Preserving the magic of cinema since 1978

Out & about

Heritage weekend

From Peter Allen

Last year we used Peter Knight’s inflatable cinema but found in the very bad weather we were fighting wind and rain just to keep it up, so this year we decided we would find a more secure venue. Peter Tipping and I signed up to Heritage Open Days (HODS) who organise the Heritage Weekends in Milton Keynes and every year they have a meeting to ascertain what local organisations can contribute. We sat at a table with a lady, began chatting and asked her what her organisation did, and to our surprise she said they organised silent film shows accompanied by a sound track played on their newly restored church organ. The lady was Anna Page and the church was St Mary and St Giles in Stony Stratford which is a vibrant old town to the north of Milton Keynes. We asked if it would be possible for them to let us have a small area to set up a display of silent film projectors and she said she would enquire with the vicar as to whether this would be possible. A date was fixed for us to visit the venue as we had got agreement for the exhibition. When we arrived we were very surprised to find that Anna had arranged for us to have the whole church hall and that catering was arranged for visitors to drop in.

Heritage weekend 1

We would have liked to have taken along some of the trust’s larger silent projectors but this was not a viable proposition, so Peter and I decided we would work with what we had. Peter had a good collection of 8mm and 16mm and I had some 9.5mm machines and between us we had some posters. We also borrowed some display boards from Milton Keynes Museum.
We decided we would do the Saturday and Sunday for our exhibition which meant that we only had two hours to set up. Peter had just bought a new digital projector and with the aid of a pull down screen at the back of the room we were able to show a selection of black and white films.
We had a good response from the public but had to go totally silent while a wedding took place in the church next door but it did give us an opportunity to meet a Dell Boy look-a-like who was driving the wedding car.
The film show went well on the Saturday night, showing mostly Charlie Chaplins accompanied by our old friend Donald Mackenzie on the restored Willis Pipe Organ which gives a fantastic sound.
For organ officienadoes here’s the technical spec of the “Father Willis Pipe Organ”; it has over 900 original Willis 1 pipes, over 500 Willis 2, and over 500 Willis 3 or replacements bringing the number of pipes to 1,987; other pipes have been added subsequently.
Our special thanks to Anna and all the other church members who made us most welcome for the two day event.

Heritage weekend 2

Heritage weekend 3

Cinema heritage on air

From Mike Taylor

Some four years ago, I was approached by BBC Radio Merseyside to take part in their mid-week “Nostalgia” programme looking at cinemas past and present on Merseyside. Being something new to me, it was also an opportunity to promote the Projected Picture Trust in the North West. The basis of the programme was a live on air section with listeners to the show hosted by Linda McDermott. Many of the listeners were ex-pats from Liverpool living overseas, which made the programme more interesting.

Radio Merseyside

It also made for testing one’s knowledge of cinemas long gone from Liverpool. In fact, we only have two original cinemas left from a list of 147 on both sides of the River Mersey. These are the Plaza Crosby and the Picture House Woolton. It is interesting that nobody ever asks about the modern multiplex. We have to be careful making any comments about these in case the management are listening to the programme.
The usual “Nostalgia” team is about five regulars (male and female) plus the host and invited guests. The cinema night is special, and goes out every four or five weeks. It is great fun to do, as you do not know what you will be asked – live radio at its best and late night. Radio Merseyside has just had a makeover of its studio with the latest equipment.

Radio Merseyside group

Progress at Duxford

From Allen Taylor

Duxford PPT members had a meeting with Alicia Gurney, head of Master Planning and Engagement, at Imperial War Museum (IWM) Duxford. The PPT Duxford team, under their regional coordinator Allen Taylor, are trying to find ways that will enable the PPT to work better with IWM and perhaps one day to allow public access to the Astra cinema.

Duxford meeting

Left to right in the picture are PPT Chairman Peter Knight, David Holland Alicia’s Secretary, Alicia Gurney, Allen Taylor, John Hope and Alan Slater.
We have often claimed that “our Duxford” is the only one left in the country. I asked Mike Taylor, who is a member of the Friends of IWM to check on this claim. Jennifer Holdford, who is Forces Cinemas operations manager for SSVS replied
“We still run 14 cinemas on military bases here in the UK and overseas and a couple are still known as the Astra Cinema at RAF Halton, MOD St Athan, RAF St Mawgan, RAF Akrotiri.”
Although our Duxford is now decommissioned it is probably the only one that can run film.
After some time we have finished clearing out and refurbishing the workroom at Duxford. We have found some surprising projects to work on in the new year and to add to the PPT collection. We also installed a new work bench (on the right of the picture). I give my many thanks to all of the PPT team.
In the picture are left to right: Curator Alex Cooper, Charlie Elleson and Alan Slater.

Duxford workshop

Our next project will be the painting of the projection room, adding new monitor speakers and the installation of Ross projectors with a changeover attachment. Carbon arcs will be used to comply with the wishes of the Imperial War Museum to make the box in the style of the 1940s.