The stuff of dreams
Derek James continues his journey around the movie houses of Norfolk and Suffolk by meeting members of The Regal Experience who have given film fans so much pleasure.
What has turned out to be a wonderful cinematic odyssey in Wymondham started with what was to have been a one-off screening in the summer of 2000. That year Cinema City in Norwich staged a series of events in Norfolk called Time, People, Places to mark 100 years of cinema in the county.
Although Wymondham’s picture house, the Regal, had closed in 1993 and had become part of the Ex-Services Club, the 1930s projectors were still there and Michael Armstrong, who has been associated with the cinema since 1958, asked if they wanted to show a film.
And so Michael, who was to be given a Civic Award for services to local cinema two years later, and author and historian Philip Yaxley, helped Cinema City put on The Titfield Thunderbolt, that delightful Ealing comedy from 1952.
So successful was the show that the following year two more classic screenings were staged and soon the number increased to seven or eight a year. Other film fans came along and The Regal Experience was formed – with everyone having a job.
Michael was chairman, treasurer and projectionist. David Oldfield, technical and projection, Maureen Dodman secretary and tickets, Philip, publicity, announcing and interviews and Les Woods, a walking encyclopaedia on all things movies, seating and posters.
Others who helped in various ways were Joan Parry, Sheila London, Wendy Yaxley, John and Peggy Jarvis, Marilyn Monroe devotee John Lee and Ray Atkin. But it wasn’t just the screenings which attracted the crowds to the shows; the stars came along as well.
Philip explains: “In 2003 I decided to invite 1940s favourite Jean Kent along for a showing of her film The Woman in Question and the show was a sell-out.”
Watching these classic Sunday afternoon shows was a treat but to get to meet some of the stars was a rare and wonderful opportunity.
Over the next few years a galaxy of stars made the journey to Wymondham, among them Muriel Pavlow, Anne Aubrey, Shirley Ann Field, Dora Bryan, Virginia McKenna, Rita Tushingham, Susan Hampshire, Veronica Hurst, Melvyn Hayes, Sylvia Sims and June Whitfield.
Other stars, such as Richard Todd, Julie Christie and Michael Craig invited them into their homes and members also visit America, where they have met some Hollywood legends such as Tony Curtis, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Simmons, Angie Dickinson and others.
Not all the guests at the film shows have been the stars. Don Westcott, a props man who had worked on films such as Zulu and TV productions, including The Benny Hill Show, and David Rocksavage, the Marquess of Cholmondeley and owner of Houghton Hall, came for his Norfolk production of Shadows in the Sun starring the late, great Jean Simmons.
“As Humphrey Bogart observed in one of my favourite films, the Maltese Falcon, our movie journey has been ‘the stuff that dreams are made of,’” said Philip, who always tries to hunt out any films, or shorts, with Norfolk or Suffolk links.
The new season for The Regal Experience, at the Ex-Services Club, starts on Sunday, February 10, with the classic western Shane, and is a charity show for the Wymondham Heritage Museum.
Among the guests from the cinema’s golden age it is hoped will attend in the first half of the year are: Peggy Cummins (in Hell Drivers), 1960s singer/actor John ‘Johnny Remember Me’ Leyton, 1950s star Patricia Dainton, who played Temple’s sidekick in Paul Temple Returns (1952) which will form a great British double bill with a Richard ‘Mr Pastry’ Hearne film. The little boy from Norwich who turned into one of the biggest stars in the world. It is hoped Vera Day who appeared in A Kid For Two Farthings will attend.
And another movie due to be shown is The Shuttered Room, which involved the controversial burning down of Hardingham Mill – Michael Armstrong’s mum, Cath, did the catering for the crew and cast.