IT HAD been the cruise to beat all other historic cruises, a 40,000 mile, seven-month tour of the Commonwealth by the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth II, taking in the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, India and Africa.

Voyage done, the royal yacht Britannia entered the Thames Estuary, on the last leg home to London. The date was May 15 1954.

Tens of thousands of people lined both banks of the Thames to watch the passage of the royal ship.

The biggest concentration of all was in Southend. Royal well-wishers slept overnight on deckchairs at the end of the pier in order, as many said, “to be closer to the Queen”. There had been a sense of deprivation in the country while the new Queen was away. Now at last she was back, and the eruption of joy was thunderous. A huge banner draped across Tower Bridge said it all: “Welcome Home”.

Mixing with the crowds in Southend was amateur filmmaker Richard Pike. Richard had built up a reputation for being on the spot for major events. The year before, he had beaten the professional newsreel-men to become the first person to film the Canvey Floods. Now he and his camera were on hand for another memorable occasion. This time he was armed with colour filmstock.

As the Britannia passed by, Richard’s movie lens captured a range of details. Crowds at the end of Southend Pier squint through binoculars in a hope of spotting the Queen.

Seaside pleasure boats, normally used to carry daytrippers round the bay, head out to escort the royal yacht.

The Mayor of Southend, fully robed, heads out to sea to formally welcome her Majesty into local waters. Everywhere, royal fever erupts – and is captured for all time by that home movie camera.

The footage taken that day has gathered dust in a film canister for more than 60 years.

Now, in the year when the young queen of 1954 has become the longest-serving monarch in British history, Southend will once again get the chance to view it.

Loyal Greetings from Southend is one of the films being shown at a special event, Southend on Film, on Sunday, as towns and cities across the UK dig out their old local cine treasures.

The showing is part of a nationwide programme organised by the BFI (British Film Institute). Britain on Film aims to reacquaint local people with their historic roots, as captured in the early days of motion picture photography.

“There are shelves of treasures in the archives, but many of them have not seen the light of day until now,”

says Jane Jarvis, the film historian who is co-ordinating much of Britain on Film.

The films being shown at the Palace Theatre – also, of course, part of Southend’s historic identity – are from the East Anglian Film Archive in Norwich, the country’s oldest and largest film collection outside London.

In association with the BFI, the old, fragile film stock is being steadily digitalised. The films being shown at the Palace are now hopefully preserved forever. They are available for viewing at any time, via the archive or downloaded on the BFI Player.

“But now is the time to make more people aware of them,”

says Jane.

The screening is being organised at a local level by the Southend film organisation White Bus. Paul Cotgrove, White Bus’s director, says: “The evening is going to be an amazing glimpse into the past, brought back alive. I’ve seen a lot of historic footage of Southend, one way and another, but these films are a new revelation. It’s an eyeopener to find just what is sitting in those film vaults.

“As well as the Britannia film from 1954, we’ve got film taken during the Southend holiday season, in 1924, as well as some other stuff which we’ll reveal on the night. I can promise a few surprises.”

Alongside the archive film, White Bus will also be screening a local film from the past of a different kind, the feature movie Bloody Kids.

Made by the then young, now illustrious, director Stephen Frears in 1980, it was shot on location in Southend and at Furtherwick School, Canvey.

“Although Bloody Kids is only 35 years old, it already has a period feel about it,” says Paul. “All the films we’ll be showing, connect us with the past, one way or another. It is fascinating to see howmuch has changed in these places we know so well. And also how much hasn’t changed.”

Southend on Film is planned to be the first of a regular, series of screenings. Jane has future themed programmes based on rural films, and on coastal films.

“The films in the archive have come from a wide range of sources,” says Jane. “Some have been found in attics during house clearances, some have been bought at boot sales for 50p.” Whatever their origins, the films are finally now ending up where they belong. “And that’s on a big screen,” says Jane.

ýý Southend on Film is at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff, on Sunday October 18, starting at 7.30pm. Tickets £6 from the box office: 01702 351135 or www.palacetheatresouthend.