Ron Huntsman, who has died aged 88, was a broadcaster who oversaw the transmission of Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem in 1961, following the successful Mossad mission to snatch one of the architects of the Holocaust from Buenos Aires.
Milton Fruchtman, of Capital Cities Broadcasting in New York, had approached Huntsman’s employers, Marconi in Chelmsford, with a plan to place television cameras in the courtroom. The Marconi team flew out in February 1961 to find Jerusalem in sub-zero temperatures and thick snow.
They soon discovered that Fruchtman had not yet received permission to televise the trial: the judges feared that cameras would distract witnesses, and the Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion was opposed to the idea.
To address their concerns, the first problem was where to hide cameras and retain perfect views of Eichmann, the witnesses and the judges. The building had been a cinema and afforded areas for two cameras to be hidden. The remaining two were placed either side of Eichmann’s glass dock in special cabins decorated to match the courtroom. The production equipment was installed in a room above a bank across a busy street, about 200 feet away.
Another problem was that four camera operators were required. Luckily the David Niven war comedy Best of Enemies had just wrapped at Beersheba and a visit to the set secured new staff, who were trained by Huntsman to use TV cameras.
The trial presented months of harrowing witness accounts and footage. At one point Eichmann pointed at his headphones, indicating that he could not hear anything. Huntsman found a spare pair in the studio across the road, passed through security and was locked in with Eichmann.
They exchanged headphones, then as Huntsman was crossing the street back to the studio he was overcome with what he later described as having been in the presence of evil.
Daily recordings of the trial were broadcast to 37 countries including the US, and every evening in Britain on ITN. It became a significant milestone in the history of TV broadcasting and was dramatised on the BBC in The Eichmann Show (2015), with Huntsman played by Ben Addis. Eichmann was hanged on June 1 1962.
Ronald Arthur Huntsman was born on June 16 1933 in Cottingham, East Yorkshire. In 1935 the family moved to the Summerods Estate, near Hexham, where his father worked. He attended the local school – but only in the mornings, as evacuees were taught separately in the afternoons.
At one point young Ron was confined to bed for a period. To relieve the boredom his father made him a crystal set, with the earth connected to the waterpipe and the aerial to the bedsprings. “It was amazing,” he recalled, “it received both Light and Home Service programmes so well, and with no batteries!”
This sparked an interest in radio and television that lasted a lifetime, beginning with home-built valve wireless sets and moving on to acquiring ex-government equipment for more sophisticated set-ups. He attained an amateur radio licence in 1953 and went on to cultivate contacts around the world.
But television became Huntsman’s passion, and with a large amount of ex-government radar equipment available after the war, he was able to build a set capable of receiving the early 405-line service. A home-made aerial on the roof provided pictures good enough to watch the Coronation.
Following National Service with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Huntsman was ideally placed when he applied to Marconi in Chelmsford in 1957. He first worked in component testing, but when he noticed two television cameras on the pavement across the street one lunchtime, he inquired about joining the company’s Television Demonstration Unit (TDU).
He was accepted, and underwent training in TV technology, including using the Marconi MK3 camera – the model for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year trophy.
The TDU was closely associated with BBC Television, who provided camera and production training for live broadcasts, and Huntsman worked as cameraman on a variety of shows, including Grandstand most weekends, as well as live theatre, discussion programmes, royal occasions such as the wedding of Princess Alexandra and Angus Ogilvy, church services, Come Dancing, This is Your Life with Eamonn Andrews and a Billy Graham Crusade.
He spread his wings further, covering President Eisenhower’s 1959 world tour for CBS with Walter Cronkite and the Winter Olympics at Innsbruck in 1964 for the BBC.
Huntsman moved on to managing studio installation projects for Marconi in countries around the world including Uganda, Ghana and Jordan, as well as helping ITN News commission new colour studios in 1969. He did the same job for Channel Seven Network in Australia in 1975.
The following year he joined Pye as a senior sales executive, responsible for studio and transmitter sales in the Middle East.
He remained a licensed radio amateur and served as chairman of the Cambridge & District Amateur Radio Club. He retained his passion for broadcasting and became an authority on vintage television and wireless.
He was a talented rifle shot, achieving success at Bisley in 1955 for REME. He was actively involved at his parish church, St John the Evangelist in Cambridge.
Ron Huntsman is survived by his wife June and their two sons.
Ron Huntsman, born June 16 1933, died November 7 2021