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THE SMALLEST 'SMALLEST' SHOW ON EARTH                                    by Denzil Howson

                                                  A Screen Recollection
             In  1957 British Lion released a comedy drama called "The Smallest Show On Earth", featuring Peter Sellers as an ageing
             projectionist with an  incurable love for the  bottle, Margaret Rutherford as an elderly ticket box attendant, and Bernard
             Miles as the rouseabout caretaker at a near derelict cinema. 1t was a "hoot"!

             This is the true story of a even smaller picture show, inspired perhaps by the open-air cinemas of the twenties and thirties.
             It is also the story of the vicissih1des ofsw·viving the massive depression of the thirties.

             ln those days resourceful  citizens, unable to obtain employment, devised unusual ways of avoiding the demeaning pros-
             pect of living on the dole. A novel way of earning a quid was adopted by a gentleman who passed through Castlemaine one
             day in  1933.

             I was a schoolboy in the "maine" at the time, but I can still remember this showman's Modus Operandi. He arrived in the
             town driving an old Chev utility. The tray of the ute bad a canvas hood fomung a small cabin over the driving compart-
             ment. On the sides oftl1is hood was painted the intriguing sign-


             Mr. Hansen parke~ his ageing vehicle at the edge of Victory Park, a small civic park on the corner of Mostyn and Barker
             StTeets  in Castlemaine. Several interested bystanders were informed by the slightly care-worn Mr. Hansen that the show
             would begin at 8 o'clock that night, or as soon as it got dark.

             In those days the Casdemaine High School was in the same block as Victory Park and word was soon spread amongst the
             students that Hansen's Picture Show would be on in Victory Park that night.

             Along with a smattering of incredulous adults, 1 tumed up for the screening. Mr. Hansen had hung a white sheet of some
             translucent material over the open end of the utility, and under the hood of the ute tray was a slide projector which had
             obviously seen better days.

             As darkness descended,  the optimistic Mr. Hansen would emerge from the driver's compartment at regulaJ intervals to
             appraise the size of the audience- which was pitifully small.

             When it was apparent that the crowd had reached maximum  proportions - there would have been twenty-five or thirty
             persons who were beginning to express doubts about the entire perfom1ance- Mr. Hansen emerged from the driver's cab
             again and announced in stentorian tones that Hansen's Travelling Picture Show would commence.

             He clambered back into the back of the ute, switched on the slide projector, and for the next twenty-five or thirty minutes
             the translucent screen was illuminated by a series of slides, mostly black and white, but with a few hand painted colour
             ones for good measure.

             The subject matter was diverse. Not one slide seemed to bear any relationship with the one preceding it, or following it. We
             saw cities of the world, wild life, and a disparate collection of pastoral scenes.

             There was no sound, no commentary except for the occasional muffled epithet from under the ute canopy, when a slide
             jammed or the projector lamp interrrlittently failed, probably due to a loose connection to the battety.

             The disenchanted audience stood stoically watching the  parade of dim images, hoping for some climactic point to the
             show. There was none. When a slide of the Tower of London was followed by a blank screen we knew the show was over.

             The more astute members ofthe audience quickly melted into the darkness, leaving the tardy to contribute a coin as Mr.
             Hansen hurriedly scrambled from the back of the ute and circled the audience, uptwned hat in hand.

             Those are some of my memories of t!Je show that was decidedly smaller than British Lion's "Smallest Show On Earth".
             Some may be churlish enough to describe it as a "con".  Well- maybe it was- a bit.  But at least Mr. Hansen had devised
             his own original and novel way of fighting the doleful despair and often empty coffers of the depression years. And what's
             more, be had probably achieved a long sought after ambition.  At last he was in Show Business.
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