Fancy your very own home cinema? Entrepreneur sets up his own blockbuster business in Harborough
He has set up his own home cinema on the site of what used to be the Oriental Cinema
Ben Hobbs is aiming to become Market Harborough’s next very own movie star – after setting up a home cinema business in the town.
The 46-year-old entrepreneur is working flat out stepping up his luxury niche operation after moving to Market Harborough about a year ago.
Ben and his wife Phanya, 46, are aiming to turn their big screen dream into a proper blockbuster smash hit as the orders start to roll in from across the East Midlands.
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And there’s a real twist in the tale as their exciting new venture on St Mary’s Road amazingly used to be home to the Oriental Cinema – which opened in 1921 before closing in 1959.
Taking time out to talk to the Harborough Mail today, Ben said: “I had to do a double take so to speak when I found out about the grand old cinema that was here!
“It’s absolutely staggering.
“It makes it even more magical and inspiring that we have started out here where one of the town’s cinemas used to be based,” said the stunned dad-of-two.
“It’s even spookier that it was called the Oriental – because after living in Thailand for 20 years I’ve just got back to the UK from the Orient!”
Ben took the plunge to move out to live in the Thai tourism hotspot of Phuket two decades ago.
“I ran a home cinema business out there as well and it really took off.
“I worked for some very rich people,” said Brighton-born Ben.
“I installed a state-of-the-art cinematic system for a multi-millionaire for £200,000 – so that was pretty special.
“I met my Thai wife Phanya out there and our children Amber, 16, and James, 14, were born out there.
“We had a great time.
“But it was hard work securing my work permit every year and sorting out all the paperwork.
“And we just decided to return to the UK with our kids’ education at the top of our priorities.
“We could have gone anywhere,” said Ben.
“But we’ve plumped for Market Harborough because my grandma’s got a retirement apartment here, my mum lives in Lamport up the road and I’ve a brother in Rothwell.
“And it’s been brilliant, we are loving it here, Market Harborough is such a lovely place.
“I've just finished building out our demo room and setting up our workshop on St Mary’s Road and it’s all systems go.
“We have already installed home cinema rooms for people living from Stamford to Peterborough.
“They can cost anything from £15,000 up to about £85,000.
“We sell to all sorts of people – although our last two customers drove up in very smart Bentleys!
“We are kitting out a four-bed detached house in Kettering at the moment.
“More and more people are targeting their own cinemas in their homes because they are in total control,” said Ben.
“They can decide when they want to settle down and watch a movie.
“And they can entertain their friends and family in the comfort of their own home.
“The latest releases are being streamed more or less immediately now as well so you don’t have to wait long as you used to.
“All of us watch TV and as for setting up your own home cinema, this is the future as far as we can see.
“The Covid pandemic has also obviously stopped film fans going along to their local cinema on and off for the last two years.
“And that could well have an effect for a long time to come.
“I tend to do the technical stuff and I’m backed up by an excellent team around me,” added Ben.
“My wife Phanya is right alongside me here doing the soft furnishings and that sort of thing, my brother Chris is a carpenter and we’ve got an electrician too who helps out.
“So it really is upwards and onwards for all of us here.
“We are excited to be here in Market Harborough.
“And we are looking forward to taking more people to enjoy the latest must-see movie without them having to leave their own homes!”
More about the Oriental Cinema
The Oriental Cinema was opened on St Mary’s Road some 101 years ago on June 6, 1921 with Victor McLaglen starring in Jack London’s Klondike Gold Rush epic Call of the Wild.
The venue was designed in a vivid Oriental style with dragons and scrolls and painted panels in the auditorium showing palm trees and oasis scenes.
The stage was occasionally used for variety acts and there was a reed organ as well as a piano and even an orchestra to accompany the silent films.
The Oriental was equipped with a Gyrotone sound system in December 1929 and the first ‘talkie’ to be shown was Al Jolson in The Singing Fool.
An even sharper Western Electric (WE) sound system was fitted in November 1931 as cinemas all over the UK and the world started to enjoy a real golden age.
In 1947 the Oriental was taken over by new operators and was renamed the Orien.
Equipped with CinemaScope, the first film to play there in that format was The Robe starring Richard Burton and Jean Simmons on July 11, 1955.
Some 38 years after opening, the Orien was closed on January 17, 1959 with Jack Palance appearing in The Man Inside.
The old picture house was turned into a dance hall and roller rink before sadly being demolished in 1992 leaving thousands of local movie fans with a stack of golden memories.