I first saw the mobile Cinema in 1990 in a field in Iver Heath and it was love at first sight. It had been advertised in the Historic Commercial Vehicle Societies magazine as in need of a home, so I rang up and went to have a look. It was parked in a field surrounded by rusty military vehicles and although it was covered in algae and full of cobwebs it looked promising. I was told that it had been running a couple of years previously and that ideally the owners, The transport Trust wanted it to stay in preservation. But if I didn’t buy it it would probably be scrapped as nobody else had expressed any interest. So I made an offer of £350 which was accepted and the next day Dave, Dan and I turned up with a can of petrol, a battery and a bucket. We scrubbed the worst of the green algae off the outside, swept the spiders webs from the inside and started her up. As easy as that! Well almost…..
A week later with temporary insurance cover and all digits crossed we drove it home. All the way from Iver Heath to Chelmsford around the M25. And we nearly made it. But as we turned of the motorway onto the A12 the engine conked out. I managed to get it onto the verge using the starter where we found the fuel line had blocked up with sediment from the fuel tank. So we jury rigged a bottle hanging from the interior mirror with a plastic pipe straight into the carburettor and finished our journey. Job done.
The Cinema was based on a 1967 Bedford SB3 with a petrol engine. It hadn’t been used for many years so we put it up on blocks and began cleaning it out.
My plan was to restore it and use it to produce a series of history programmes using archive film. I wrote a proposal about taking short archive films back to the places where they were made and interviewing any survivors or their descendants. We got a lot of interest from the East Anglian Film Archive and approached all the major broadcasters trying to get a commission but no takers. Ah well I thought, Maybe next year, in the meantime I would use the Cinema as a workshop and store while I finished Hamilton.
Which is what I did, Unfortunately I never managed to get anybody to take up the programme idea but the cinema made a great storeroom. We started it regularly and began replacing rotten woodwork but then one night some thieving ****** stole the gearbox. When I reported it to the local police they told me that in the preceding month over a dozen Bedford gearboxes had been stolen from horse boxes and tipper trucks in the local area. Apparently they would probably end up in West Africa where they commanded high prices and where lots of old Bedford’s were still working. Unfortunately this meant we could no longer start the bus up and so it began to deteriorate.
Eventually in 2003 I sold it to Rob and Nancy from Somerset who had driven past one day and left a note on the windscreen. We chose them from the dozens of others who left notes over the years because they were desperate to turn it back into a cinema and already had some experience of operating travelling cinemas at festivals.
Unfortunately they didn’t do anything to it either. It sat in their yard until it was eventually discovered by Ollie Halls, who did.
Over the next few years Ollie totally restored the bus inside and out. He completed an amazing restoration and now runs it as a working mobile cinema travelling all over the country showing films. He has even hired it out to the BBC who used it in a series of programmes called ‘The Reel History of Britain’ showing archive films in the places they were originally made, with Melvyn Bragg interviewing people who had been in the films……… So all’s well that ends well.
I would tell you more but I thought it easier to provide a link to the Mobile Cinema Website where Ollie will tell you the story of the Mobile Cinema himself…….