Sunday, March 22, 2009
Where is Don Parr's shed?
I remember, when I was a wee lad, buying some silent Super-8 movies for a Hallowe'en party from a dealer in Tavistock. We arrived at his house, and he said the films were 'out the back'.
He took us to what looked like a shed, but was in fact a little cinema in his garden. The films were in the projection room, and I bought House of Frankenstein split onto two reels (the first retitled Doom of Dracula), among other treats.
Those of you who remember Super 8 home movies will recall those wonderful seven-minute distillations of feature films that somehow managed to tell the entire story of Papillon or Bridge on the River Kwai in the time it takes to sit through the credits of the original versions.
Until you’ve seen Taste the Blood of Dracula cut to the length of a Tom and Jerry cartoon, in black and white and with no sound, you simply haven’t seen it at all.
And since that day, I've always dreamed of having a cinema in a shed. (The closest I ever came was when I converted the cellar in a house I was renting in Deptford into a screening room; while tidying up down there I found two WWII gasmasks with original packaging and instructions, one with the name and date of death of its owner pencilled on the box, and an old newspaper containing a report of the death of Bela Lugosi.)
So imagine my delight when The Telegraph (15 March) told me:
Don Parr, 81, wanted to pay tribute to the picture house he worked in as a projectionist as a youngster.
Now film fans come from far and wide to visit his back garden and watch the classic movies he screens.
The 18ft by 9ft shed is decked out with 14 seats from a real cinema, but its 6ft 6ins by 3ft 3ins screen is complemented perfectly with a hi-tech surround sound.
Mr Parr - who screened Doris Day's I'll See You In Our Dreams at the weekend - even offers refreshments to cinemagoers, with ice-creams available in the summer.
He said: "When we don't fancy anything that's on the television, I just grab a DVD and go down to the bottom of the garden.
"It's a real blast from the past because it's decked out in a very nostalgic way.
"I think I did it because I just love the way films can affect people when they see them, it's just magical to watch sometimes.
"It's very rare I actually go to the real cinema because I have this one just a few metres away from my door.
"In fact I probably only go about once every five years - the last one I saw was Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera.
"I think the Battle of the Bulge is one of my all-time favourites and I've seen that about 20 times now - it never gets old."
His love of cinema started when he was just 16 back in 1943 when he was working as a projectionist at the Apollo in Erdington, Birmingham, and the design of that iconic picture house has now been immortalised in his back garden.
He and two friends came up with the idea to create the tribute cinema in 1987. It featured authentic 16mm projectors originally but now the hardware has been updated to Blu-Ray.
The only trouble is: it says that "film fans come from far and wide to visit his back garden", but it doesn't say where he lives.
This is almost certainly the best cinema in Britain. And I don't know where it is. I want to watch Doris Day movies in Don Parr's shed. Where does he live?
(Postscript: He lives in Castle Bromwich in the West Midlands. I found a blog for shed enthusiasts called We Love Sheds that reports the story from a shed angle rather than a movie angle; somebody comments: "Certainly brings new meaning or purpose to the garden shed. Gardens sheds have a multitude of uses and Don gives us inspiration for being creative in the back yard using another outlet to do this." Right on!)
(Postscript, 2013: The reference to Tavistock in the first paragraph was meant to be deliberately meaningless. It's just a very small town, very near to where I grew up, famous only as the birthplace of Sir Francis Drake. It has since acquired a measure of celebrity, however, for having given the world Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.)