March 30, 2012 10:00 pm

First Person: Malcolm Parker

‘I started a mini cinema in a Tube station’

When I came to work as a customer service assistant at Snaresbrook Tube station last summer, the room to the side of the westbound platform was completely bland. I had all these posters left over from an exhibition we’d done at Loughton station, further east up the Central line, where I worked before, so I put a few of them up. They’re a mix of British Rail and Underground, but they’re all art deco, with beautiful colours.

Then people started asking me about them. One chap came through and said: “I love that, where can I buy it?” I took it off the wall and said: “You can have it.” A couple of other chaps wanted some; I think it’s to do with the colours, like when you see a fruit machine. My stock got depleted so I decided that since I had all the posters on a disc, I’d project the images on to the wall.

I got hold of a projector and set it all up. Then I thought of two journeys that I’d filmed, so I put them on too. The main footage I show at the moment is the driver’s eye view from Epping, and I’ve also got some footage from old trains, including some of steam locos. It’s just rocketed from there.

Passengers see the footage for a couple of minutes while they’re waiting on the platform. Dads hold up little kids to watch. There were some schoolgirls and when they first saw it, they were saying, “that’s awesome!” I’ve even had people coming up and taking videos and I had some students in who want to come and interview and film me for some graduate work. I thought, that’s good – I’m coming to the end of my career and theirs is starting. As long as I get even one or two people a day interested, I think yeah, that’s alright.

But it’s not just trains; it can be planes, cars… anything. Sunday is Spitfire day. Hopefully people will get involved with bringing photographs and films. I’ve got a racing driver friend, and I’m going to ask him if he’s taken footage going round the circuit.

One woman said she’ll bring me two photos of one of Gresley’s A4 locomotives, the fastest steam locomotives ever, sitting at Chingford station. I thought no, not Chingford, because it’s only a little branch line out from Liverpool Street and these were mainline express. But she says it’s definitely Chingford, taken in the 1930s.

I’ve even got a film made by one lady, it’s about a chap who’s lost his voice and finds it in a teapot. It’s a bit surreal and it’s not train-related at all. I made a little poster up for her.

I’m thinking of putting in a flat screen television so I can run the tapes in daylight. With summer coming it’s hard to project in the day. At the start, when I put a few pictures of old steam trains on the window, the guv’nor said, “that’s alright, as long as you don’t hide behind them”. But they didn’t know about the cinema until they started getting emails about it. It was too late then! I’ve got away with murder, actually.

London Underground is using it in a positive way now; it’s on the front of the staff magazine.

I’ve always loved trains. I’ve worked at stations for 20 years and I spent 13 as a guard on the trains, so this is my 33rd year. My son and daughter are on the railway too, but I don’t think it’s because they like railways; they’re just happy to get a job. I’m the only one that loves them. I’m just a nutter – that’s what my granddaughters call me, anyway.

I’ll keep this little room going as long as I can. It’s putting the station on the map. It’s all about getting people involved, and it’s good vibes for the railway. It’s not corporate and the bosses might let me get away with it for a couple of years, but once I retire, that’ll be the end.

I’m quite fascinated by people being so into it. I suppose it’s because it’s different, but I don’t know. You can’t explain people, can you?

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