Restored mobile cinema will tour North Devon

A rare 1967 mobile cinema is being restored in North Devon and will visit schools and communities across the county next year, showing historic films unseen for many years, including old footage of the area. The vehicle was one of a fleet of seven mobile

A rare 1967 mobile cinema is being restored in North Devon and will visit schools and communities across the county next year, showing historic films unseen for many years, including old footage of the area.

The vehicle was one of a fleet of seven mobile cinemas commissioned in 1967 by the Ministry of Technology, headed by Tony Ben, to visit factories and workplaces.

It is the only one of the original mobile cinemas to have survived. It was rescued by a previous owner after sitting in a field for 14 years. Ollie Halls of the Vintage Mobile Cinema Company then brought it to Devon, where he has been carefully restoring it with the help of friends.

After the restoration is complete, the Cinema will embark on a series of shows at local schools and villages.


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Mr Halls said: "It's an important piece of history. The seven mobile cinemas only ran for about three years. This particular vehicle had several owners after being decommissioned, including Sir William McAlpine, who toured it with the Flying Scotsman until 1975. By the time I got it the engine was seized and the gearbox had been stolen.

"We've put a huge amount of work into restoring it and there's a fair way to go still. But we're very excited about the upcoming North Devon project, where it will be showcased for the very first time after its full restoration.

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"It's a real head-turner. When we brought it back to Devon on an HGV low-loader, we were swamped with curious admirers each time we took a break."

The cinema is a Bedford SB3, and features a visually striking Perspex dome above the driver's cab. It is nearly as high as a double-decker bus.

The Movie Bus Project is a collaboration between the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon, North Devon Theatres Trust, the South West Film and TV Archive (SWFTA), the Bill Douglas Centre of Exeter University and the Vintage Mobile Cinema.

It is supported by the Regional Investment Fund England (RIFE) through the UK Film Council's Digital Film Archive Fund, administered in the South West by South West Screen.

Historic footage of North Devon will be digitised by SWFTA, and people will have the chance to participate in a film and audio record of the project.

Alison Mills, curator of the Museum of Barnstaple & North Devon, has put the project together. She said: "North Devon is such a rural community that outlying areas often miss out on cultural events.

"The Movie Bus Project means that we can take the films to the villages. And it's going to be really interesting unearthing footage of the area that hasn't been seen for perhaps 50 years or longer, and through the Project we'll create a lasting archive of film that can be accessed again and again."

The cinema looks set to hit the road in the spring of 2010, and is expected to be at the North Devon Festival, among other places. Schools and communities interested in the Project visiting them are encouraged to get in touch from November, when bookings for shows will begin to be taken.

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