The Ministry of Technology built seven of these custom mobile cinema units in the late 1960s, to tour the country, promoting modern production techniques to British industry. The seven Bedfords were operated by PERA, or the Production Engineering Research Association. Films would be played within the cinema, with supporting displays shown in the trailer that accompanied the towing unit as they toured the nation’s factories.
The Bedford SB chassis was fitted with coachwork by Coventry Steel Caravans, utilising cabs supplied by Plaxtons (hence their similarity to Plaxton-bodied coaches that used to be common throughout the 1970s). The remote control projection equipment was placed In the steel framed, perspex-glazed dome above the cab. CSC also built the towable display trailers.
In 1974 the Government sold off the mobile cinemas, and this one is the sole survivor as far as is known. KJU was purchased from the auction to accompany the re-patriated Flying Scotsman steam locomotive, but was donated shortly afterwards to the Transport Trust, who owned it for a further 15 years before selling it on to Peter Rawlings of Essex in November 1990.
Despite best intentions the unit then didn’t see the road again until October 2003 when it was rescued from a field by Rob Howell and Nancy-Rose Mills, minus the 4 speed Turner gearbox (and gearstick) stolen from it. The Bedford 300 petrol engine had also seized in this time, meaning the only way to recover it to its new home in Somerset was by means of HGV low load – the first of several times Malcom Millard (M.G.M Haulage, Southampton) moved the cinema unit.
Not long after, in March 2005, Rob and Nancy had realised the scale of the project to restore the mobile cinema was too great for a young family and so sold it to Oliver Halls, of Devon who lovingly restored the vehicle but not without several years passing and some lengthy delays. After the second HGV low load, this time to Devon from Somerset, the unit was moved yet again by Malcom Millard to Southampton in January 2007, where it was intended for the work to be completed. Sadly it wasn’t to be the case and so Malcom returned the vehicle in May 2009 to its original workshop in Devon. The vehicle now has a Bedford 330 diesel engine fitted (taken from a Bedford TL) with a 5 speed Turner box, restored brakes, now upgraded to air over hydraulic and emerged in the spring of 2010 ready for service once more!
The mobile cinema is now owned by Ben Moorhouse and lives at Bicester Heritage. The perfect environment where she is stored along with many other vintage vehicles and surrounded by craftsmen and lovers of all things historic. She is also perfectly placed geographically to continue to take bookings around the UK.
The Old Girl has been lovingly nicknamed Audrey – do say hello should you see her on her travels.