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LNER-Pathe Cinema Cars

This topic was covered in the book under Expresses: here are more pictures which space or quality didn't allow to be included, plus a look at the fittings (a model is taking shape), and a more detailed assessment of the workings from further research.

When I penned the outline below and promised a detailed account in Back Track I was candid about some grey areas. Well, these have been resolved and the account has been submitted. The subject has been horribly mutilated by embroidery and fabrication which has been penned as "scholarly literature" by senior Media Studies people, despite being based on secondary sources of obvious inaccuracy, so I am expanding the account to set the record straight - this includes the first trial of 1924 and why it and the later service runs from 1935 ended prematurely,

The 1924 trial

This is well known from a small number of LNER publicity pictures and much misinterpretation. I cannot reveal much about the text pre-publication as that would not be ethical, but here are some illustrations which beg a few questions.

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This drawing is from the 1912 GNR Diagram which I have repaired/redrawn and it shows the 52'6" 1st Saloon of the kind routinely used for private parties which was darkened and used to show two feature films on the way to York and back. It was a private event, not a public one, and despite the lavish advertising where the advertising department went overboard, it's immediately clear that the Saloon was tiny and an area which normally housed 12 people would have struggled to seat 20. And a projector. It was never a "cinema car" and a leading question is, what was the point and what did it lead to? Was this a breakthrough for the kinematographic industry as claimed by Media Studies scholars, or a dud? Diagram: Author's collection.

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GN4C at KX

The second picture shows the Down side of the Saloon on which the LNER publicity department excelled itself, including reference to a "Flying Scotsman Cinema Express". Was there ever such thing, or was it hyperbole to give the the LMS on its rival service to Scotland the willies? Were the two films shown (it was "Black Oxen" in the other direction) really "famous" or yet more hyperbole? There's a lot here that doesn't add up never mind the embroidery by the Media Studies people, and of course, would Euston or any other railway have been quaking in fear of what they may have recognised as PR-driven folly? There's a lot more here than meets the eye because showing feature films on a moving train was an unproven innovation with many hurdles that a trial would soon confirm, arranged by a new LNER board keen to show its mettle. Photo: Author's collection.

The 1935 trials

I described the service in the 2013 book I did with Clive Carter. More has come to light. We couldn't include portraits of the carriages because that was outside the the sevice remit and it's unfortunate that the only ones found so far are in poor health. On the upside, "LNER Reflections" (based on the BBC Hulton Picture Library, now owned by Getty Images) has a fine posed picture of the attendant on the platform selling a ticket in front of the Cinema Car - showing details that cannot be seen elsewhere. For those without the book (where the picture is shown better) here is a link to the picture on Getty Images and what can be seen:

Getty Images

- The triple nameboard on the roof with its elegant shaded lettering - red background with shaded yellow letters.

- On the body, a glass-fronted noticeboard that displayed the programme, was labelled ornately "LNER PATHE", "CINEMA CAR", and "TODAY'S FILM PROGRAMME".

- All the windows, in the guard's ducket, too, are blacked-out.

- The vehicle is lined. When built it would have been unlined, but for conversion to a passenger-carrying vehicle it was spruced-up for its new role.

Service pictures follow:

Cinema  car

The first of the carriage images that I can present is via Roger Carpenter and the negative is badly damaged. It's scratched and scuffed with fungal growth creeping in from the edges. I have spent quite a while repairing the print with Photoshop but there comes a point at which technical detail on the subject is affected. We have to accept what is still with us and it does usefully show several features:

It's the first conversion, No 4040, from a D.113 BG on turnbuckle trussing and while no longer in pristine condition, it's still on its original Fox 8' bogies (which were the norm on bogie vans until a little later when Gresley designed his 8' bogie). Later pictures in trains show replacement Gresley 8'6" bogies, The basic ventilation on the roof has been enhanced over the viewing area - many people were heavy smokers and one can imagine the need to remove the fug!

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This is LNER Diagram, D.206, as issued to No 4040. I'll describe features common to both Diagrams under the later one, which is clearer. Stand-out features in the first cinema car are the original Fox 8ft bogies (changed later to Gresley standard 8'6" bogies), and extra batteries carried on the floor of the projector compartment. I would like to think that when the bogies were replaced, the extra batteries were moved and slung from the underframe but there are no clear pictures.

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Cinema Car

This is the second conversion, No 4041, from a battered old print given to Dick Tarpey, Secretary of the GNRS many years ago, and I copied it. After his untimely death, the original disappeared but, more recently, re-appeared on eBay and I was glad to recover it. I have tried to restore this too but you hit the same problem of image degradation - don't be fooled by the outfits which promise to "restore your old photos": they use software that eliminates scratches and spots, while softening the whole image, followed by an increase in contrast which loses yet more detail. It's fine for pictures of people and pets, but unacceptable for a technical subject, so once again, I offer a partially restored version. It is seen with Gresley 8'6" light bogies as used on passenger carriages.

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The second conversion was of No 4041 and recorded under D.226, and shows 8'6" bogies from the start and 48 seats - an extra row compared with 4040, which was achieved by reducing the leg room and adding another row of seats at the front. Michael Harris (in his 1994/2011 book), states that the initial capacity was 52 seats, later reduced to 48 but I believe that was only a proposal that was dropped. It would have caused unacceptable cramming. Neither of the Diagrams is dated and no amendments are shown, not even the changed bogies on 4040.

A feature that I cannot explain is a "spray", which was moved from the vestibule to the wall carrying the screen. A water sprinker, perhaps?

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In service

The first car, No 4040, was introduced in May 1935 and its use was described in the book with the heavy 10.10am from Kings Cross to the West Riding, return with the 3.15pm (later 3.10pm) from Leeds Central. Observations show this roster continuing through 1935-37 with the Cinema Car at the head in both directions.

We described how 4041 went into service in the heavy (and somewhat roundabout) 9am Leeds City-Glasgow, return 4pm from Glasgow. The working commenced on 2nd March 1936 and it is now clear that the Cinema Car was allocated to the NE Area, although the GN Section number was retained, and that it was placed at the head of the train leaving Leeds, but only running as far as Edinburgh, where it was detached and re-attached to the return working, propelled by the loco that took over the working across the border. Michael Harris states that it was then sent south and placed in the 1.13pm "Doncaster-King's Cross", returning with the 7.15pm ex-King's Cross from 3rd May 1937 although observers described the incoming working at 4.15pm with the 10.35am Newcastle-King's Cross. Yep, it got complicated and a long story.

There were now two screenings of the Pathe films in each direction and an interesting sidelight for observers was that, with the Leeds train scheduled to arrive at 6.55pm and the Hull train to leave at 7.15pm, so for about twenty minutes each evening, both Cinema Cars could be seen at King's Cross station.

Cinema car programme

Despite claims to the contrary, three handbill programmes have survived, this one for the week commencing 4th September 1938. The items varied quite widely in length and there were 38 of them, all pretty and not exactly "news". Note the L.N.E.R. celebrating an anniversary and a Government Under Secretary trying out the RAF's latest fighter plane!

Now for three pictures we didn't have room for in the book:

Cinema car Markham

A scene at Markham Tunnel as A1 No 4479 Robert the Devil heads the 3.15pm Leeds Central-King's Cross. The Cinema Car and its prominent triple roofboards stands out. This would have been No 4040. As described previously, it had been transferred at Leeds Central from the head of the 10.10am from King's Cross. Behind it is one of the ex-GNR first-class twins (BFK Nos 44921/2). This pair was not to be modernised by LNER-built Gresleys (BFK,FK) for a few more years.

Cinema car express

A3 No 4480 Enterprise emerges from the tunnel at Greenwood with the 10.35am Newcastle-King's Cross and the Cinema Car behind the tender, almost certainly No 4041. This was an ECJS working with a BG rostered at the head leaving Newcastle for which a 56'6" ex-ECJS BG was provided.

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A late 1930s view near Greenwood with a Down express hauled by A1 2550 Blink Bonny with the Cinema Car behind the tender. It's on Gresley bogies but the number cannot quite be made out. Judging by the two large vents on the roof, it may be No 4040. The portion behind the tender is a recently built pair on steel-angle trussing (BTK,CK). Photo: Roger Carpenter Collection.

I have to confess that all I can do here is us discuss some of the physical aspects visible in the carriages. The practical, operational and commercial problems were large and led to demise of the whole thing prematurely. Despite claims to the contrary there were no links to "rolling news, British modernity, Empire" nor political bias to the broadcasts - just two large companies struggling against the odds at a time of many changes and intense competition. It's quite a story.

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Seen in the late 1930s at Great Ponton with an Up express from the North is Class A1 No 2558 Tracery, either the 10.35am from Newcastle or the 3.15pm from Leeds Central, probably the latter, judging by the reversed nameboard on the loco being returned from the previous working of a down express. The Cinema Car is behind the tender. Photo: author's collection.

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PS: I've always wanted to model one of these cinema cars, complete with the distinctive roof boards, but at present I only have the two pictures shown above from which to discern roof and u/f fittings. I don't think there was anything complicated externally compared with the normal BG and If anyone can help, please get in touch! There'd also be the matter of raising custom transfers or direct printing. Anybody interested, again, please say!

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