Design: Not just any old road movie

AT ONE time, the population of rural Britain was kept royally amused by a convoy of roving entertainers. Up until The Great War, a procession of sideshows, rides, circuses, acting troupes and zoos trundled about the countryside spreading thrills, laughter and pandemonium.

The advent of better public transport to urban centres, and the enthusiastic implementation of the Draconian Fairs Act of 1871 suppressed much of the merriment (or "grievous immorality", as the act characterised it), but even as late as the early-Seventies there were pockets of the North Riding of Yorkshire where the travelling film-man would arrive every few months, set up his silver screen, and give inhabitants the opportunity to see a double-bill of Elvis Presley movies a decade or so after the rest of the planet.

At least part of this rich heritage is soon to be revived thanks to the excellent Hi-Arts Mobile Cinema. Designed in 1997 by Circus Architects of Clerkenwell, the cinema (see model, below) was commissioned by the Scottish Film Council and Hi-Arts to bring the joy of big screen entertainment, Keanu Reeves and possibly even the Pearl and Dean theme music to isolated communities in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

Partly funded by the National Lottery, the total project cost pounds 630,000, a good deal more than the travelling film-man's equipment, but then the Hi-Arts mobile cinema is to an A35 van, projector, portable screen and tripod what Thunderbird Two is to a hang-glider. When being towed by an HGV lorry it is the size and shape of the traditional artic trailer, albeit one that's adjustable suspension allows it to be lowered to cope with low ferry roofs or bridges.

When called into action, however, an anemometer checks wind-safety conditions and then the push of a button sees support legs emerge from recesses, floor panels pivot into position, and the sides unfold hydraulically to form a rectangular, 110-seat, stepped auditorium complete with projectionist's booth, widescreen, covered entrance and wheelchair lift. All that's missing from the more conventional movie theatre is a Wengers hot-dog concession and a lounge bar with diagonal striped wallpaper.

What programme of films will be shown is not known, but it is to be hoped that, if only for historical reasons, a window may be found for Fun In Acapulco and Blue Hawaii.

Circus Architects, 0171-833 1999. The cinema is one of the Design Council's millennium products; for a brochure, call 0845 306 999