of Gratispool which, especially from the end of the 2nd World War through to the 1960s, was used by a whole generation of amateur photographers for whom home photography, albeit only (at that time) in black & white, was at last a realistic financial option. Gratispool offered noteable value in not only supplying postcard sized enlargements as standard, but also supplying a free film with each order.

Gratispool means literally ‘Free Film’ (roll films were called 'spools' at that time), but the free film that first made Gratispool famous, was a low cost paper based type, not celluloid based as sold by e.g. Ilford and Kodak. This not only enabled Gratispool to operate profitably despite 'giving away' a film with each returned set of prints, but also 'locked' the customer into using Gratispool for their future developing and printing (d&p) needs, since the paper negatives from the 'free' film could only be printed using special reflected light enlargers, not by 'contact' or other conventional transmitted light printing procedures.

Early History of Gratispool ~ in Leeds, 1930s  

The principle characters in the formation and operation of the Gratispool company were Geoffrey Stead, his wife Edrei Stead (née Francis) and Norman Adler. Their children, Martin and Richard Stead, and Michael Adler and Suzanne Lipschitz (née Adler) have provided invaluable information on the early days of the company. As is often the case with trying to record such history, however, these children were not even born when the concept first originated, so the early days of Gratispool are known only through a few company records and anecdotal knowledge. The following tries to bring all of this together into a coherent story, but inevitably contains some speculation.

Geoffrey William Stead and Edrei Francis were married in Bradford on 4th March 1931. Geoffrey Stead had trained as a pharmacist in Bradford, and Edrei had worked in Leeds as manageress of the Jerome photographic studio. On their wedding certificate both have their professions recorded as 'photographers', and Edrei’s father, Jack Francis, is also understood to have been a photographer. Geoffrey's two younger brothers, Stanley and Harry (maybe inspired by Geoffrey), both ran photographic studios, Stanley at Kendal (in Cumbria) and Harry in prestigious Bond St., London. The brothers were both competent photographers, being particularly good at photographing children. Harry Stead made a name for himself in London as a gifted child photographer and had opportunity to photograph the Royal Family. In 1949, Harry had "workrooms" overlooking "The Tea Kettle" tea rooms in Highgate High Street, London N6 (Ref: AP. 7th June 1961), at the junction with Bisham Gardens.

The picture alongside was taken by Harry Stead in 1947.

It is of a young Ernest Harris who says (February 2015) "Thanks to your excellent site I have been able to identify the 'Harry Stead' who took photos of me as a child.
I knew the name because he signed one of the pictures. The date would have been about 1947 when we lived in Highgate, which I see was where he had his Studio.
My mother always said he was a 'Royal photographer', so it was good to learn there was truth in that claim".

One of the two witnesses at the wedding between Geoffrey Stead and Edrei Francis was Norman Bernard Adler. This is an important fact, as it shows a close early association between them at a time when few other facts exist. Norman Adler is understood to have also had a knowledge of photography and to have already (by then) studied the technology during a visit to Kodak's Rochester Plant in New York.

Shortly after their marriage, Geoffrey and Edrei (and possibly Norman) started Geoffrey's Studio, in Boar Lane, Leeds. The Studio produced portraits for their studio customers, with a 'side-line' of also accepting films 'over-the-counter' for developing & printing (d&p). Film processing may have been Norman's input to the business, since he is believed to have been a practical technologist while Geoffrey and Edrei were more business minded. The synergism between them all would have been a powerful combination in a business that required both customer acumen and also a good grasp of the technical process.

Since the Studio would have supplied its finished portraits as postcard size prints (Edrei would have been acquainted with this while working at Jerome Studios), a decision was made to print all films to this size instead of printing Studio negatives to postcard and d&p customer's films to small 'contact prints'. Thus, postcard sized prints became standard for all their customers at no extra cost.

This move proved so popular that the developing and printing of customer's own films outgrew the Studio side of the business and was reborn as "The PC (for Post Card) Developing and Printing Company", with G W Stead, N B Adler and E Stead listed as directors, trading from Low Hall Mills, Holbeck, Leeds 11. So Norman Adler is known to have been a Director partner with Geoffrey & Edrei Stead.

The letter shown alongside was found by Michael Adler at Company House, 21 Bloomsbury Street, London.

The address of the PC company can be clearly seen on this letter, where Norman Adler (his name is central in the row of Directors' names below the company logo) is apparently writing to himself at his home, at 2 Moor Allerton Way, Leeds.

The reason for this letter is probably that Norman was a keen philatelist and was sending himself an envelope with a stamp issued on 13th May 1937 celebrating the Coronation of George VI.

Alongside is believed never to have been a postage stamp. Just a memento postcard of the year,1936, when the UK had three consecutive Kings; (George V, Edward VIII and George VI; all Kings of the UK during 1936)

A postage stamp issued to celebrate the Coronation of King George VI.

Geoffrey Stead
as a young man

In an attempt to expand custom for "The PC Developing and Printing Company", the Directors tried offering d&p services to chemists shops (chemists were synonymous with photography at that time, due to their involvement with the supply and use of chemicals), only to find that many refused, because they were concerned that once they started offering postcard size prints to their customers, at the same price as (smaller) contact prints, they would find it difficult to back-track if the service proved unreliable. Its possible that they were influenced to make this response by the Wholesale PhotoFinishers Association (WPFA; see p5 of this link), who would have wanted to discourage the competitive advantage of postcard sized prints compared to the offerings of their own members, who supplied contact prints as standard and charged extra for postcard enlargements.

As an alternative to trading through the (reluctant) local chemists shops, it was decided to approach newsagents, tobacconists and, most unconventional of all, the many radio shops which were sprouting up all over the place at that time. Since such traders had no prior involvement with the photofinishing trade they were not influenced by the attitude of the WPA and were happy to take on a sideline that cost them no investment.

Anecdotally, an incident when one of the radio shops went bankrupt, owing the Steads and Norman Adler a substantial sum of money, prompted the thought to return to trading directly with the public, rather than awaiting payment via retailers. Geoffrey Stead, who is believed was the 'business man', with Norman Adler being more practically inclined, talked about getting his money 'up-front', by running his business on 'Other People's Money' (OPM, as he termed it). So Geoffrey decided to try direct marketing via mail order, using newspaper advertisements, a novel strategy at the time for the photographic processing trade.

The subsequent course of action which finally led to the formation of the Gratispool company is uncertain. The print envelope shown alongside dates to October 1935, showing how the name Gratispool was in use by that time, and no doubt earlier.

Norman Adler is understood to have visited South Africa during the early 1930s (maybe 1934) where the word ‘Gratis’ in Afrikaans is equivalent to "for free". It is anecdotally thought, therefore, that he brought back with him the idea for a free film service called Gratispool. However, it is also possible that he just coined the name Gratispool, with the business idea having already been mutually agreed with his partners before his trip. By whatever route, the Gratispool idea began (maybe experimentally at first) by advertising the supply of a free (black & white) film with each returned set of prints. Initially an order had to be for more than 1s/10d (9p) to qualify = price of developing & printing an 8 exposure film. This new service operated from the postal address of 37 Isles Lane, Leeds. The Gratispool company was formally registered (incorporated) in London on 30th August 1938.

The price of 1s/10d can be broken down into 6d (6d; old pennies = 2.5p; new pence) for developing the film and 2d (almost 1p) for each postcard sized black & white enlargement.

When Gratispool was 'incorporated', it took over, as a going concern, the business of the PC Developing and Printing Company including all and any of the assets and liabilities there, including all the rights and property in the registered Trade Mark 'Gratispool'. The directors were listed as Geoffrey Stead, Norman Adler and Edrei Stead. It had a registered share capital of 15 thousand pounds with shares divided equally between the three directors. The registered address of the company was given as Bond Street Chambers, Tyrrel Street, Bradford.

Having given away a free film, Gratispool ensured it was returned for processing by using a low cost type which produced opaque paper negatives rather than conventional transparent celluloid ones.

It is believed Gratispool purchased their light sensitised 'fast' bromide paper negative 'film' material from Criterion, a company based at the Arclight Works of E.N.Mason & Sons, Ltd, Colchester (formed in 1905). At some later date, post-World War II, it is understood to have come from Kodak. Later still, around the mid-1960s, Gratispool black & white film became a conventional celluloid type, printable by transmitted light.

The bulk sensitised paper was made up into roll film 'spools', by hand. Although the 'spools' could be developed by most anyone using normal film developer etc. the resulting 'paper' negatives had to be printed by Gratispool's own purpose designed reflected light enlargers (Richard Stead recalls that his father's reflected light enlargers used 1000watt bulbs).

Hence, because of the opaque negatives, once you had taken pictures on a Gratispool 'free' film, you became 'locked into' using Gratispool's services thereafter, since (virtually) only they could print your negatives. Fortunately, Gratispool gave a good service and a huge number of people were happy using the 'paper based' free film, knowing they would receive low cost postcard sized prints.

Gratispool worked successfully from their Leeds premises for several years and the operation grew to employ over 300 people. Meanwhile, Norman Adler married Annette Isaacs in Sunderland in 1936 and they bought a house in Moor Allerton Way, Leeds.

By the latter 1930s, it is believed at least three companies were in existence, being Geoffery's Modern Studios Ltd, The PC Developing and Printing Company and also the fledgling Gratispool.

As the business grew it became time to expand elsewhere. A survey of Gratispool's customers showed a disproportionate number came from Glasgow, so it was decided to open new premises in that city. These were found at 207 William Street, Glasgow, C3. Later it was discovered that the customer sample was statistically 'skewed' because it was taken during the Glasgow Fair Holiday (last two weeks in July). However, it proved to be a good move since there was an abundant supply of female labour in Glasgow ~ low cost in those days of wage inequality. There was ready employment for men in the Clyde shipyards, but such hard physical work was considered unsuited to female labour. The opposite situation applied in Leeds, where many women worked in the woollen mills and Gratispool had to mainly employ men.

The picture alongside, courtesy of Michael Adler and the records he found at Company House, is the reverse side of a postcard photograph produced by Geoffrey's Modern Studios Ltd, in 1941. Notice that the original Geoffrey's Studio has flourished and three further branches are now (in 1941) in existence, in Huddersfield, York and (not unexpectedly) Glasgow.

War time would no doubt have brought an additional demand for photographs, as husbands and boyfriends went overseas in the Forces and left their wives and sweethearts behind. A photograph to remind each of their loved one would have created good trade for a photographic studio at a time when it was still comparatively rare for 'ordinary' members of the public to own a camera.

By the early 1940s it seems the cost of a postcard sized black & white print had risen to 3d (old pence = 1¼p = new pence). Further price rises inevitably followed so that the cost of a print had reached 5d (old pennies = 2p) by July/August 1951 with the film developing costing at 1s (12 old pennies = 5p). By the late 1950s (spring 1957 or later) the price of a print had risen to 6d and by the late 1960s it was 8d (3.3p) with film developing costing 2s/6d (30 old pennies = 12.5p).

As a consequence of their customer survey, the Stead family relocated to Glasgow, leaving the Leeds premises in the hands of Norman Adler. The date when the Stead family relocated to Glasgow is uncertain, but it seemingly occurred prior to 1938. Norman's son Michael was born in Leeds during March 1938, so one could speculate that Michael's pending birth may have had some influence on Norman and his wife being happy to stay behind in Leeds. Norman continued to run the Leeds based businesses for a further 10 years or so, in conjunction with his factory manager Ernest Carlson. Unfortunately, towards the end of the 1940s a fire destroyed their major site at Low Hall Mills, during winter maintenance work.

These print envelopes confirm the date of the Leeds fire which led to the closure of the (Leeds based) Gratispool premises. The green & orange print envelopes are dated 18th Dec 1946 (green) and 10th Oct 1947 (orange) and both have the two Gratispool addresses i.e. William St, Glasgow C3 and Holbeck, Leeds 11. However, the blue envelope, dated 15th June 1949, has just the William Street, Glasgow C3 address; the Leeds premises have ceased to exist. This confirms Michael Adler's recollection of hearing the news of the fire from his father in December 1947. Michael was then aged 9, at school in Brighton.

Norman had not been in the best of health for some time and the fire was 'the last straw' which prompted him to emigrate, with his wife and children (daughter Sue was born in 1942), to South Africa. Norman and his wife already had an association with South Africa, having met on-board ship during Norman's first trip to South Africa around 1934. His wife's parents and her two brothers were already in South Africa, having emigrated some years previous.

Norman and his family left the UK in May 1948 and arrived in S.Africa on the 'Cape Town Castle' on 10th June 1948.

Gratispool Africa (Proprietary) Limited
~ the Adler family.

The UK winter from late January to mid March 1947 was very severe and may well have encouraged Norman to seek a better climate for the sake of his health. Fortunately, Norman's health recovered in South Africa, after a thyroid problem was discovered which had been over-looked in the UK.

Before Norman emigrated to South Africa he reached an amicable arrangement with the Steads, who were by then expanding the Gratispool business within Glasgow, such that Gratispool (within the UK) subsequently came under sole ownership of the Steads.

On his arrival in S.Africa, Norman set up Gratispool Africa (Proprietary) Limited, which was incorporated according to the Companies Act of South Africa on the thirtieth (30th) day of September 1948, signed by the Registrar of Companies, Pretoria. This business initially operated out of 48 Caledon Street, Cape Town. Later it moved to Castle Street, Cape Town, where it thrived until 1974. Apart from operating a 'paper film' based portrait studio business, Norman also offered a mail order 'Free Film Services' developing & printing service. This might explain the address of PO Box 6.877, Johannesburg, being the return address for the SA Gratispool film shown below, though Michael Adler and his sister Sue Lipschitz have no knowledge of their father having Johannesburg business connections.

The photograph shown left is the Adler family in Cape Town in 1957; Norman, Suzanne, Anita and Michael.

Referring to his father's business at Caledon Street, Michael Adler recalls: "There were three floors with the post being opened each morning (sacks of post in large post office bags) on the ground floor and developing on the top floor, with printing on the floor between. I remember the huge developing tanks and the smell of the chemicals. The opening of the post was most important. It came from all over Africa and we used to keep the stamps" (this is further evidence of Norman's interest in philately, see above).

"Supplies of materials for our 'free' films came from England. I remember the large wooden printing machines and the powerful lights. Dad sent for Ernest Carlson from England after a few years - he had been his factory manager in England. At one stage there was a trolley 'bus with Gratispool adverts. In the mid-1950s colour photography started with special paper and many chemicals. It seemed very complicated and in order to keep up, Dad sent me (Michael) to Johannesburg in 1957 to study the process at the Kodak factory. Before that, he used to very carefully colour some of the pictures by hand and I still have his magnifying glass on my desk."

"The S.African Government passed the Population Registration Act in 1950 and this required that everyone had to be photographed for an identity document. Dad was very busy at this time and I remember going with him on some of his trips - to Robben Island, to Port Elizabeth and to Riversdale. He had a lovely Leica camera. I went on the back of a moped to Riversdale with a woman photographer who was going to assist him."

"In the 1950s Norman went into partnership with Mr Hutch, a German who lived in Bishopscourt. The business was called Le Portrait and there was a Studio in Queen Victoria Street."

Alongside is a photograph of the Adler (and Lipschitz) family, in April 1973. Norman and his wife Anita are in the centre, with Sue in the lower right.

Sue says "All three girls are Michael's and all three boys are mine".

Michael is believed to have been taking the photograph, as neither he, nor his wife Eve, are included.

Gratispool in Glasgow ~ the Stead family    

Leaving Norman Adler and his family in S.Africa, the story returns to the UK, where Geoffrey & Edrei Stead, with their growing family, are now living and working in Glasgow.

By 1938 the Gratispool name was gaining recognition in Glasgow by virtue of the Steads taking advantage of the advertising potential of the 1938 Empire Exhibition, Scotland (unofficially known as the British Empire Exhibition, Glasgow). This exhibition ran from May 3rd to October 24th 1938 at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow and covered 175 acres. An advert (my thanks to Stuart Neville for this Flickr link) tells how Gratispool had two kiosks at this exhibition, Kiosk A & Kiosk B, where visitors could leave their films for developing & printing. "Developing 6d (2.5p). Each print 2d (1p) (each print a GLOSSY POSTCARD)", "... we will supply you with an ultra-rapid 8-exposure film for further Exhibition photographs, free of charge." "Amateur Photographers should read the correct exposure for all films at the Gratispool Kiosks where constant readings on a photoelectric meter will keep you right."

This photograph shows Geoffrey Stead and his wife Edrei on the occasion of their Golden Wedding anniversary in 1981 (they were married in March 1931).

Surrounding Geoffrey & Edrei, from the left and in order of age from the youngest, are Sylvia, Nigel, Richard, Martin and Peter (now deceased). They all worked for Gratispool and its associated companies, though Peter spent most of his life in South America in the meat business.

Sir Winston Churchill in a siren suit
(copyright, Imperial War Museum)

The developing & printing (d&p) trade was sluggish during the war, but portrait studios were very busy taking pictures of Servicemen in their uniforms; also taking pictures of wives, families and sweethearts for the servicemen to carry with them.

Geoffrey Stead purchased two such studios in Glasgow and these employed some of his laboratory staff at a time of low d&p demand. Some others of the staff were kept busy at the newly occupied William Street premises making siren suits (meaning overalls to be put on over pyjamas in the event of sirens warning of the need to go into air raid shelters), lampshades, ladies handbags etc until the raw materials dried up.

There were also government contracts; the Leeds premises (many years before the fire) made uniforms, while at Glasgow they made gas mask cases, shirts & pyjamas. An activity of national importance, but very specialised, was the making of microfilms of files and important papers.

Geoffrey was able to further diversify by returning to his pharmaceutical origins, manufacturing Flouride toothpaste (he was ahead of his time in this and had to put a warning on the tubes to say flourine was a poison) and vitamin-enriched chocolate, which you could buy without a ration book. He also sold aspirins and other pills under the trade name Naxan, a name he was very proud to have invented because it read the same backwards and forwards. A family joke was that it should have been NoxoN, as that way it would have been the same upside down as well! Geoffrey also purchased the City Steam Laundry in Govan (Martin still has a big laundry basket from there) and he dabbled, with his cousin Jack Ferrari, in surplus army goods. There were so many company ventures at that time that, when Geoffrey was away in the Army, Edrei used to say she was left with 14 businesses to run. Martin suspects there is some exaggeration in this claim, but it shows the diversification Geoffrey Stead established at a time when d&p was slack.

Shortly after the start of WWII, Edrei was looking after 6 children, 3 boys of her own, 1 girl refugee from the Spanish Civil War and 2 evacuees. The evacuees eventually returned to their homes, but with Geoffrey in the Army, the 2 elder Stead children and the Spanish girl (Felisa) went to boarding school so that Edrei, albeit with Richard still only a toddler, could have opportunity to manage the business. Felisa was a few years older than the 2 elder Stead children and so also spent time working in Geoffrey's studios in Glasgow. Its believed she hand coloured some of the portraits.

The picture alongside has the text "Glasgow Geoffreys" hand written directly onto the mount below the picture (the area of writing has had its contrast enhanced here to make it more legible). It is quite possible this print came from one of Geoffrey Stead's portrait studios in Glasgow.

David Muir, who sent me this image, tells me the couple were married in South Africa in early 1944 but the lady is as known to have never been to Glasgow.
Hence, the writing on the mount of this print is something of a mystery.

The author has suggested that perhaps it was taken by Norman Adler in one of his South African studios. Possibly he had to send it to Glasgow for processing. Since Norman was also using Gratispool's paper based film, if his printing equipment failed he could only have had prints made by sending the negatives to Gratispool in Glasgow. Alternatively, maybe he was overwhelmed with work and couldn't cope with all his processing requirements and again needed to 'off-load' some of the work to his ex-colleagues in Glasgow.

A group of Gratispool girls holding batches of customer films ready for printing, at the 207 William Street, Glasgow, C.3 premises.

This picture appeared in the Autumn 1951 edition of Gratispool's customer hand-out, 'Photo News'. It was used to demonstrate the technique of 'Open-Flash' photography, which enabled cameras not synchronised for flash photography to still be used for indoor photography.

Gratispool explained:
"By this method, the camera (shutter) is set at 'T' (time expossure)and usually the (camera) operator gets a helper to (manually) fire the flashgun. The flash is held 6 to 8 feet (1.75 to 2.5 m) from the group and is pointed at the centre of the group. The camera operator says "Open, Flash, Close". With the first word 'Open', the camera operator presses the camera shutter release button to open the shutter. On the word 'Flash', the flash operator fires the flash bulb. On the word 'Close' the camera operator closes the shutter.

"The above method can be adopted anywhere, indoors or out, when the light is poor."

By summer 1954 Gratispool were operating from both their 207 William Street, Glasgow C3 premises and their new premises at 12 St.Margaret's Place, Glasgow C1 (see pictures below). Of the 2 print envelopes shown here, both date from June 1954. The red envelope is from William St while the magenta envelope is from St.Margaret's Place.

The William Street premises were later demolished during construction of the M8 motorway (1960s) and the Hilton hotel (1 William Street) now sits more or less on the site occupied by Gratispool's William St. premises. The St Margarets Place building has also since been demolished.

The photograph to the left was taken by David Duncan during the 1970s. It shows the Gratispool processing laboratory at 12, St Margaret's Place, Glasgow. David Duncan (Assistant Production Manager in 1974) worked in the Gratispool laboratories from April 1968 to August 1981.

He tells me this building was vacated in 1979 & film processing moved approximately 3 miles west to Clydeholm Road in the Whiteinch area (these premises can be seen below, under the yellow banner heading Gratispool ~ SupaSnaps).
The Clydeholm premises were a former ship building works of 2 storeys and had a large clear area that allowed easier supervision and better production flow (rather than the labyrinth at St Margaret's Place).

Alan Frame tells me St. Margaret's Place was "...just behind the Glasgow High Court with “Paddys Market” just behind their building". Today, the plot of land where the Gratispool building once stood is just a small carpark.

To the extreme left hand edge of David Duncan's picture can be seen a clock tower which I believe is the Merchant's Steeple.

Also, see same in picture below.

A wonderful street view towards the Gratispool building, Glasgow, looking up Greendyke Street. Taken during the 1970s judging from the cars (notice the post-1971 Morris Marina 2-door Coupé turning left into Saltmarket).

The street scene is shown on this website, uploaded by 'HollowHorn'.

Alongside is the St.Margaret's Place building, but boarded up by the mid-1980s. Picture from the same website as above, by 'Joe the Tug'.

A similar street view to the above (albeit taken with a wider angle, shorter focal length, lens).

It was downloaded from Google street view and must date to around 2010.

The Gratispool building has gone and the space is now a small car park.

The car park remained until maybe 2019, when the plot was redevelooped into what seems to be accommodation apartments with amenity space at ground level. See below for views of this new building, as sent me by John Waco of BBC Sound & Light, Scotland

Above: View down St. Margaret's Place from Mart Street,
near the High Court of Justiciary.
Right: From the opposite end of St. Margaret's Place.
The new building is to the left, past The Glasgow Law Practice, looking west along Bridegate.

By 1960, Gratispool became involved with colour photography, advertising a 'Colour Club' which specialised in the supply and processing of Kodak Ektachrome film (E-2 process, 32ASA) transparency (reversal) films. Including a replacement Ektachrome film, processing a 20 exposure 35mm cost 18/6d (92.5p) or a 120/620/127 roll film cost 15/6d (77.5p). Since professional processing carried out elsewhere might have cost 9/- (45p) and the film would have been a further 14s/2d (71p) for a 20exp 35mm or 10s/6d (52.5p) for a roll film, Gratispool's prices (with their 'free' replacement film) were effectively an overall saving of around 25%. (Kodak had first introduced 127 format Ektachrome into the UK at the start of 1960).

Martin Stead recalls that organising the processing of Ektachrome was his first real job with his father's Gratispool company. Ektachrome processing was done by hand, the films being hung on stainless steel hangers (frames) in batches of around 15 to 20 and dipped consecutively into tanks which were originally designed to contain battery cells on submarines. (In their original use, such tanks provided an acid-proof enclosure against undetected battery electrolyte leakage. Since electrolyte is highly corrosive sulphuric acid, uncontained leakage could seriously weaken the pressure hull of a submarine.) With Ektachrome being a colour film it had to be processed in total darkness, without the benefit of a safe-light. Since this precluded a visible clock, the girls who did Ektachrome processing had to work all day in the silent dark, except for Martin's recorded voice saying; "Put the new frame in the first!" "Take the frame from the fourth tank and put it in the!" ad infinitum. It took Martin several evenings at home to perfect this, because there were maybe three or four frames going through at any one time and the time in each tank was different. In order to work to a single set of instructions, and depending upon how many films were being processed, sometimes the recorded instruction referred to moving a non-existent frame, but the girls understood and it all worked fine.

Gratispool claimed their 'Colour Club' made colour photography cheaper than b&w. To demonstrate this they compared (AP magazine, 7th Dec 1960) a 120 roll film camera taking 24 shots on a film priced at 3s/3d (16p), developing cost 1s/6d (7.5p) and 6d (2.5p) per enprint, the total cost being 16s/9d (84p), or 8.5d (3.5p) per b&w enprint. The 'Club' offered to process a similar roll film of colour transparencies (including a replacement film) for 15s/6d (77.5p) or 7.75d per transparency (just over 3p each). Of course, this was a bit of a cheat, as the unusually large number of b&w prints per film (24 on 120) substantially increased the total b&w cost, while the cost of processing a transparency film is independent of the number of pictures per film. So, if the camera took a more conventional 12 pictures per 120 film, the b&w costs would have been 10s/9d (54p), making each b&w print around 11d each (4.5p) while the transparencies would each have cost 1s/3½d (6.5p), 44% more expensive than b&w!

Plus, you still had the cost of viewing your transparencies, compared to the convenience of hand-held b&w enprints.

In Spring 1960, Gratispool announced in their quarterly Photo News magazine (which had been running since at least 1951), that henceforth they would be printing 12 on 120 square (black & white) negatives at KING SIZE 4"x4" rather than the previous 3½"x3½". This was possibly to simplify their print cost arrangements, since previously rectangular negatives printed to postcard size were charged at 6d each (2½p) whereas square prints were charged at 5d (2.1p). With the move to King Size square prints, ALL prints were then charged at 6d.

Developing costs (black & white) increased for all film sizes to 1/6d (7.5p), a 6d increase. But Gratispool still claimed a substantial saving over prices elsewhere. An 8 exposure film processed by Gratispool to postcard sized prints, including another film, cost 5/6d (27.5p), whereas the 'current list price' was said to be 12/3d (61p), including 2/9d (14p) for a replacement roll film.

To download a full copy of Photo News for Spring 1960, click here, or on the image left (2.1MB file size). The back page describes 'Gratispool Wintertime Products'. Under the heading 'Photography at Low Ebb in Winter' are described Electric Blankets and 'Superb Model Yachts' for sale. This diversification, enabling the staff to be retained on productive work when few films were received for processing, was started during the early 1940s (see siren suits, above).

To download copies of Photo News for July/August 1951, Autumn 1951, August 1957, February/April 1958, August 1958 and Spring 1959, click on their respective links.

In 1961, the Gratispool Co. Ltd. acquired sole rights for the supply and processing of Dynachrome colour transparency film in the UK and rebranded it 'Gratispool'. The US Dynacolor Corporation (Rochester, New York) first marketed Dynachrome, (unusually, a non-substantive reversal film, as is Kodachrome) in the USA from 1959 (previously the company had marketed a film called Dynacolor from 1949). Dynachrome shared the same K11 Kodak developing process as the early Kodachrome (Kodachrome II, introduced in 1961 - but not easily available in the UK until 1962) - used a new Kodak process called K12, which itself was replaced by the K14 process in 1974. Martin recalls that the formulation for the K11 process was given to Gratispool by Dynachrome, whose founders had all worked previously for Kodak. He comments "Kodak may not have been relaxed about it, but the anti-trust laws in the US stopped them from doing anything about it. By that stage, they might as well make some money and keep tabs on our progress by selling us (and Dynacolor) the wherewithal to do it."

With Kodak moving over to the K12 process, they may have felt they were not losing much if others used the previous K11 process.

By late spring 1962 Gratispool were advertising their Gratispool (née Dynachrome) 8mm colour cine film priced at 19/11d (near £1), which included processing and another 'free' film. Although not stated in their adverts it is understood the cine film was originally 10ASA and stayed 10ASA until Gratispool 2 (II) was introduced in April 1964. There had always been a shop at the St Margaret's Place processing laboratory, taking orders and also selling simple cameras, so when their 8mm cine film went on sale, Gratispool started to sell movie cameras and complete cine kits, to create a market for the film. These sold amazingly well such that Gratispool next opened a shop in Queen St, in the shopping area of Glasgow, and considerably widened their range of equipment. The story behind Gratispool's move into selling cine equipment can be read in Bill Kerr's account of working as the Scottish Regional Salesman for Mayfair Photographic Suppliers (London) Ltd. during 1962-64.

The 32ASA Kodak Ektachrome colour transparency film processing & mounting service had increased slightly in cost (since 1960) to 18/9d (94p), including another Ektachrome 20exp. 35mm film. The roll film price remained at 15/6d = 77.5p.

Until 1963 Gratispool imported its US Dynachrome film in 8mm cine size only and returned it to Dynacolor for processing. However, from 1963 Gratispool also imported the film in bulk rolls which could be cut and spooled into 35mm cassettes. From this time Gratispool carried out their own processing of both cine and 35mm films on machines purchased from Dynacolor. Certain chemicals for the processing of (non-substantive) Dynachrome were obtained from Kodak's Kirkby (Merseyside) chemicals manufacturing factory and this continued until (at least) 1969.

From April 1963 Gratispool advertised their (née Dynachrome) own-brand colour reversal film in 36 exposure 35mm cassettes with transparencies returned in plastic mounts and with a replacement film "all for 19s/11d" (near £1). A first film was obtained by sending money in advance, but the amount required for that first film seemed to vary during the initial months. An advert in the April edition of 'Colour Photography' says "Send 2/6d (12.5p) for your first Gratispool 35mm colour film...", but the following month, the same advert is requesting 5/- (25p). Then, by September 1963, the price has risen to 10/- (50p) for the first film !

For two years from April 1963 Gratispool supplied Dynachrome films, cine and still, in special packing at process-paid prices, to Dixons Photographic Ltd. Dixons retailed the films under its own brand name of 'Prinzcolor' at process-paid prices which it was free to fix, and processing was carried out by Gratispool. Although Dixons were the first company to whom Gratispool packaged private label film, there were others. Reader's Digest was one of the biggest. Martin Stead recalls visiting their office to see if they had any good ideas that could be copied in Gratispool's customer relations department. All he can remember is that they had about a dozen secretaries in the department and each had a four tier in-tray. Bottom was for enquiries, up one for minor complaints, up two threatening to sue, and on top threatening to write to the papers. They had to always work from the top!

The Dynacolor Corporation was acquired by 3M in 1963 and by 1965 Dynachrome was being imported into the UK by 3M's British subsidiary (Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co. Ltd.) who then supplied to other UK outlets than Gratispool (Dixons ?, see para above). In 1966, 3M began supplying Dynachrome to Gratispool, avoiding the need for Gratispool to import it from the US. 3M also acquiring the Italian transparency film manufacturer Ferrania in June 1964 and within a couple of years Gratispool changed to supplying Ferrania film under the 'International' brand. Dynachrome remained available (in the US) until 1970.

Ektachrome processing continued, eventually as 64ASA (Kodak first introduced 35mm 64ASA Ektachrome as Ektachrome X in late 1963, having been available in the new 126 Instamatic format since 1st May 1963). By spring 1966, Gratispool were using Kodak's new E4 process for all Ektachrome processing, though it's believed to have been in partial use before that date. This was made possible by the installation "of the latest, most advanced and expensive, REFREMA processing plant". The trade name Refrema stands for REidl FRemkalde (developing) MAchines; their first was build in 1948. In the 1960s Refrema was a manufacturer of batch processing equipment - continuous processing appeared later with 126 films being pre-spliced into batches of about 70 films (to match the length of colour paper roll). The practical difference between E2 and E4 was that E2 required the film to receive a second exposure to light during its processing. E4 processing avoided this by including chemical reversal (using an additive to the colour developer called tertiary butylamine borane). Eventually (maybe late 1977) E4 gave way to the current E6 process, which retains chemical reversal but uses more environmentally friendly chemistry.

Gratispool's prints from transparencies cost 1/9d (9p) for the 3.5"x3.5" size or 2/- (10p) for 5"x3.5". These were made using an internegative process with subsequent printing onto conventional colour print paper. There was a problem with the final image quality, because of the two stage process. This service was discontinued after two or three years, when Gratispool had established themselves in colour negative film developing & printing. Later Kodak introduced a reversal paper that allowed reversal printing direct from the original slide, but quality control remained difficult. ('Ektachrome' Type 1993 in 1972 was replaced by the lower contrast & faster Type 2203 in 1976; meanwhile -1974/75- Kodak Pathé in France produced the even faster 'Ektachrome' 14RC paper, with 'Ektaprint' 14 chemicals, and made it available for amateur use). Things improved during the latter 1970s (possibly assisted by the introduction of Type 2203) when all of Gratispool's reversal processing was carried out at the specialist (Fencolor) laboratory in Cambridge.

Ron Houslip (see photograph below) became involved with Gratispool in 1963 at a time when colour negative film was starting to make in-roads into the b&w market. At that time, Ron was employed by a London based advertising agency which organised some of Gratispool's advertising. A few years later, after successfully demonstrating a new method of interacting with potential customers, involving distributed mailing envelopes, Ron joined Gratispool as the Managing Director of a newly created subsidiary 'Free Film Service' (see below).

Martin Stead has commented that "Ron made an enormous impact on Gratispool's marketing, which he attacked with enthusiasm and imagination, and without his contribution Gratispool might never have grown as fast".

Some information relating to Gratispool is contained on the Directfoto web site. Directfoto is a Guernsey based technology retail shop, offering both digital and conventional film processing. It is run by John Houslip, the son of Ron Houslip (Ron Houslip died in early August 2008).

Ron Houslip wrote a two part account of the story behind 'Gratispool' within the magazine 'Photographic Processor' (Part 1 is in the December 1979 issue, pages 282 & 283). The following text in italics indicates where I have extracted (and part edited) paragraphs from that article.

Ron Houslip, Managing Director,
Free Film Service, Maidenhead, 1974
"The major film at that time (1963) was Kodacolor, so Gratispool made efforts to solicit colour negative processing by advertisements which offered a free replacement Kodacolor film with each set of pictures.
Although successful, the scope of such an activity was necessarily limited by the economic impracticality of offering a free Kodak colour film as an advertising lead. The situation changed in 1965
when 3M, who by this time had taken over Ferranla (in 1964), made available a private label colour negative film (NM64). A deal was struck with Nestlé to offer a range of colour films free with Nescafé Instant Coffee. The brand chosen for the films was named 'International', and the range of free films on offer included 35mm & 8mm reversal colour and colour negative. This was the first free colour film premium offer made in the UK if not in the world. Once again Gratispool set a pattern which many were to follow. Incidentally, the processing laboratory registered for the Nescafé film was 'International Color Laboratories Ltd.'
The Nestlé free film premium was soon followed by the first-ever processing premium. Unilever's Tree-Top orange squash was the vehicle and the offer was discounted processing of Kodacolor film with a free Kodacolor film with the pictures".

Gratispool 1963 prices for Kodacolor d&p significantly under-cut Kodak's own to the extent that the replacement film was effectively 'free' to customers of Gratispool's service.

In April 1964, Gratispool introduced their Gratispool 2 colour transparency film (also referred to as Gratispool II, maybe initially as Type X, to correspond with Kodak's use of the suffix 'X' on various of their films, post-1963) "NOW arriving from the USA", an improved version of the previous Dynachrome. It was rated at 25ASA instead of the previous 10ASA. The name Gratispool II was posssibly inspired by the earlier upgrading of Kodachrome to Kodachrome II (which first arrived around 1962 in the UK). Whether Gratispool then introduced the new K12 process (as used for Kodachrome II) is unknown.

Gratispool 2 won much favourable comment from the photographic press, viz; 35mm Photography Dec 1964 and Colour Photography April 1965, (read their test reports), Camera Magazine (Oct 1964), 8mm Movie Maker (Oct 1964) and 8mm Magazine (Oct 1964). Amateur Photographer used it in a test of a Lumicon RZ337 cine camera in their 8th July 1964 issue and commented "...the new Gratispool 25ASA stock certainly showed softer contrast, wider exposure latitude and more restrained colour reproduction than the previous 10ASA emulsion...".

Gratispool 2 was available in 36exp. 35mm cassettes and 8mm 25ft length double run movie film, the latter balanced either for outdoor lighting or (as Type A, rated at 40ASA) for artificial lighting indoors. Whichever film was required, you sent money to Gratispool for your first film and then the subsequent processing cost of 19s/11d (near £1) also covered the cost of your next replacement film. An advert in Amateur Photogapher (29th April 1964) makes a 'half price' offer, whereby sending 10/- entitled you to two 35mm or two cine films, or one of each. Hence ".... only 7d (3p) per exposure". Whether 35mm slides continued to be supplied in plastic mounts is not specified. I recollect receiving Gratispool 2 slides in strong cardboard mounts, plain yellow on the viewing side and white on the reverse (see alongside).

Having 72 half-frame transparencies mounted rather than 36 full frame, was initially without extra charge, but from Spring 1965 an extra charge was levied of 5/- (25p) ref: note from G.W.Stead in Colour Photography magazine for March-April 1965. [Half-frame photography, although not new (the Korelle-K 'single frame' camera was on sale c1933), had a major impact on the amateur photographic market from around 1960 with the introduction of the Olympus Pen series of cameras. Although originally thought to be the natural successor to the full frame 35mm design, the subsequent introduction of compact 35mm cameras, made possible by using shorter focal length standard lenses and integrated circuit electronics, largely eliminated, by the early 1970s, one of the major benefits of the half-frame design, its pocketability. Ironically, Olympus themselves set this trend with their ubiquitous 'Trip 35' camera, from 1966, popularised via the famous David Bailey TV adverts in 1977. But Olympus continued to sell half frame cameras for some years thereafter. They introduced the Pen EF, a fully auto design with built in flash, in November 1981.]

3rd June 1964 edition of Amateur Photographer shows possibly the start of Gratispool's move into selling photographic equipment, instead of just film rocessing. There is an advertisement (p123) for the Maximus 8mm IIIE compact, auto-control, direct viewing zoom movie camera at £49.19s.6d or, as a complete kit, including a "super, reliable, quiet running projector, 30insx40ins glass beaded tripod mounted roll-up screen, film splicer, holdall, comedy film and two Gratispoool colour movie films, all for £50guineas (£50.50s = £52.10s = £52.50p). In the 2nd September issue, Gratispool are advertising another cine camera "Unsaleable at £60, the world's best buy at £12.19s.6d". This is the Pentaka 8B from Carl Zeiss Jena, Dresden. Clockwork driven, with fixed Zeiss Biotar f2 lens, this camera dates from 1960 and was presumably being sold off by Jena as surplus stock."

Around 1965 Gratispool's paper based black & white (b&w) film became a conventional celluloid base 100ASA (125ASA by maybe 1968) panchromatic film "made especially for Gratispool by a famous manufacturer" (possibly by Ferrania - unconfirmed, though I have received information that it seems to share the characteristics of Ferrania Panchro P30). Resulting b&w enprints cost around ¼ the cost of Kodacolor colour enprints. Black & white processing still included a 'free' Gratispool replacement film, regardless of what film was sent for processing (as occurred from the earliest Gratispool days). Gratispool's own b&w film could be purchased in advance " a special low price" of 2s/6d (12.5p) for a roll film or 5s (25p) for a 36exposure 35mm.

During 1965 the cost of processing 36 exposure 35mm Gratispool 2 transparency film rose from 19s/11d to 24s/11d. Gratispool 8mm cine film processing cost also rose, but only to 21s (55p). In both cases, first films cost 10s (50p) each. Each 35mm transparency cost a "...little over 8d (3.3p) each" (instead of the previous 7p). Gratispool claimed this compared favourably to 1/- (12.5p) elsewhere.

Alongside is the 35mm transparency mount (probably cardboard) used at this time by Gratispool for their own brand film and also for returning Kodak 64ASA Ektachrome transparencies. Below is the Gratispool 2, 25ASA, film carton and cassette

A 36exposure 35mm Ektachrome film, including processing, cost 28s/6d (£1.42½p) at this time, so 9½d each transparency (4p).

A picture of one of Gratispool's production lines at St.Margaret's Place, Glasgow, spring 1965.

It appeared as an illustration to an article called 'Quality with Quantity' within the magazine Practical Photography, May 1965 issue.

The article compared home processing with a commercial laboratory porocedure.

"In your darkroom you spend all evening making a dozen perfect whole-plate prints, or processing a single reversal colour film.
A processing laboratory, to which hundreds of thousands of photographers entrust their exposed films every year without a second thought, must process these films quickly and economically, but above all, must guarantee top quality - every time."

In 1966 Gratispool ran full page colour adverts for their processing services in Amateur Photographer magazine Colour Numbers, 18th May and 20th July. There was also a print reproduced in the 20th July edition from a Gratispool slide, submited by G.W.Stead - presumably Geoffrey Stead. In a separate advert within the 18th May issue, Gratispool are vigorously extolling the virtues and cost saving potential of their 8mm cine equipment; the Korka f1.8 fixed lens, fixed focus, auto-exposure cine camera with Hanimex zoom projector at 29guineas (£30.45p) or with the superior Starline Luch zoom lens projector (forward, reverse and still picture) at 35guineas (£36.75p).

~ 1967
By January 1967 (AP magazine 4th January) a Gratispool advert shows that, apart from the St.Maragret's Place and 66 Queen Street stores (Glasgow) there were Gratispool photo' equipment Centres at 67 High St, Paisley and 10 Martineau Way, Birmingham. These Photocentres later increased to include Leeds (38 Lands Lane), Edinburgh (65 Home Street), Maidenhead (82 King Street) and Reading (27 Queen Victoria Street).

Malcolm Drew worked at the Gratispool shop at 10 Martineau Way, Birmingham, for a short time in 1967. He took a series of photographs on 1st April 1967 using a Nikon Photomic loaded with Ilford HP4 film. He has montaged these still pictures of the shop and its staff, together with a short length of video (taken around the same time), and this is viewable on YouTube using this link.

May 1967 'Photography' magazine, describing the International Photo-Cine Fair held in the National Hall, Olympia, 15th to 20th May, reported that Gratispool can no longer be associated exclusively with economical film supply and processing. "They have carried their theme to kits of equipment, still and cine" (though already sold by mail order since mid-1964, see previous).

In the 7th June 1967 edition of AP (p101) there is a Gratispool Photocentre advert advertising Minolta cameras with the enticement "We know that Minolta cameras are great. But do you know that if you buy one at Gratispool you can win a car.....WIN AN IMP...or anyone of 83 fantastic prizes plus a big bonus of 100gallons of Fina petrol". The IMP was the Hillman Imp.

At this time, the cost of a 35mm 36exposure 'Gratispool 2' transparency film, including processing, had reduced to 21/- (£1.05p) with 8mm cine back to the 1964 cost of 19s/11d (near £1). The marketing had also changed. Gratispool now claimed their colour film to be 'Free', by virtue of supplying a 10/- (50p) refund voucher when a customers sent 10/- for their first film (still or cine). Thus, the customer's total outlay for a set of 35mm colour slides, including a replacement film, was 21/-, even if they had never used the service previously. This colourful advert contains the details.

RHS (above) is a school photo frame with the Gratispool name; found here.

The Gratispool International Schools Div'n was started in 1966 by Nigel Stead. It visited schools 'from John O'Groats to Cardiff.' The story of how the Schools Division went from photographing 4,000 children in 1966 to 500,000 in 1974 is told in Issue 4, of 'interVIEW', The Journal of the Gratispool Group, started in 1973-74.

Click the numbers to view Adobe pdf files of 'interVIEW' Issue 4, 7, 8, 11.

In September 1967, another approach to capturing the colour negative film processing market was organised by Ron Houslip when he arranged the trial distribution of 'mailing envelopes' for people to send in their colour print films for processing, with a 'free' Kodacolor film supplied with the prints. This idea stemmed from a sample envelope Martin brought back from a business trip to the States; the envelope was also the advertising medium. The approach had the advantage of not requiring a premium brand film to be offered 'up front'; only after a customer had committed to using the processing service. Since this marketing approach was different to previous, and the Steads were not certain whether it would be successful, they used an anonymous company name, 'Free Film Service' (FFS).

Some 100,000 colour print mailing envelopes were distributed which encouraged users to return their films to FFS at Maidenhead. All films were sent to Gratispool at Glasgow for processing. The response was so overwhelming that Ron Houslip left his previously held position with the London advertising agency to become Managing Director and minority shareholder (20%) with Martin & Richard Stead in the FFS company.

1n 1968, Gratispool 2 was available in two new formats, apart from 35mm (36exp) and 8mm cine. A summer time advert in Amateur Photographer (June 26th) shows the film was then also available in 20 exposure Instamatic 126 catridges as well as Super 8 cine. As in 1967, a potential customer sent 10/- (50p) to cover the cost of whichever film format he required and this was supplied with a voucher giving 10/- off the subsequent processing, plus a new film. All-in costs (film + processing) were 24s/9d (£1.39p) for 36exp 35mm transparencies (now mounted in 'easy to project PLASTIC mounts'), 18s/9d (94p) for 20exp 126 transparencies (also returned in plastic mounts), 22s/9d (£1.14p) for Standard 8mm cine processing and 25s/9d (£1.29p) for Super 8mm cine film processing.

Pictures by Gordon Malthouse, writing an article called 'Factory Fresh Thoughts'.
He visited Gratispool at Glasgow in mid-1968 and reported there was 50,000 square feet (4,645 square metres) of factory space (presumably combined area over the 4 floors) crammed with the latest electronic machinery, and a staff of over 450.

The author reported trying the new 64ASA Gratispool colour film, recently introduced in 126 cartridges, and found it very much to his taste. "The dull, leaden conditions gave the frames an overall blue cast, as they would with any colour stock, and they stand comparison well with any colour stock. The tendency to slight saturation gives a richness which many people like, and the processing is clean."

Gratispool's Kodacolor processing service had been available since summer 1963, inspired by Ron Houslip. It operated in a similar way to their b&w service. Customers were requested to send in their previously purchased (elsewhere) Kodacolor negative film for processing, or alternatively Gratispool would sell customers a Kodacolor film in advance at a discount price, 8/6d (42.5p) for roll film and 10s/6d (52.5p) for 20 exposure 35mm. Either way, the subsequernt processing costs (8exp 22/6d - £1.13p; 20exp 48/6d - £2.43p) included a replacement Kodacolor. By 1965 Gratispool offered a replacement Kodacolor-X film with the processed results from ANY make of colour negative film sent in.

The Kodacolor CX 120 80ASA film shown left is believed to date to 1968. It has a label extending over the carton ends advising "This film was supplied by Gratispool, Glasgow, C1. Please make sure this film is correct in size and type BEFORE opening the carton. Films in broken cartons cannot be accepted for exchange".

The 120 panchromatic b&w roll film carton shown above presumably dates from maybe 1968, as the film inside the carton had the later (new improved) 125ASA speed rating, rather than the original 100ASA. The same carton contained the mailing envelope shown alongside.

Martin Stead has advised me of the reason for the unusual Gratispool address. "As b&w business diminished there was quite a bit of consolidation in the processing trade and many photofinishers subcontracted their b&w work, which gave a worthwhile volume to those who continued to do it. In the case of Gratispool an arrangement was made with Charles Plant, who had a lab' in Chester called NAP (Northern Associated Photofinishers, I think). In those days traditional photofinishers were a bit shy about being associated with those who undercut others by giving away films (as Gratispool), so NAP suggested Altrincham as a (clandestine) address, as they collected from there anyway. By this time, with the growing importance to their business of colour photography, Gratispool realised they didn't need to bother any longer having a (paper based) b&w film that no one else could handle. In any case, no one was prepared to carry on making decreasing quantities of paper-based film".

"The relationship with NAP only lasted two or three years, as Gratispool later acquired Fencolour, a lab' in Cambridge that was already doing the b&w film processsing for Gratispool's 1971 subsidiary 'Free Film Service' (FFS) in Maidenhead, and it was all sent there". A b&w 127 size FFS roll film is shown lower down this page.

A 1969 Gratispool price list leaflet, showing the supply of either Gratispool or Kodak films, depending upon customer choice. Film types cover black & white (Gratispool only), or Kodak Kodacolor for prints, and Gratispool or Kodak Ektachrome for slides.

"All prices shown include the price of a new film with the results, of the same type and size." ( sent for processsing).

Half-frame slides (72 per 36 exposure 35mm film) returned in cardboard mounts, still required an additional levy of 5/- (25p), as was introduced in 1965.

Only Gratispool was on offer for cine film, both Standard 8mm (referred to as Double 8) and the newer format, Super 8mm.

Extra prints and enlargements from previously processed films (black & white or colour) and prints from (colour) slides, were other services on offer.

You could also have transparencies copied, at 2s/3d each (11p), or 1s/9d each (9p) for 25 or more from the same slide.

In 1970 the Finglas laboratory opened in Ireland, located in the city of Dublin. It was a major expansion for Gratispool which took advantage of greatly reduced corporation tax offered by the Irish government, phased out over the next 15 years. It became one of the largest laboratories for processing 35mm film and the new (in May 1963) 126 film cartridge (same film width as 35mm) announced by Kodak for their Instamatic camera range; many film and camera manufacturers subsequently adopted the 126 format. The laboratory incorporated a very efficient and productive layout (conceived by Martin Stead and implemented by Alex Smith and Tom Madden, peviously Head Chemist) and used mostly US manufactured equipment to produce millions of colour prints. Geoffrey and Edrei moved to Dublin at this time, purchased accommodation and became personally involved in the commissioning of the new laboratory and its subsequent operation.

By 1971 over 60 million Free Film Service (FFS) envelopes were distributed in the UK during a single photographic season - all promoting the idea of taking pictures on Kodacolor film but then encouraging the film to be sent to FFS for processing by the offer of a 'free' replacement Kodacolor film with the processed prints. To put the matter in context, 60 million envelopes distributed meant an investment of well over a quarter million pounds. The earlier FFS envelopes had a picture of Ron Houslip on them, it being Ron who started the FFS venture in September 1967 (see above).
Some items of FFS literature (left and above) found on this web page. Notice that on the yellow FFS 'Guide to Better Pictures', another name, Speedisnaps Ltd is mentioned - maybe a forerunner to SupaSnapS ? (see below).
Below is a Free Film Service envelope scan sent to me by Ian Busby. It dates to 1977, which Ian knows is true as it contained prints returned from films he exposed at the 1977 Silver Jubilee Fleet Review (28th June 1977). Further fascinating insight is that Ian knows the young girl pictured on the envelope is Mandy Houslip, daughter of Ron Houslip and his wife Jean. Ian recalls how Ron & Jean started the Free Film Service from their home "just down the road from us. The kids would often stay with us when their parents were busy".

In a subsequent re-organisation of Gratispool (to Gratispool International Holdings), FFS merged with Gratispool and shares in FFS were exchanged for 10% of Gratispool Group shares and Ron Houslip then became Gratispool's Marketing Director. Richard Stead, who had previously held that post, went abroad to set up and supervise three companies: in Holland (managed by Mr Van Haeften from 1968), Belgium and France. They collected films by mail order which were flown to Gratispool labs in the UK (though Gratispool eventually acquired a laboratory in Holland, at Zootermeer, called 'Sanders Laboratorium') and Ireland (Finglas, from 1970, see above).

Left is a 127 sized black & white (b&w) panchromatic film in a Free Film Service, Maidenhead, carton (looking very much like a Kodak Kodacolor carton). This confirms that FFS were also returning 'own brand' b&w films to any customers sending in their b&w films for processing.

Processing of b&w films was likely being carried out either by NAP at Chester (see the yellow Altrincham address envelope above) or (later) by the Fencolor lab' in Cambridge.

Right is a 126 cartridge black & white panchromatic film in a 'Free Film Service' carton. The film has an ASA (ISO) speed of 125. The expiry date is April 1975, so likely manufactured around 1972. The small document accompanying the film mentions Free Film Service (UK) Ltd laboratories in London (probably Cambridge), Glasgow C1, Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris (see paragraph above), concerning Richard Stead)

Also during 1971, Gratispool acquired Colour Print Express Ltd. (CPE) that had attempted to follow down the Free Film Service road. CPE was immediately organised to be a market competitor for Free Film Service. Two new concepts were introduced. First, daringly, costs were invoiced when the processed film was returned - for the first time ever either here or in the USA. Further, in addition to national door-to-door distribution, an envelope was included with 'Woman's Own' magazine. Both of these operations were destined to set national trends.

The group photograph below, of Gratispool employees, has been sent by John Corson, who also shows it on his FaceBook page. John worked at Gratispool as a Quality Control Technician around 1971-74. He says "I was known as as Ian in Gratispool. Malcolm Thomson (known as Calum to his family) hired me. Scots rarely stick to their own name."

John suggests some of the names: On the extreme left is Malcolm Pyrah, the boss at Glasgow. Next to him is Mr. Wilson, boss of quality control in printing and far right is Malcolm Thomson, his assistant. Third from left, in the back row, is believed to be Geoffrey Stead. Martin Stead is believed to be 3rd from right in the back row. Martin left Gratispool to become a musician and composer.

Richard Stead is perhaps the 2nd from right in the back row.



Gratispool ~ SupaSnapS

Post-1975, Ron Houslip, while on the Gratispool board in his capacity as Sales Director of the merged company ~ Gratispool International Holdings ~ pushed for the creation of what became a successful chain of small shops called 'SupaSnapS'. These outlets were rapidly set up; the aim was 12 stores a month. The first shop opened in Wokingham in 1978 and by the end of 1984 there were 350 shops nationwide.

David Runyard, General Manager of Colorama from 1978 to 1982, has been in touch (July 2017) to explain what was happening at that time in the world of colour film d&p. He tells me "SupaSnapS was, I believe, Gratispool's reaction to the threat to their traditional market from other mail-order d&p services (incl. Colorama) and faster turn-around high street dealerships. In the second half of the 1970s high street competition became ever more fierce, as a number of smaller laboratories began offering free-film mail order and next-day turnaround, or even 'in by 9am, back by 5pm' services. Some laboratories moved away from serving the traditional photographic shops and began dealing through chemists, newsagents and almost any retail outlet who wanted to make a few extra £pounds. This was partly due to an influx of Uganda Asians and some from Kenya (notably Colorama) who had run small labs in Africa and were now setting up in the UK, dealing through their ex-East African colleges who were taking over many of these retail outlets".

In 1977, Martin Stead, the last of the 'Stead family' to be Managing Director & Chairman of Gratispool, resigned his position, but remained as a non-executive director and was closely involved with his successors Paul Malton, who became Managing Director, having been Financial Director for some years, and Ron Houslip, who became Chairman.

In the early 1980s (around 1982) a new means of providing d&p services arrived, this being Mini-Labs (small colour film developing and printing machines located within high street premises) which were springing up in most town centres, though SupaSnapS never did operate Mini-Labs. Colorama began looking into the Mini-Lab possibilities around 1982, and the technology was in full-swing by the end of the decade.

Although Martin half expected that one day it might become necessary to convert SuperSnapS stores to proper Mini-Labs to compete on service times, Gratispool managed to set up an efficient collection & processing service using satellite laboratories to carry out the actual d&p work, and turnaround time was kept down to two nights. This enabled SupaSnapS to offer colour prints at half the price Mini-Labs were charging, albeit the Mini-Labs could offer a turnaround of only a few hours. But the lower cost of SupaSnapS seemed to better satisfy their customers. Over the weekend, when fewer films were handed in for processing (there was no Sunday trading in those days), the laboratories were kept in operation printing films received from mailing envelopes.

'3M Photographic Division'. Click for issues December 1984 & March 1985.
Agfa had played a significant part in the growth of Gratispool because the new laboratories and equipment needed significant capital investment (splicers, film processors, notchers, printers, paper processors and print finishing equipment) all of which Agfa supplied via a "bundled paper contract" where the printing materials included a price element that covered the equipment costs. When Gratispool was put up to be sold, there was competition between Agfa and 3M (Agfa had invested equipment and risked losing their paper sales whereas 3M risked the loss of significant film sales). 3M offered more and Agfa could not quickly respond because of the instability in the silver market at the time (a rapid increase in the price of silver during 1978-1980 was followed by a reduction involving 3 years of wide price fluctuations).

In 1981, the Gratispool company was sold to 3M's Photographic Division, the date presumably reflecting the year of Geoffrey & Edrei Stead's 50th wedding anniversary. 3M continued to use the company name Gratispool International Holdings Ltd, but only kept the organisation until the end of October 1986 before selling off the various parts of the business. 3M attempted to operate the Finglas laboratory (Dublin) for a while but eventually shut it down. Mail-orders were then transferred to the Glasgow laboratory at Clydeholm Road.

The pictures alongside are believed to show the Clydeholm premises. The version far left was taken in 1998, and sent to me by John Waco of BBC Sound & Light, Scotland.

Immediately left is an image capture from Google Street View in 2015, showing the building to have hardly changed at all in 17 years. David Duncan (Assistant Production Manager in 1974; who worked in the Gratispool laboratories from April 1968 to August 1981) described Clydeholm as a 2-storey building, so he was presumably referring to the portion of the building to the right hand side.

John Blagbrough worked at Gratispool, Clydeholm Road, as a service and maintenance technician; David Barrie was his technical service manager. John had previously been a KODAK Reel Technician, USA, while David Barrie was from Agfa-Gevaert N.V. From what John says there was clearly disagreement between levels of management and he wasn't unhappy when it finally closed and he moved on in his career. He is now retired and hoping, with the help of friends and ex-colleagues, to start his own website sometime in 2018, chronicling "My Life and Times from Behind a Film Camera".

Below are some views within the Clydeholm laboratory, courtesy of John Waco.



SupaSnapS 'Focus', Quarterly Newsletter.
Click to view issues for Christmas 1984,
Spring 1986 and Autumn 1986.

3M found they were not able to achieve satisfactory margins with the SupaSnapS chain, despite new initiatives like offering 5"x7" prints at a price which undercut competitors and trials of a next day d&p service (their '27-shop test' started late summer 1986).

Operating margins were low and many SupaSnapS stores were unprofitable; the competing mini-labs were taking an increasing market share, being able, by then, to offer a 1-hour service. The price premium on a mini-lab service compared to SupaSnapS was less a disincentive to customers who were more affluent by the mid-1980s compared to 10 years previous. Mini-labs gave the further advantage that customers did not need to worry about commiting their precious film memories to the post, a factor which meant a substantial part of the photofinishing market moved from mail order to High St retail. 3M did not want to make further capital investment (even mini-labs were hardly profitable) and exited the activity, having first closed (post-1984) the laboratories in Blackpool (serving 114 SupaSnapS shops) and Cambridge (the Fencolor Laboratory Ltd, Coldhams Road).

The remnant Gratispool businesses, being the SupaSnapS stores and the laboratories in Glasgow, Reading and Northampton, were sold to Dixons Colour Laboratories who (possibly as part of the deal) continued to buy SupaSnapS branded film from 3M.

SupaSnapS promotional badge.
The pictures below show various SupaSnapS promotional cameras, taking 126 or 110 cartridges. With the cameras shown, the film cartridge does not fit entirely within the camera body; only sufficient is covered to form a light seal around the film gate aperture of the cartridge. Their open frame viewfinders fold flat when not in use. These & similar cameras can be seen at this web site. Their design is attributed to The Arts Institute at Bournemouth, with dates from the 1980s to c1990.

Evidently the same plastic cameras as used by SupaSnapS were also used in other promotions. Here is one labelled 'Hanimex MICRO 110'. Hanimex was an Australian company marketing mainly budget priced photographic items. Thanks to the Marriott World website for the information that the name Hanimex was derived from HANnes IMport EXport, with the Hannes part derived from the name of its founder, Jack Hannes, who started importing European cameras into Australia after 1945. By the 1950s, budget cameras and photographic accessories bearing the Hanimex name started appearing in the UK. Jack Hannes died while skiing in Switzerland, 31st January 2005.

Below are two more SupaSnaps promotional cameras, both taking 126 'Instamatic' cartridges. The yellow camera completely encloses the film cartridge (as is conventional) but the white camera (shown with its open-frame viewfinder folded down) only partly encloses the cartridge (as explained above). On the back of the yellow camera it says "Only use Snappit film in this camera. Return your film to SupaSnapS for best results. Hold the camera very still. Use in bright sunshine."

These simple cameras were sometimes given away when you took a film in for processing, as you can see in the 1991 YouTube video. Click on the link and it will open in YouTube.


A SKALECTRIC Ford Escort XR3i rally car model, probably dating from the mid or late 1980s.

A SupaSnaps 200ASA (ISO) colour film in the 126 fim cartridge format.
This 'new improved' quality film dates to around 1995 (develop before January 1998)

Left and below are show the SupaSnaps return envelope with a developed 15 exposure Disc Film, a colour film and camera 'snap shot' system introduced by Kodak in 1982.
The small sized negatives, just 10mm x 8mm, meant a 15x enlargement was needed to get a standard 6" x 4" en-print. So resulting print quality was poor.
Camera production by Kodak ceased in 1988 though film production and sales continued to the end of 1999.
SupaSnapS sold their own branded disc film, as can be seen in the video sales promotion below.

This film and its return envelope dates to 1986.




A 200ASA (ISO) process C-41 SupaSnaps colour negative film, 35mm 20 exposures.

This must have been one of the last produced, being dated for processing before the end of 2002.


Below, a SupaSnapS promotional 'cool bag' bearing the logo 'Fast or Free'. This relates to a SupaSnapS TV advertising campaign from the 1980s which promoted the SupaSnaps jingle:

"They're back when we say, or you don't pay, - that's the promise we keep at Supasnaps!".
Click here
to see a short video of that advert, courtesy of Andy Ensor.
This video is in wmv format which will run in either Windows Media Player or Real Player
and doubtless various other players freely available on the Internet.

The 'cool bag' measures some 300mm long, by 200mm wide by 160mm deep.

This example has survived well but the handles are starting to pull away from the plastic body.

Dixons sold the Gratispool laboratories in a Management Buy-Out (MBO) but retained the SupaSnapS stores. Subsequently Dixons sold SupaSnaps to Sketchley (part of Johnsons Cleaners UK Ltd) who took some advantage that the dry cleaning season tends to be the opposite time of year to the amateur photography market.

In mid-1998, the Sketchley / SupaSnapS business was sold to the Swiss-owned Minit Group (founded in Belgium in 1957), for £1.23 million. Minit, best known (at the time) for key cutting and shoe repairs, said they would retain the SupaSnapS brand and offer a 'services supermarket' from shoe and watch repairs to dry cleaning and film processing, all under one roof. In July 1999, Amateur Photographer magazine tested the quality of colour film developing & printing via various sources, and included a High Street SupaSnaps store. AP judged their results (on that occasion) to be very poor, in contrast to a previous survey, May the same year, when SupaSnaps had performed much better.

An internet search (early 2007) suggested some SupaSnaps stores might (then) still exist, with a few still operating out of Sketchley shops. Mister Minit shops still exist (2016), offering many, and more, of the services predicted in 1998, though not dry cleaning. And their photo' trade seemingly consists of providing small ID photos for e.g. passports and driving licences.

Andy Ensor, who worked for SupaSnapS at Martineau Way, Birmingham from 1985 through to 2000 and experienced the 3M, Dixons and Sketchley years, told me that the SupaSnapS working environment was a very happy one, though it became progressively less so as the years went by, the ownership changed and the business shrank into just Sketchleys. Below are pictures of Martineau Way during the era when Sketchley owned SupaSnapS. The right hand picture shows the shop staff with a SupaSnapS marketing idea 'Snap Man'.

Andy started work in the processing laboratory at Martineau Way, which at the time (1985) was HUGE. This facility continued but eventually encompassed the new mini-lab technology. Three mini-labs were installed, each one slightly smaller in size than its predecessor, and each requiring less and less technical knowledge. Finally the shop was demolished to make way for a Sainsbury's supermarket.

The Gratispool laboratories, which had been purchased from Dixons in a Management Buy-Out, passed to Kodak but even they (c2002) decided to exit from photoprocessing because of the effect digital was having on their conventional film business. Kodak developed different ways of selling film, paper and chemical products via contracts including the supply of equipment and quality control to e.g. film processing facilities within multi-product retail stores. Their silver halide colour paper is also used in "digital print processors" where customers insert memory cards etc, select the required size and number of prints and then receive 'true' photographic prints with improved dye stability compared to ink jet.

Much of the latter part of this Gratispool story has come to me from Farquhar McKenzie, a former SupaSnapS and Gratispool UK Director, who moved from the Finglas Laboratories, Dublin, to International Photofinishers at St Margarets Place, Glasgow, then to Dixons Photo at Stevenage and thence to Kodak, at their Processing Laboratories at Hemel Hempstead. Farquhar subsequently moved through the Eastman Kodak organisation; its EAMER Photofinishing business took him into Europe (and wider global responsibilities) and to some of the Qualex managed laboratories in the US.

A number of ex-employees of Gratispool naturally moved to careers with similar photoprocesssing companies e.g Klick (still trading, Dec. 2006), Colorama (still trading), BonusPrint (still trading), Truprint (still trading) and Photo Trade Processing (PTP), which subsequently became Dixons Photo Processing before they too exited the business.

By this dispersion of quality photofinising operatives, Gratispool's legacy was to influence most of the photo' processing businesses in the UK and these ex-employees enjoy their affectionate title of the Gratispool "Mafia". The Friends Reunited web site, with three Gratispool contact groups, shows the enduring friendships created while working for Gratispool.

During the many e-mail exchanges between Martin & Richard Stead, Farquhar McKenzie and myself, several topics were considered and discussed. Clicking on this link takes you to a page where some of those discussions are recorded.

Below are fond reminders of Gratispool's print envelopes, their film carton
and other miscellany of Gratispool history.
A different coloured print wallet was used for each day of the week in order to keep an eye on the sequence of orders processed. During the early days, when negatives came from quite primitive cameras and d&p was largely a manual process relying upon experienced guesswork, employees had to redo as many as 30% of their printed output (from negatives that were printable at all), so there were frequent rushes to get through all the day-before-yesterday's work. The coloured wallets were invaluable to 'spot the laggards'.

The Gratispool print envelope alongside dates from October 1935 and so connects with the earliest times of the fledgling Gratispool company, when their d&p premises were located in Holbeck, Leeds (37 Isles Lane, Leeds 11) rather than Glasgow. The family story related by Martin & Richard Stead (see upper section of this page) explains how this original location for Gratispool came about.

The red and blue envelopes (below, left) date from June 1936 and August 1936 respectively.

The slogan is "Snap it with a FREE FILM !" but the free film offer is qualified inside the envelope where it states "A FREE FILM with every order over 1/10d" (9p). Film developing cost 6d (2.5p) and prints 2d (0.8p) each, so the order needed to be for at least the d&p of an 8 exposure film.

The Gratispool Co. price list alongside is believed to also date from around 1936. Notice films are also referred to as 'spools', so film developing cost 6d (2.5p) 'per spool'.

More print envelopes from 37 Isles Lane, Leeds 11.

Reading from the extreme left:
July 1937,
June 1938,
Date unknown.

The date of this envelope, bearing the 207 William Street, Glasgow C3 address, is unknown, but the rear is marked to show film developing cost 6d (2.5p) and prints cost 2d (0.8p), exactly as the top envelope dated 1935. Hence, the envelope is likely to date from the late 1930s, being the earliest days at William St. The slogan repeats the above Leeds based envelopes, "Snap it with a free Film".

Print envelopes from Dec 1946 and Oct 1947. These have both the original Holbeck, Leeds address and the new William St, Glasgow adress, so date to a time when Gratispool still retained both premises, before the 1947/48 fire that destroyed the premises at Leeds (Isles Lane). "Gratispool means Free Films"

Gratispool print envelope from June 1949.

The address is Gratispool Co Ltd, William Street, Glasgow C3. The slogan is now "Keeps Your Camera Active."

This envelope is dated April 1953 and the address is still 207 William Street, Glasgow, C3.

It bears the slogan "Don't Buy FILMS! Gratispool MEANS FREE FILMS".

The envelope no longer offers a hand colouring service and also no longer qualifies the free film offer as only applying to min. orders of 1s/10d (see above).

All the above print envelopes, apart from the one dated 1953, offered coloured prints from black & white negatives. This would have been a hand colouring service, as described on my colour printing page and illustrated here. The price to produce a postcard sized hand coloured enlargement is shown in the (1936 ?) price list (above) as 9d (3.75p), whereas a black & white postcard print cost only 2d (0.8p).

The later envelopes say that contact prints can be undertaken in the winter period (November to April inclusive) if desired. This offer continues throughout (at least) the rest of the 1950s. Whether these 'contact' prints were genuinely 'contact prints', or merely smaller, hence lower cost, prints still made by reflection projection printing, is uncertain. Pure contact printing would not be possible with opaque paper negatives so it is assumed that the negatives were projection printed in the same way Gratispool produced their postcard size prints, but to a 1:1 image size that reduced printing paper costs and so reduced the overall processing charge.

Print envelopes from the time when Gratispool were transferring from their 207 William St. Glasgow C3 premises to 12 St.Margaret's Place Glasgow C1. The extreme left hand envelope is from William St dated June 1954. The magenta envelope is St Margaret's Place, also June 1954, and the green is from St Margaret's Place, June 1955.

To the left is a small warning slip enclosed with pictures within one of the above envelopes.

The 31°Scheiner film speed (100ASA) was considered quite high speed in the 1950s and box camera were pre-set by their makers to give rather more exposure than necessary with 100ASA film if the light was very bright. Even so, the advice to "only take distant views in dull weather..." seems unnecessarily pessimistic and may have contributed to failures, or at least dull and uninteresting pictures, without the benefit of shadows being cast by clear sunlight.

Possibly Gratispool found it difficult to print dense paper negatives by reflected light and so the warning may have been as much to help Gratispool's printers as it was to help the users of the film.

This print envelope (left) is from July 1957 and contains some of my pictures from a holiday in Blackpool which demonstrate the framing errors and camera shake I suffered with my first camera, my VP Twin.

The address is the familiar one of Gratispool, St. Margaret's Place, Glasgow C1 (see photograph at the top of this web page).

The slogan is "Don't buy Films ! Gratispool means FREE FILMS."

Developing and printing costs are now 5/- for 8 an exposure film, 6/- for a 12 exposure film and 9/- for a 16 exposure film (25p, 30p & 45p). These charges can be interpreted as developing costing 1/- (5p) with postcard size prints costing 6d each (2.5p) and 3½"x3½" enlargements from square negatives costing 5d each (2p). Thus, prices more than doubled over the 22 years from 1935.

Probably dating from around 1957 is this undated letter which was sent accompanying first Free Films sent on request to would be users of the Gratispool service. Directors of The Gratispool Co.Ltd. are named as G.W.Stead and E.Stead.

To view the full letter and its text, click here or on the image left.

The Gratispool print envelope scans below were sent to me by William Wilson. He has two blue envelopes. The one shown here (ref: c252) is dated 24th July 1956 and another, looking much the same (ref: c273), is dated 6th May 1960. The orange envelope (ref: c628) is dated 8th January 1959.

The slogan is "Tell Your Friends" - "The Best Developing & Printing Service in the World"
The address is St. Margaret's Place • Glasgow • C.1

If e.g. there were any negatives which were not suitable for printing, Gratispool enclosed a Credit Note with your returned prints which could be used as part-payment of the next d&p or reprint order. The one shown below left is worth 9d (4p) and probably dates from 1957. Postcard size enlargements (black & white of course) are priced at 6d (2.5p) from any make of (rectangular) roll film negative. Square negatives are printed to 3.5"x3.5" at 5d (2p) each.

The paragraph to the right of the Developing and Printing Charges (5/-, 9/- and 6/-) reads "All Gratispools prepared before 1956 have 'Exposed' lables with different prices. Please ignore. Gratispool charges now as adjoining".

The red envelope above is currently my most recent, dated 4th May 1960. It has a Special Note attached requesting the customer to enclose an additional 6d (2.5p) with their next order to compensate for the shortfall in their current order due to the recent price increase of 6d on the developing costs. The Note draws the customer's attention to the Spring 1960 edition of Photo News for details of the price increase.

These are views, ouitside and inside, of a Gratispool print envelope for returning colour prints, whereas all the envelopes above were for black & white prints.

Date information is unknown, but probably in use from 1963 or 1964.

Prior to that time, Gratispool were only involved with transpoarency colour film processing but this envelope refers to colour pictures and 'negative' suggesting the envelope was for returning colour prints made from colour negative film.

The new 1960s logo, looking more modern.
Now the three photographers appear to be using miniature
eye level viewfinder cameras,
rather than large bellows type cameras, as previous.

In 1957 the Gratispool 'Ultra Rapid' film was credited with a speed of 100ASA in daylight and 25ASA in Tungsten light. This implies the film was more sensitive to blue than to red light i.e. orthochromatic (not equally sensitive to all visible wavelengths i.e. not panchromatic).

Immediately left is a carton containing a 120 size film for distribution within the UK. Extreme left are 620 and 127 size films.

The red backing paper tends to confirm the film being orthochromatic, but over the next few years (see below) it became yellow, suggesting the film was now more Panchromatic

Below and right is a Gratispool 'British made' film distributed in South Africa.

Note the black backing paper, compared to the UK red (above) and yellow (shown below).

Perhaps the backing only has numbering for 8 on 120 as the box end (left) is clearly marked 3¼x2¼ (inches). It is says G20.

It bears the instruction in both English and Dutch S.African: This Film Must be sent to Free Film Services, PO Box 6.877, Johannesburg for developing & printing.

Possibly this film is a link with Norman Adler, but the mystery remains unresolved because his daughter believes her father never had a Johannesburg office.

These 1962 backing paper pictures are taken from a UK Gratispool black & white paper negative film.

The film itself is date stamped on its reverse (non-sensitised) side, -9 APR 1962. Notice that the film leader is marked 'High Speed' despite it having a speed rating of only 100ASA. The backing paper is equipped with 3 sets of numbers (see below) permitting 8exp., 12exp. or 16exp. on the 120 roll film.

The film spool ends (far left) have stuck-on labels, presumably so that Gratispool could load their film onto other film manufacturer's spools (though the spool illustrated here has no identifying marks beneath its labels).

The yellow backing paper on this later film suggests it was a more panchromatic emulsion than in 1957 (see red film backing paper in pictures above).

The gummed label (left) was meant to be stuck around the exposed film to prevent it unwinding.

It shows the processing cost to be 5/6d for 8 exp. (27.5p), 7/6d for 12 exp. (37.5p) and 9/6d for 16 exp. (47.5p), presumably made up of 1/6d to develop the film (7.5p) and then 6d (2.5p) for each postcard sized print.

Notice the usual 'start of film' fingers and the multiple numbering to suit cameras taking 8 pictures, 12 pictures or 16 pictures per film.

Linda Preston found a Gratispool film in her Coronet Gratispool box camera (see below). It was dated 15th Sept 1964 (see below) on the reverse of the paper film and 15th Sept 1966 on the start of the backing paper (presumably the 'use by' date). This film not only shows the processing costs in 1964 but also shows that the 'classic' Gratispool paper negative 100ASA film was still being issued as a 'Free' replacement as late as the end of 1964.

Far left: In 1964 the cost of postcard prints was still 6d each (2.5p), but developing now cost 2/- (shillings i.e. 10p), an increase from 1/6d in 1962 (see above).

Left: the reverse of the paper emulsion 'film', dating its manufacture to 15th September 1964. Also left, the backing paper lead end, showing a date of 15th September 1966, which is presumably the 'use by' date.

Gratispool Free Film for black & white pictures from around 1965. A 125ASA panchromatic, believed to be a conventional celluloid base - no longer paper. But the carton still says "This film MUST be sent to Gratispool Ltd, Glasgow, C1, for developing and printing".

If the film was a conventional celluloid base, then anyone could develop and print the negatives. But no doubt Gratispool guarded the source of the film so that best developing time & temperature would be unknown except to themselves and any other appointed agents. Also, only by returning the film to Gratispool for processing did the user get another "Free Film".

These small green envelopes were supplied by Gratispool, around the mid-1960s, to make for easier ordering of colour prints, enlargements and duplicate transparencies. I believe similar envelopes, but coloured yellow, were supplied for ordering b&w reprints.

"Let Gratispool Colour Club do the processing." This 'Club' was announced in 1960 and by mid-1961 it was operating from the 'New Colour Laboratories', Mart Street, Glasgow, C.1.

Using Gratispool's colour services automatically made you a member of the Colour Club. Gratispool advertised that their Colour Club offered a really special service, "new pleasure at less cost." Gratispool "always endeavours to give customers complete satisfaction with the highest quality and lower prices too." "Films are on the way back to you in 36 hours."

These are similar reprint envelopes to the above, but for black & white negatives. The scans were sent to me by Keith Long. At the time these envelopes were in use, 1962-63, Gratispool were still using their paper negative film and so the ordering instructions make a clear distinction between Gratispool negatives and Celluloid Negatives.

The enlargement prices on the reverse of this packet refer to 'Unmounted' (left hand column), 3 from each negative (centre column) and 'Mounted' (presumably each print, right hand side column).

Another Gratispool envelope scan from Keith Long.

This combines a postage-paid envelope with an equipment order form, as its reverse (see left) has a space to define what item(s) is/are to be sent and whether a cheque or Postal Order (PO) is enclosed. Also, whether the purchase is for cash or via a deposit and 38, 52 or 104 weekly payments.

It's interesting that anyone looking at the envelope would know that a PO might be inside. One wonders how many went astray in those less criminal times.

The pictures of the box camera (left & above) were sent by Linda Preston. She purchased it from a charity shop. It is clearly labelled 'Gratispool Camera' in the top centre of the octagonal lens surround, complete with Gratispool's logo at the bottom, below the lens.

To the right of the lens it says 'use filter for sunny distant views and seaside bathing scenes' referring to a built-in green filter for cloudscapes on black & white film. To the left of the lens is an adjuster for near & distant focussing. From the condition of the camera, and the fact that it contained a Gratispool film made in Sept 1964 (use by Sept '66), I suspect it dates from the 1950s.

Gerry Connolly (AKA Mr Coronet) tells me it is a rebranded Coronet Conway 'Popular', actually made by Standard Cameras Ltd., Birmingham, "who were part of Coronet's empire".

The Gratispool Camera was advertised in the summer and autumn editions of Gratispool's 'Photo News' magazine, sent out free with returned orders. The price of 26s 6d is the equivalent of £1.33p in modern decimal currency. It included a 'free' Gratispool film, size G20, for taking 8 off 2¼x3¼inch (6x9cm) negatives that would have been enlarged to postcard size prints.

The 'Handsome Carry Case' cost 7s 9d in this summer 1951 advert, but had been reduced to 7s 6d (38p) by the autumn edition.

"Metals shortage and enormous rises in raw material prices make it unlikely that manufacture of these cameras can be continued indefinitely. Get Yours Now !"

Interestingly, the camera shown above has a serrated plastic film wind-on knob whereas the 1951 advert shows a smooth metal knob, claimed to be "Kind to the fingers film winder". Possibly this knob started out as the smooth design and was later changed (by 1952) to the more practical serrated design.

In 1951, Gratispool Ltd were operating out of 207 William Street, Glasgow, C.3 (pre-dates the St Margaret's Place address).

The Coronet Conway can be seen at this website which shows the pictures (left). Gratispool must have had an agreement to rebrand & sell the Conway as a 'Gratispool Camera' as a marketing tool.

Coronet made a box camera named 'Conway' between the 1930s and 1955 but with several face-lifts that changed its appearance. I believe this one is the final appearance, so the Gratispool Camera might date from the early to mid 1950s.

This Gratispool camera with its original box, instructions and a copy of the summer 1952 Photo News (see left) was sold on ebay in late 2010 for £15.

Another Coronet used for advertising, this time for Outspan oranges. It appeared in Amateur Photographer for 30th Sept 2006 in 'AP Answers'. In AP it was identified as a Coronet Ambassador, but Gerry Connolly believes it to be a Coronet Consul.

These leaflets advertise cine and still (mostly budget) photographic outfits. They are undated but the leaflet to the extreme LHS seems earliest, possibly pre-1965, while the other two most likely date from 1967 or (RHS) early 1968. If the gentleman on the covers is the same, then there might be even more years between them. Someone has e-mailed to suggest he was Gratispool's General Manger, Mr Kempa or Kemper, from the US.

The right hand one has the illustrations, below, of several Gratispool shops at night.

By c1966 the name 'Gratispool' had became associated with a small chain of photographic equipment dealers, as in the picture above, viz. 66 Queen Streeet, Glasgow, 67 High Street, Paisley and Martineau Way, near Corporation Street, Birmingham.
Other shops followed later; Leeds (Lands Lane), Edinburgh (Home Street), Maidenhead (King Street) and Reading (Queen Victoria Street).

Malcolm Drew worked at the Gratispool shop at 10 Martineau Way, Birmingham, for a short time in 1967. He took a series of photographs on 1st April 1967 using a Nikon Photomic loaded with Ilford HP4 film. He has montaged these still pictures of the shop and its staff, together with a short length of video (taken around the same time), and this is viewable on YouTube using this link.

To the left is a Gratispool booklet with costs etc for colour and panchromatic b&w film processing. It dates from late 1965.

Gratispool supplied variously coloured albums rather than a free film under certain situations. In the 1965 film leaflet illustrated above, a free album is supplied as a 'special offer' with all orders for 12 or more reprints. Also, a free Gratispool album was supplied to users of film sizes that were not available as free Gratispool replacements e.g. Instamatic and Agfa Rapid.

Geoff Welding, a retired commercial photographer in Cheshire, e-mailed to say "Gratispool must have also been offering a free album in the mid to late 1950s instead of a Gratispool film and because of this I bought Ilford 120 size b&w film as I preferred to have the free album. I think I paid five shillings (25p) for eight post card size prints - not sure if the return post was extra or included. The Album in my case was for rectangular postcard sized photographs."

Thanks for sending me one of your spare albums to illustrate here, Geoff.

This album records the marriage of 'Janet & Eric' on Saturday March 19th 1960, 2:30pm, at St Mary's Church, Smethwick. There are also colour prints of two middle aged ladies (1960) at their bungalow 'The Haven' at Old Storridge & some b&w holiday pictures on the Isle of Wight and Southsea.

A young man named Adrian features in a few of the snaps, aged 14.

If anyone knows of Adrian, I'd be delighted to pass this album on to him.

Alonside is a Gratispool album from the 1953 Coronation Year of Queen Elizabeth II. It contains 8 postcard sized pages, each with corner cut outs that would allow postcard prints to be easily inserted and later removed.


The images in the row above and to the right are by courtesy of Tony Pritchard. The are front & rear (and side) views taken from early Gratispool 8mm cine film boxes, as used to return the film for processing after exposure.

Its likely that the 8mm cine film would have been Dynachrome, meaning that Gratispool's advise that "Only Gratispool, Glasgow, C.1 can process correctly" (see carton side view above) was true.



As with their black & white films, Gratispool seemingly allowed around 2 years between the date of mailing their colour film and its official expiry date.

The small metal 8mm film cannister (see left), is sized 54mm diameter by 20mm deep, and was supported in its return postage box by a piece of stiff card. As received, the box also contained a gurantee 'certificate' as part of an exposure guide. The illustrated film, with an expiry date of January 1970, was accompanied by a note to the effect that the customer had sent 3d (1.25p) too little with his last order but Gratispool trusted the customer to pay the extra on his next order.

A later 8mm film, expiry date March 1970, contains a new price list where all film & processing prices have significantly increased "due to devaluation and other increased costs." The cost of processing an 8mm cine film, incl. a replacement, increased from 19s/11d (£1) to 22s/9d (£1.14p). Super 8mm cine film was available (from 1968) with an all in charge of 25s/9d (£1.29p). An Instamatic 126 cartridge (20exp) & processing cost 18s/9d (94p) and a 35mm 36exp transparency film cost 24s/6d (£1.23p).

Thanks to an e-mail exchange with Ian Woodward, I found that Gratispool were offering the supply and processing of Kodachrome II cine film in parallel with their own (Dynachrome) cine film by 1967. They offered 2 rolls of 8mm for 33/8d (£1.68p), including the processing costs of one of the two. By 1969 or 1970 Gratispool offered Super 8 Kodachrome II (the Super 8 amateur cine film format was introduced by Kodak in April 1965). Super 8 Gratispool (Dynachrome) was advertised in 1968.

It was unusual for an independent processor to be entrusted with the processing of Kodachrome, as Kodak believed it necessary for them to carry out all processing of their complex (non-substantive) Kodachrome film. Hence, Kodachrome had previously only been sold inclusive of the processing cost.

The availability of Kodachrome non-process paid was the result of a Board of Trade Monopolies Commission report (April 1966) which found that Kodak were maintaining an artificial monopoly by only selling their film process-paid. Since Gratispool's US Dynachrome was also non-substantive and Kodak supplied Gratispool with chemicals to enable Dynachrome processing in the UK, it was sensible that Gratispool should process Kodachrome once it was being sold exclusive of its processing cost. In fact, because of their Dynachrome experience and equipment, Gratispool were the only organisation able to take advantage of processing Kodachrome once it became available non-process paid, so the Monopolies Commission report was largely ineffective. Its ineffectiveness was further reinforced when it became clear that many photographers were happier buying their film process paid and not have to involve themselves in a separate transaction to get their film processed.

An entry in 'Photography' magazine for June 1967 marks the date from which certain daylight-type Kodachrome films became available at prices exclusive of processing. Such films were boldly distinguished by a black stripe on the carton. Films concerned (and Kodak recommended prices) were Kodachrome-X, 126 size, at 12s (60p) with separate processing recommended price 9s.3d (46p); Kodachrome II, 35mm, 20 exposure at 12s with separate processing 9s.3d; 36 exposure 16s.10d (84p) with processing 13s.9d (69p); Kodachrome II 8mm at 16s.10d, with processing costing 7s.9d (39p). The Gratispool offer of 2 off 8mm Kodachrome cine films, including the processing of one, for £1.68p (see above) undercut Kodak's recommended price (£2.07p) by nearly 20%.

To take advantage of the new situation, Richard Stead and Ron Houslip arranged with FINA petrol stations that Kodachrome film be offered at a discount through their filling stations, as a premium offer. This started well enough but ran into trouble with Kodak who objected to the fact that Gratispool were not making it sufficiently clear (in their view) that processing was by Gratispool and not Kodak. This may explain why, by around 1970, all Gratispool 8mm film boxes had the Kodachrome name obliterated with white tape (see illustration, courtesy of Ian Woodward).

Two Gratispool leaflets donated by Brian Wilkinson, giving fault finding advice to colour transparency film users. They suggest what went wrong if results are poor.

The leaflet alongside is possibly the later, as it contains advice on "Choice of Transparencies for Printing". The Gratispool 1965 'Colour Photography' leaflet gives a price of 2/6d (12.5p) per en-print from a colour transparency, perhaps £1.50p in present value.

Keith Long e-mailed with reminiscence of the Nescafé promotion for a free colour slide film that you sent to Gratispool, Glasgow, for processing, together with about 25/- (£1.25p). In return you received your processed slides and another film.

Keith remembers that the Nescafé offer saved you an initial 10/- (50p) outlay to obtain your first film. Keith thought this film was still 25ASA Dynachrome and I have since had this confirmed. Later Gratispool changed to Ferraniacolor reversal film, which was rated at 25ASA in 1965. It was later manufactured by 3M and was much improved by them, becoming (officially) 50ASA (CR50), though Gratispool seemingly advertised it as 64ASA (see below). Films marked "International Colourslide" were Dynachrome but "Gratispool International", and "Free Film Service" for slides were all CR-50.

The film speed was 19DIN = 64ASA (ISO)
Keith learned of the 'Ferrania connection' when (later) a friend gave him a "Gratispool International" film which was (by then) rated at 64ASA. He remembers sending this to Gratispool for processing and subsequently became aware that the film's edge identifier was the same as on a 3M Ferrania CR50. By 1970/71, Keith was processing "Gratispool International" film himself using CR50 chemistry, satisfied that (by then) Gratispool 35mm transparency film was indeed Ferrania CR50. The film above was probably manufactured around 1970 as it has an August 1972 expiry date.

Although CR50 had an 'official' speed rating of 50ASA, it was conducive to uprating by modified processing (which might explain why Gratispool claimed it to be 64ASA). Its possible Gratispool sold CR50 as 64ASA to obscure its true identity or to claim an equivalent speed rating to the post-1963 Ektacolor. It would not have been difficult to achieve a 64ASA rating from CR50. Amateur Photographer magazine carried a test of a Ferrania CR50 home processing kit in their 26th June 1968 edition and this included a procedure for uprating CR50 to 100ASA. The kit was priced at 15s/9d (79p), sufficient to process five 36exp 35mm films or eight 20 exposures.

In 1973 a company called S.G.Stead of Hemel Hempstead were selling their STEADfast kit with claims of CR50 being rated to 200ASA "with a quality at least equal to that given by standard processing." This kit sold for £1.70, sufficient for six 36exp 35mm films.

A standard 50ASA kit had been sold by G.Stead since January 1972, priced at £1.30. By 1973 it cost £1.40p (all prices post free).
10metre bulk lengths of Ferrania CR50 were available at £1.75p (perhaps sufficient for six 36exposure films).

The company name S.G.Stead is merely an interesting coincidence, there being no connection with Gratispool's Geoffrey Stead and his family.
S.G.Stead was Gordon Stead a research chemist of 41, Gadebridge Lane, Hemel Hempstead, Herts (Ref: SLR Camera, news round-up, Jan'72).
Thanks to Stephen Gilmore, I've learned that FILM Ferrania is in the process (mid-2014) of restarting production of analog film in both still and cinema formats. This will be an E6 process transparency film. Click on: to read more about the announcement and to go 'in-depth' on a very interesting site.

This page last modified: 26th September 2021 (previously 26th January 2020)