Trevor Steele passed away in Paris on Dec 20, 2023 He was a beloved, influential, innovative pillar of the cinema industry. Trevor was the center of attention, an optical centering, the life of the party wherever he went. He could explain technical details, and almost anything else, with great clarity, charm and wit.
Andrew and Ben Steele sent a call out to friends and colleagues for WWW—When did you first meet Trevor, Why did you meet him, and What happened. The response was amazing, really a who’s who of the industry remembering a beloved colleague. More on that after a brief bio.
Trevor was born in Sevenoaks, Kent, on the South Coast of England. He attended a good public school. When he was eight, the family moved to Palmers Green in North London. Trevor had no friends when he arrived until he met a boy named George Hill. They became a lifelong buddies and George was a founder of Optex. “We did practically everything together as young boys do,” Trevor said in a 2012 FDTimes article. “We played and went bicycling together. We joined the church choir. The church was named St. Cuthbert’s, at Chitts Hill in North London. George went on to a technical college called Arnos Grove. He trained as a technician to work a lathe and all the machinery. I failed miserably in grammar school and came out with achievements in French and woodworking. Reading, writing and arithmetic went by the board. I confused geography with history. But I did very well in French, which of course, helped later on.”
One of Trevor’s first jobs was as a projector technician for Cinex in London. They were the importers of the famous Paillard Bolex H-16 cameras and other equipment. Trevor stayed with that company for more than 15 years, gradually working his way up from Technician on the bench to Section Leader, Assistant Service Manager, and ending up as Technical Manager. He travelled to Switzerland often for intensive training courses.
Trevor got involved with the Bolex 16 Pro camera, designed and developed in Munich, and way ahead of its time except for one detail: you had to cut the film to remove it from the magazine. He gained valuable experience learning how to shoot a film as part of a crew working with Swiss television.
In 1965, Kodak (with sales of more than $1 billion a year and 75,000 employees) came out with Super 8. Bolex was slow to adopt the new format. Trevor was out of work for a few months when he got a call from Éclair Debrie UK. This company was created by Harry Saltzman, Producer of the James Bond films.
Trevor explained, “Saltzman had saved the tragically ailing Éclair International Company in France. He opened up a subsidiary in London to be able to produce this equipment cheaper. I was invited to join them and became the first person to be employed by that company. I was responsible for setting up the camera production line, the after-sales service and then technical sales. I then joined Éclair International Cameras (E.I.C.) in rue Gaillon near the Opera in Paris, and later just off the Champs-Elysees near the Arc de Triomphe.
“I travelled around the world to train technicians on the NPR, ACL, and other cameras, and bring back news of potential sales. We trained some 150 technicians over a period of four or five years, which meant that there were plenty of technicians available to service Éclair cameras. But Éclair was about to fail. All the staff were laid off except myself, Manfred Tosseram, Michel Vacar, and Madame Gauthrie. Jean-Pierre Beauviala was called in to assist. There were no new orders for Éclair cameras because with the new Aaton and Arriflex 16mm cameras, the market was already saturated and video was coming in very fast. The writing was on the wall. There was no future for Éclair. Mr. Beauviala was very kind to me personally when it came to the showdown at the end.”
And that is how Emit began in 1982. Trevor, Manfred Tosseram, and Michel Vacar created the company to assist the Éclair camera factory in exporting their spare parts, back orders and accessories. The company was named “Modern Image Techniques.” It was set up at Epinay-sur-Seine, about 12 kilometers north of Paris, the hometown of Éclair Processing Labs, cutting rooms, and the famous Éclair Film Production Company with the largest sound stage in Europe at that time.
“Modern Image Techniques” became Emit. They brought in Cooke lenses from the UK and PAG batteries, Chrosziel matteboxes and follow focus, and Panther dollies—under FGV at the time.
Andrew Steele said, “Trevor and his wife Marlene sowed the seeds and put down the roots that helped us—Ben and me—grow Emit into what it is today and for that we are ever grateful’’.
The Life of the Party
Here are excerpts from the many replies to the WWW call from Andrew and Ben: When did you first meet Trevor, Why did you meet him, and What happened. The stories that came in could fill a book. Here is the trailer, the condensed story.
“I met Trevor in 2008 at AFC Micro Salon, at the invitation of Jacques Delacoux, President of Transvideo. It was, to paraphrase the last line of Casablanca, ‘the beginning of a new friendship’ with him, Andrew and Ben. Trevor was up there with Denny Clairmont in exalted guru status as the first ones to call with a technical question. The answers were always long and fascinating, expanding from the technical to the artistic, with history and anecdotes in the mix. In 2012, Trevor endured a long FDT interview about the history of Emit. We agreed it should be called ‘The Life of Trevor.’ The movie rights may still be available. – Jon Fauer, Publisher of Film and Digital Times.
Denny Clairmont said, around 2010, “Trevor used a wonderful expression that we have adapted—about doing a production and then mucking it up by cheapening it. He said, “If you’re not going to do it right, why bother?”
“I first met Trevor Steele in 1970 when he was working for Éclair Debrie UK selling cameras and other products. At this time we (Ronford Ltd.) were making a wheelchair dolly for Stanley Kubrick. There are pictures of Trevor demonstrating our ‘Multiplan Dolly.’ Trevor sold these and a new fluid head of ours, the F2, along with the Éclair Debrie cameras. A big part of the success of the F2 head was down to Trevor’s salesmanship.” – Jeff Lawrence, Ronford-Baker Camera Support Technology.
“We will deeply miss Trevor. He was a legend of the cinema world. I will never forget, when I started in the industry, Trevor and Alfred Chrosziel were taking young Dominique to the Parisian brasserie facing the Gare du Nord for 4-hour seafood lunches. It goes without saying that the atmosphere was very jovial. Being with both of them was a privilege. They showed me how to make business with style. Unforgettable!” – Dominique Rouchon, Deputy Managing Director, Angénieux International Sales-Marketing & Communication.
“I first got to know Trevor in the early 80’s due to my Cooke 9-50 / 10.4-52 CVK zoom lens project with Brian Newman of Cooke. Distribution was convoluted. Hence I met Trevor and his dear wife Marlene. We became fast friends over the years. Trevor was always gracious introducing me to the industry in France. We had many fine times together. One of our last adventures was a trip to Grenoble to visit our old friends at Aaton. I spent many nights at Trevor’s apartment and enjoyed many good times with him and his sons Andrew and Ben.” – Les Zellan, former Chairman of Cooke Optics, President of ZGC.
“I met Trevor when Ben and Andrew were boys. A very young Ben, maybe 5 years old, held my hand and gave me a tour of their beautiful garden one summer, in French, while Trevor’s wife, Marlene, prepared a lovely backyard dinner for Ira Tiffen, Les and me. It was loving, relaxed and memorable. Years later, when Ben and Andrew were running Emit, Trevor and I had a conversation about art and architecture during NAB. We discovered that we were both fans of Frank Lloyd Wright. Two years later, with Les’s blessing, we embarked on a six-hour drive to visit Wright’s Falling Water in Pennsylvania. The best memories are those spent with a kindred spirit having an adventure filled with awe-inspiring moments. Trevor’s kind, affable and loving spirit will be remembered. I always thought Trevor had the coolest name ever. It just rolled off the tongue, Trevor Steele — like Bond, James Bond.” – Barbara Lowry, former marketing manager at ZGC and Cooke.
“I met Trevor for the first time around the end of 2004 because Emit was the French distributor of P+S Technik Products where I had just started working. I have many nice memories about what a charming and passionate dancer Trevor was at some of the parties we attended. He was a reliable businessman and a great human being.” – Philip Vischer, Product Manager PCA Mechanical Accessories at ARRI.
“I first met Trevor in the mid to late 1980s at a Photokina after-show meal with Ron Collins, Geoff Chappell, Alfred and Gertrude Chrosziel and the usual suspects. I was quite new at OpTex but he was very accepting of ‘the new boy.’ Trevor’s mind seemed to work faster than most people could listen. He had an amazing enthusiasm for anything to do with imaging, which was ironic because his eyeglasses were forever smeared and never straight.” – Robin Thwaites, Director of International Sales, Tiffen International Ltd.
“My first encounters with Trevor probably go back to 2007 when I was still quite new at Tiffen and we met at the Emit office prior to a Satis Expo in Paris. Of course, they had their late-night party night at Chez Serge. Trevor was a warm, friendly, technical eccentric with countless stories of painting cameras white to withstand the scorching sun on Lawrence of Arabia or driving across Europe with kit to get to a set location. He had a glass of red wine in one hand, and always someone’s hand in the other.” – Danny Hallett, Tiffen.
“Trevor was the most passionate lens technologist geek. His personality, charisma, and style were wonderful. He was the best host. When we visited Paris, he was there for us all the time. We were like the 3 Musketeers: Trevor, Alfred Chrosziel and I. An Englishman in Paris, an East Prussian in Munich and a Hungarian in LA walk into a bar. What could possibly go wrong? We dreamed up products on the back of beer-soaked napkins. We debated, argued and ultimately reached a place where few arrive —harmony. Trevor had an amazing sense of loyalty and respect for the people he worked with.” – Amnon Band, CEO of Band Pro Film & Digital.
“I met Trevor in Munich in 2006 and then at all the industry trade fairs year after year. He was charming and friendly and always humorous. His wit made us all laugh in every situation. Encounters full of wonderful moments will be fondly remembered.” – Christine Sailer, DENZ
“I met Trevor in the early ‘90s when Emit was still in Epinay. He made time for me and answered my many questions about Cooke lenses, which were a mystery to me at the time. Trevor’s encyclopedic knowledge and kindness stayed with me for many years, and naturally, at the very first AFC Micro Salon in Paris, the first booth I stopped by was Emit. On another occasion, we ended up locked in the SATIS show because we were talking so much, and the security guards came to dislodge us just as the service lights went out. Thanks to him, I’m still a fan of Emit, where I always learn something and am always made to feel welcome. Trevor’s two sons, Andrew and Ben, maintain the house’s reputation for excellence and warmth. I’ll always fondly remember Trevor Steele as a great man.” – Philippe Coroyer, cinematographer, director and co-founder of Ciné Système.
“Many of us were touched by Trevor’s passion, knowledge and kindness. He was a staple of this niche yet demanding industry.” – Hélène de Roux, director and co-founder of Ciné Système.
“Times with Trevor were all memorable, in particular one long evening over a few glasses of red wine at a Tiffen open day in Pinewood. He was always very welcoming to me and had a depth of knowledge of our industry that few had. He is fondly remembered and we are lucky to have had the pleasure of being in his company.” – Tony O’Connor, Octica Professional Ltd.
“Trevor was always exiting to meet at IBC. I think I met him for the first time in September 2000. Emit became our agent for Easyrig in France. It is truly a family company that I have trusted.”
– Johan Hellsten, Inventor of Easyrig.
“Greetings from OZ. Great memories. I wish I had some photos but my John had most of our early contacts with the greats like Trevor. I think that Andrew and Ben are the best tributes to Trevor and the success that is Emit.” – Sue Greenshields, Managing Director, Lemac Film and Digital.
“I first met Trevor in the early 1980s at an exhibition in the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London. At this time, Trevor had formed a company Emit with two of his colleagues from the Éclair Company, so Emit was made up from an English man, a French man and a German, (this is not the first sentence of a joke). Emit became our distributing agent for France. We became firm friends. Trevor liked the English theatre and he often suggested that we take a trip to to central London to see a show, so together with Geoffrey Chappell, the three of us went up to town. Although no tickets were ever booked, somehow Trevor always managed to acquire very good seats. These are just a few of many memories I could have told you about of my friend Trevor.” – Nigel Gardiner, Sales Director PAG Limited UK.
“Like many of us, I have many memories of Trevor. He was a key person in our creative industry. Trevor was probably the first person I met who showed me to what extent image construction, technological evolution, intelligent business and the pleasure of working among enthusiasts were interconnected and inseparable facets of the profession. I keep intact the memory of his humor, his commitment and the little sparkling lights in his eyes when we worked together. So long, dear Trevor.” – Fabien Pisano, Media Solutions Sales Head, Sony Europe.
“Trevor was good friends with my father. I remember them always enjoying a drink and laughing together. My fondest memory of Trevor took place back in 1984. I was 20 and in Paris on vacation. I had only worked with Trevor though my dad’s company Century Optics. Even though he did not know me well, he met me at a hotel in Paris for dinner and a few drinks in the lounge. What I remember the most about Trevor was that as a youngster in the industry, he treated me with respect and seemed to always have a smile. He will be missed.” – Steven Manios, COO Ste-Man, Inc. dba Cartoni USA.
“I met Trevor during my time at Century Optics — a business relationship that grew into a friendship that continued through my time with at 16x9inc. Trevor was such a special person—so enjoyable person to be around. Every conversation with him was something that stimulated me to see how to deal with personal and business situations in ways that were not necessarily the way I was inclined. That winsome wisdom is what I appreciated so much about him. He knew how to navigate his way in difficult situations with difficult people (me) to draw them to his point of view. I know that this is very obvious to Andrew and Ben because they reflect the same style and qualities in running Emit. I am sure he would be very pleased how they have learned the lessons he taught them. it was a life well lived by Trevor.” – Jeff Giordano, at Angenieux for 10 years, 17 years at Century Optics, 12 years at 16x9inc, and 8 years consulting for Cartoni USA.
“Where and when did I meet Trevor? Maybe Paris, Amsterdam or Munich in the late 90s. At that time, Transvideo designed a system to read Cooke optics. We never made any money with this thing but I had a good laugh with Trevor and since then I have always considered him as a friend. For me, he was a true British gentleman with the inimitable humor that goes with it. Trevor always came to have fun at our IBC parties. He was a kind of incredible dancing queen! I remember also a good laugh in Tel Aviv where he found some plastic fantastic glasses with LEDs in the frames. He had a knack for having fun with anything. I have a lot of photos of Trevor but I like the one in particular, in Amsterdam, Trevor had stayed to sleep in our barge – look at him, everything is here. I loved him.” Jacques Delacoux – CEO Aaton-Transvideo.
“I met Trevor in the mid-80s. At the time, I was working mainly in Super16 with the Cooke 10.4-52mm Zoom. My assistant, Martine Gonthié, had gotten into the habit of ordering the mattebox, filters and focus controls from Emit. As I was very happy with these, she pointed out that perhaps I should take the time to meet the people who worked at this company. That was a very wise suggestion. I met Trevor, his two sons, Andrew and Ben, and all the members of Emit. From then on, I never imagined starting a project without first asking them for advice. Trevor was one of those people who changed my career: he was able to show me, with humor and intelligence, that “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” He suggested that I open up to the theory and analysis of tools. He made me understand that if you don’t have a minimum of training (and information), it is difficult to progress. He opened essential doors, particularly regarding lenses. Trevor also had a passion for the ergonomics of cameras. His background at Eclair must have helped. He was one of the first to understand that camera accessorization played a big role in the effectiveness of camera crews on location.” – Philippe Ros, AFC, ITC co-chair (Imago).
“WHEN: Our first exchanges with Trevor date back to 1986. WHY: Thierry de Segonzac created the company Télégrip in 1986 to rent grip equipment in Paris. Trévor was obviously the essential and inescapable contact for importing the appropriate products: Panther dollies and Egripment accessories. We were at that time an important player in imposing Panther dollies into the French market. This was one of the foundations of the principle of a “global offer” for providing innovative technical equipment for productions filming in France which inspired a consolidation of a group of companies into what is today’s TSF.
“WHAT: 40 years of collaboration with Trevor first of all, then the team he put in place, Andrew, Ben and now along with the current team, to become what it is today—creating links, professional friendships and loyalty thanks to high quality and service.” – Frédéric Valay, Director of Client Services.
“Unforgettable. I came to know Trevor 40 years ago when we first joined Satis in March 1984. We had just introduced our 1st Panther dolly at Photokina in 1982. At that time there were just 2 “Panther people” – Erich Fitz and myself and we were still showing under the name FGV Panther – luckily, I was the one to support Trevor with his show.
“Emit had been established a short time before by Trevor Steele, Manfred Tosseram and Michel “Boris” Vaccar. From what I remember it was one of the first – if not the 1st Satis. It was the time of a Francois Bogard, Claude Chevreaux, Henryk Chroszicki, Rune Ericson and directors like Claude Lelouch came to the show, but at this very first start everything was a bit chaotic and Trevor and I did set up the booth till long past midnight. It was the beginning of a long-lasting friendship with absolute trust and confidence in each other. Trevor invited us to his apartment where I got to know his wife Marlene and their young son Ben – probably 7 years old but already fully focused on some type of electronic toy calculator.
“If I remember correctly there was also Alfred Chrosziel, Brian Newman from Cooke, Geoffrey Chappel from Optex and Nigel Gardiner from PAG. Over the years we often met at Satis to support Emit which soon after was entirely taken over by Trevor and Marlene. Although this was financially a very hard time for Trevor, I remember him always being an extremely generous host. Unforgettable the evening he took us to the Moulin Rouge and we watched the show, not only girls but also little dogs etc. performing. Tired from the show day Alfred quickly fell asleep during the show and we all had a lot of fun afterwards teasing him by telling what we had seen and of course inventing and adding a lot of things like elephants and giraffes. ‘Did you see the elephants, Alfred?’ which he of course affirmed to, not wanting to admit that he had slept most of the time.
“Trevor joined us later for Photokina and I remember that he got terribly lost the first time. Not that he just missed the Cologne exit, he almost ended up in Dortmund which was quite a way off. But this was typical for Trevor, here and there a bit puzzled. “On the other hand, this was one of the things we all appreciated very much: he was someone who continued to be the way he has always been. He kept his humanity and gentle character also in business. Thanks to God he did not turn into a typical businessman but remained a very lovable friend with whom you could talk about everything. He was very open, generous and always helpful. I remember his warm words when he came to our house right after a show in Los Angeles and we had just set up the Panther office in North Hollywood in 1987.
“He very proud of his children Andrew, Jane and Ben and most of all when ‘the boys’ took over the company. It was never boring with Trevor, he had always stories to tell and a fine sense of humor. You could also discuss problems with him, he was very understanding. His enormous generosity I already mentioned but also his loyalty towards Panther when other dolly manufacturers appeared on the market. After leaving Panther we stayed in touch over the years and enjoyed seeing us and catching up at trade shows. Our whole film community will remember this very exceptional and special person.” – Florian Granderath, Camera Support Granderath.
“I first met Trevor in the early 1960s, both of us young lads, while I was working for Kafetz Cameras, the UK distributor, for Beaulieu and Trevor worked for Andre Fer of Cinex, the UK distributor for Bolex film equipment. A few years later, Trevor joined John Page, the UK distributor for Eclair. Years later, Trevor got together with 3 friends in the industry to launch their own company in Paris. We always said that name of their company, Emit, followed repeated discussions that took a long time, therefore the name had to become t i m e, in reverse.
“Like many of us, growing up in the 50s and 60s, Trevor was surrounded by comedy. As there were hardly any television programmes available, we had excellent comedy radio shows through BBC that we each listened to faithfully. On my many visits to Trevor in Paris, in later years, we often spent an evening listening to one of many old tapes of such programmes, of which Trevor had an enormous collection, laughing and recalling the characters and their jokes.
“We spent many family holidays together with Alfred and Gertrud Chrosziel. Our young families played together for two weeks from morning to night and never complained about not understanding one another in English, German, and French. The children jointly added Spanish to the repertoire as the island of Formentera was our own “treasure island”, thanks to the generous hospitality of our dear friends, Alfred and Gertud. Over the years we all attended each other’s children’s weddings. My friendship with Trevor (and Alfred and Gertrud) was a constant one.
“There are so many memories. Regularly, Trevor enjoyed driving his faithful Renault to London to visit Nigel Gardiner at PAG, after which on to the bright lights of London’s theatre district where the 3 of us would meet up, buy whatever tickets were still available for that evening, and once in the theatre we became part of the cast on stage because of how enthusiastically we sang along. After such a show we would look for a late restaurant and wholeheartedly critiqued and relived the show all over again. Nigel would rush to catch the last train home and Trevor and I would begin the journey to try and find our cars. When I drove off to go home, Trevor would start his drive back to Paris, taking the night boat. Once on French soil he would park in a roadside resting area to have a few hours of sleep and then show up in his office by mid morning. For us, business and friendship really worked – there were several sailing adventures (one particularly scary one that included Alfred and our sons), all night adventures, theatre outings, travels and exhibitions, Carol concerts, and all always made merrier by Trevor’s own brand of comedy. A great many nights we enjoyed hearty laughter while holding a large gin and tonic, and discussing how to put world to right.” – Geoffrey Chappell.
Andrew Steele weighs in. “The Scary Sailing Trip went like this: we had two rented yachts along with a skipper. We navigated around Belle Ile and up to Quimper, Normandy. In the morning of our planned departure back to the port of Trinity, a big storm blew up. The skipper said he had to get back to Trinity that night, so he asked me if I was ok for Alfred to take one boat and he would take the second one with Trevor, Geoffrey and Steve. We were underway only to see many other sail and motor boats rushing back into harbour to shelter.
“The skipper told me after our voyage that he was pretty lonely up top with the three of you below decks ‘mapping the course’ or maybe horizontal. Alfred and I had a 6-pack up on deck for the voyage back and managed to follow the other yacht back to port where on arrival all were in good spirits and went for an evening meal to celebrate. Real scary stuff but great memories.”
Geoffrey Chappell rebuts: “I was most definitely not below deck with Trevor, that would have been the worst place for us as I remember being very seasick. I don’t remember the skipper on our boat but remember Alfred, who was our most experienced sailor, so we may well have traded him with your boat. I do remember Trevor being convinced that our last hour had come. In the years that followed, we teased him plenty about that particular sailing trip.”
“My first memory of Trevor is from around 1992/3. Although my father has known Trevor before I was born, my first memory of meeting this amazing guy was during our first ‘united nations’ family holiday to Formentera with Trevor and Alfred Chrosziel — the 3 Amigos. Needless to say, I very lucky to have enjoyed holidaying and sailing with Trevor and his family while growing up. And now, I feel privileged to be working closely with both Andrew and Ben as they continue to guide Emit forward and into the future. Back in 2009, I was honoured when Trevor made one of his same-day round trips from Paris to Christchurch, Dorset, UK to help celebrate my wedding day.” – Stephen Chappell, Sales Director, cmotion.
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