Tiny Dereham cinema was film buff’s great passion
Nestled in a quiet Norfolk garden, in an ordinary street, a tiny cinema stood empty and gathering dust for more than a decade. Johnny Briggs built the 12-seat cinema at Toftwood, near Dereham, fuelled by his life-long passion for film and delighted in putting on shows for family and friends.
For 30 years he lavished every spare minute on his 'Toftwood Picturehouse' and, with a meticulous eye for detail, lovingly created one of Britain's smallest cinemas, measuring just 22ft by 10ft.
The former motor fitter, also a talented carpenter, fell in love with films as a child growing up in London, describing them as 'a great escape.'
It took two years to build the main structure at his home in Middlemarch Road, Toftwood, using unwanted wood and other recycled materials.
But he spent decades scouring junk shops, catalogues, sales and even dumps building his extensive collection, often paying next to nothing for the treasures he found.
The plush red seats were rescued from the Regal at Wells when it closed, the windows came from a Nissan hut and the motor for the curtains came from the windscreen wipers of an old Ford Transit van.
When Mr Briggs died of cancer in 1998, aged 78, his family kept everything as he left it.
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Now, following the death of his widow Marjorie last year, his collection will bring joy to many others when it is sold at Keys Auctioneers in Aylsham later this month.
It includes more than 50 projectors, cine cameras, film-related vinyl records and books, stacks of films, photographs and paintings and home movies, along with glass Magic Lantern slides dating back to 1911.
Mr Briggs' piece de resistance was a miniature Wurlitzer which rose up out of the stage. He spent a month building the organ, using lollipop sticks and scrap wood, and it took more than two years to perfect the mechanism that lifted it up and down.
But, despite this labour of love, he did not have a favourite item.
'He treasured everything he had,' his 59-year-old son, Timothy Briggs, said. 'When I moved out in 1972, he converted my bedroom into a film museum. He loved showing people around and he would never take a donation.'
Mr Briggs remembers his father visiting auctions across Norfolk and beyond in the days before the internet, when great finds were more than just a click away.
'I think he would have loved ebay,' he said.
Mr Briggs senior's favourite films were Tarzan King of the Apes and King Kong – a copy of which is up for auction.
Roy Murphy, partner at Keys, said while there was nothing of huge commercial value among the 200-plus lots, it promised to be a fascinating sale.
'It's not about the money. It's about nostalgia,' he said. 'Some of the projectors may go for a fiver. Some may make �100 to �150. I doubt whether anything will get up to four figures. It's probably all worth a few thousand pounds in total, but it's very interesting.'
Mr Briggs' collection fills a large sale room, creating an Aladdin's cave of memorabilia most film buffs would love to get their hands on.
'Someone might want to create their own home cinema,' Mr Murphy said. 'There's everything you need, including the seats. It's all taken weeks to sort through. I've been doing this 40 years and it's not often you get something like this. It's been fun. There's going to be a great cross-section of people wanting to have a look. Someone is going to love them.'
The sale will be at Keys, off Palmers Lane, Aylsham, from 10.30am on February 21. Viewing will take place 9am to noon on February 19 and from 8.30am on the morning of the sale.
Click on www.keysauctions.co.uk for more information.