The initiative began with Charles Beddow, at the time the British Film Institute’s Technical Officer. He had become acutely aware of the situation while setting-up the Institute’s network of Regional Film Centres. What he saw on his travels convinced him that unless something was done soon, much of Britain’s heritage would be lost forever. Charles’s concern was shared by a handful of enthusiasts who responded to a circular letter. An open day meeting was held at National Film and Television Archive on the 13th November, 1978. 37 people attended that meeting from which a steering Committee was formed and consisted of Charles Beddow, Technical Officer of the British Film Institute, David Francis, the curator of the National Film and Television Archive, Bill Stephenson, a specialist designer and audio visual consultant, John Lawton, the managing director of a cinema screen manufacture, John Cannon, a member of a regional arts association and Tony Rose the editor of an amateur movie-maker magazine. Their first meeting was held at Ernest Lindgren House, Berhhamsted, Hertfordshire on the 8th December, 1978. Early after that date, the steering Committee was strengthened by the addition of Alan Knowles, Head of the British Film Institutes’s Regional Department and Harold Brown, a founder employee of the National Film Archive at Aston Clinton. At the meeting of December 8th, the name The Projected Picture Trust was agreed. In 1983 the PPT was registered as an Educational Charity.
Preserving the Magic of Cinema
Fortunately during these earlier stages, the PPT came to an arrangement with the Imperial War Museum, Duxford that, in exchange for the Trust overseeing and working on the refurbishment of the Astra Cinema on the original R.A.F. camp site, we could have the use of some 1000 sq.ft of secure and weatherproof premises. It didn’t take long before we infiltrated into a portacabin outside the old officers’ mess and then into the disused kitchens. All that came to an end when the ministry decided to bring the officers’ mess up to date and hire it out to commerce etc as a conference centre. We were only left with the Astra Cinema for our use. We showed films every weekend for the public in the Astra Cinema, together with some shows in the main museum area of the airfield for special occasions.
During this period we were also offered the front stalls and under the stage at the Odeon Film Centre, Muswell Hill, London and the backstage dressing rooms at the Odeon Cinema, Holloway, London. Both these helped us get out of the storage problem for a short while. Acquisitions continued at a pace but it is now a dictate that the Executive Committee has to be more discerning in the future. Meanwhile, much equipment is still resting in our members’ garages, garden sheds, workshops and even inside their houses.
The Trust initially acquired equipment from many souces, not only projectors but items such as admission ticket machines from the London Pavillon, the Majestic Cinema. Reigate and other cinemas which were either closing or being updated. Meanwhile, various pieces of vintage equipment, including a selection of narrow gauge home movie cinema apparatus was being donated by collectors and is now on display at Bletchley Park.
In the earlier days the PPT accepted almost everything that was offered to it and therefore in a very short space of time we ran out of space to keep everything. Since our main area of operation was based on the National Film & Television Archive at Berkhamsted in the basement of the cottage, it was not too long before we expanded into the garage without door, the old pit sty (open to the elements), the stables, the barn (at least weatherproof) and the listed barn which was already in a state of collapse.
The very generous donation by John Paul Getty Jr (now Sir Paul Getty KBE) to the British Film Institute for the construction of the new Conservation Centre meant that the PPT had to vacate all its current areas of storage and workshop facilities.