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Rare 1900s film reels screened after being found in Doddinghurst barn

Michael Leach and Edwyn Gilmore have seven old film reels with some dating from the 1900s, including a film with Mickey Mouse. [Picture: Paul Bennett] Michael Leach and Edwyn Gilmore have seven old film reels with some dating from the 1900s, including a film with Mickey Mouse. [Picture: Paul Bennett]

Friday, January 17, 2014
9:39 AM

A unique collection of film reels dating from the early 20th century has been screened by two men – after it was found in a Doddinghurst barn.

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Michael Leach, 74, was entrusted with the remarkable find as a member of the Ongar Millennium History Society, and he and friend Edwyn Gilmore have been busy discovering what the reels contain.

Thanks to a theatre in Wymondham, Norfolk, they have watched half of the seven-strong collection, which includes an early Mickey Mouse cartoon, a 1916 comedy short called The Deacon’s Waterloo and a newsreel from 1932 concerning the formation of a coalition government.

Mr Leach, of Ongar, said: “It is a mixed bag; an extremely random collection. Some of the reels have labels but these are of no relation to the films. You never know what’s on a film until you project it.”

Mr Leach and Mr Gilmore quickly established that the items were highly flammable nitrate film, by burning small fragments.

They then faced the tough task of finding a willing venue.

Mr Leach said: “That presented a problem because most people wouldn’t be keen with putting them through their projector, because the whole thing might go up in flames! But the Wymondham theatre was willing to show them for us and we watched them just before Christmas.”

Mr Gilmore added: “Because of their age, they have obviously had a fait bit of use and the condition of some is poor, but it might be that we arrange a screening of them.”

The question which remains is why the films ended up in the barn in the first place.

“It is very puzzling really,” said Mr Leach. “Maybe they were part of a bigger collection or someone went to a car boot and didn’t know what to do with them.”

“You can only speculate.”

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