Mobile cinema is quirky British history looking for a good home

By

Britain's last mobile cinema, one of seven buses built by the government in the 1960s to promote modern manufacturing, is for sale on eBay. Photo: Jane Sanders
Britain's last mobile cinema, one of seven buses built by the government in the 1960s to promote modern manufacturing, is for sale on eBay. Photo: Jane Sanders

Mobile cinema today is a Netflix movie streamed on your smartphone. But movie history is full of fearless and devoted projectionists traveling to bring moving pictures to remote communities.

A piece of that history, an actual mobile cinema on wheels, is now for sale in Great Britain.

A fleet of seven government buses toured the country during the 1960s, bringing industrial films to companies to promote efficiency and modern production techniques. One survived the scrap heap, was restored and is now on eBay for about $184,000.

The mobile cinema as it looked in the late 1960s. Advertising photo courtesy of Vintage Mobile Cinema
The mobile cinema as it looked in the late 1960s. Advertising photo courtesy Vintage Mobile Cinema

If you think there would be no interest in a 22-seat bus theater, the 40,000-plus pageviews for the mobile cinema listing on eBay in the first week of the auction may mean someone is crunching the numbers and trying to find the funds.

The Bedford SB bus with its distinctive projection dome came into the possession of Ollie Halls and his partner, Emma Giffard, both 37, of Somerset, England.

They spent five years restoring the bus, then embarked on a tour of the British countryside, attending vintage automobile shows, bringing archival movies to villages and renting out the unique vehicle to private events.

“The business snowballed and carried us along on its own path,” Halls told Cult of Mac. “We’re selling due to touring work not being very suitable for a couple with two kids under the age of 3.”

The U.K.’s Ministry of Technology wanted to push modern manufacturing practices as a way to kick-start a stagnant post-war economy when it put the buses on the road. The program lasted less than 10 years, with the government selling off the buses in 1974.

The mobile cinema now for sale is the only one from the fleet known to have survived.

The bus changed ownership a few times and received partial restoration work before Halls and Giffard got it in 2005 for a little more than $1,800. Halls and Giffard spent more than $35,000 to restore it.

The 22-seat theater has climate control, surround sound and an HD projector. Photo: Vintage Mobile Cinema
The 22-seat theater has climate control, surround sound and an HD projector. Photo: Vintage Mobile Cinema

The bus has new brakes, a new diesel engine and an HD projector replaces the old projector. The skinny theater has surround sound, climate control and provides an intimate, old-fashioned theater experience.

“The cinema not only mirrors the big screen viewing environment but has the added factor of being less impersonal,” Halls said. “It’s not uncommon to find our audiences chatting amongst themselves before and after the film, a real sense of bringing people together.”