The Royal Fort stands high above Bristol and is visible from the railway line from Bristol Temple Meads Station. It was in this unusual redoubt that I received my Physics lectures and saw films. The sort of films that might be termed classic shown by a film society. The position had about it a history of the English Civil War and more recently the intense bombing the city had experienced during the Second World War. My parents had lived there at that time – or rather at nearby Filton and could remember Alfred the popular gorilla from the zoo that now stood in his glass case not far away. The Fort laboratory stood opposite Senate House in Tyndall Avenue, named after the Victorian Scientist and mountaineer in the mists whose biography has recently appeared.
Mountaineering was popular amongst the staff who when I was there was led by the Nobel Prize winning Cecil Frank Powell. Powell had discovered the pi-meson scaling mountain heights with a team bearing photographic plates. He had too done much work to promote the restraint over nuclear weapons by helping to form the renowned Pugwash committee. Klaus Fuchs, the physicist and spy had, a few years before worked, it was said, on the ground floor. The Astronomy department was on the top floor nearer the stars.
During Freshers Week I had joined a plethora of clubs. At Bristol naturally the wine club was popular which was supported by the Harvey Brothers of Bristol Cream fame. There was a Tiddleywink club and very popular because well priced, a film club. The latter was shown in the large lecture theatre of the Physics Department in the Royal Fort. There it was that I saw the famous Le Chien Andalou by Bunuel. The scene was made even more surreal and memorable as the projector cut out at just that point and the lights came on. Everyone was startled and murnured.
Luis Buñuel- 1929
As I reconsider, it has come to me that I had, in fact, seen a large number of films before this time. As a somewhat slow reader, Saturday visits to the pictures were a way of getting to know the world. So I had seen lots of Robin Hood, War Films and so on from quite an early age. The three that had most influenced my perspective on life were probably; The Robe, Carousel and The Battle of Britain. However, it was later at Bristol and Bath that I developed an increased interest in modern film and in particular its criticism of modern society and capacity for exploring relationships and human communication.
It was at a cinema on Park Street that I saw the impressive Doctor Zhivago by David Lean. This impressed me on so many levels- as a love story, partly because of whom I saw it with, the extensive landscape, the revolutionary scenes and the chaotic results. The acting seemed to me then as terrific, iconic even. Then there was the music which later moved me to tears when I heard it again drinking afternoon tea in St Mark’s Square. It also inspired me to visit Russia a few years later….on a minitrek!