Museums at Night 2010: James Bond and the Top Gear ice-cream van at Hovercraft Museum

By Culture24 Staff | 20 April 2010
A photo of an ice cream truck on blazing fire

The Top Gear ice-cream truck (above) will star in Open Day and Night at the Hovercraft Museum

Museums at Night 2010: Hovercraft Museum Open Day and Night, Hovercraft Museum, Lee-on-Solent, May 15 2010

Film stars aren't usually several metres tall, susceptible to timed breakdowns or capable of gliding over ice and water, but when the Hovercraft Museum's Warwick Jacobs talks about his blockbuster subjects he can safely list all three among their more notable character traits.

"We've got quite a few film stars," he says, surveying the world's only collection of historic hovercraft vessels at the Daedalus waterfront base.

"We've got three main ones – the James Bond craft, the Top Gear ice cream van and the salvage squad craft."

A photo of a crew working with a hovercraft on the shore of a river

Richard Hammond and friends get ready for some explosions

The Bond one is a survivor from the opening sequence of Pierce Brosnan's spy swansong Die Another Day – "usually with a Bond film they're very reluctant to get rid of anything at the end of it, but if you offer your help for nothing it pays dividends," reflects Jacobs – and is kept operational and up-to-date for rides and displays.

Scrapheap Challenge met their match at the Museum which has saved more than 60 hovercraft from the scrapyard, and the Top Gear team gave them their ice-cream truck after detonating it in typical fashion on a soon-to-be-screened recent visit.

A photo of a hovercraft under an orange dark sky

A total of three surviving vessels from the 17 used for the opening sequence of 2002 Bond film Die Another Day are on show

"We were involved in the production of the programme, and one of the conditions of our involvement was that at the end we'd get it for the Museum," reveals Jacobs, who started out as a summer worker for Hovertravel in the early 1980s and now leads a volunteer team of nostalgic former engineers, pilots and crew at the Museum.

"That's quite rare, because normally Top Gear blow them up, but right from the start we said we wouldn't charge any money as long as we got the ice-cream van at the end of it. It was blown up, but luckily they didn't blow up any of the working bits."

A photo of a hovercraft on a site at night

The Hovercraft Society began looking at ways to save redundant craft in 1986, establishing the Museum two years later

The Museum is even planning to serve Mr Whippy from it if the weather holds. "The emphasis is on getting what we can operational and lighting up the craft, panels, flashing lights and beacons," he says.

They're no strangers to spectacular one-offs, counting a total of more than 50,000 visitors to a series of Hovershow events since opening in 1988, but this will be their first late night event.

A photo of a hovercraft under an orange dusk sky

Their popular annual Hovershow has left the team feeling optimistic about their debut twilight venture for Museums at Night

"We don't know how many people it will attract because we've never done it before," he admits.

"We've got two big hangars, so if the weather's bad people can go inside and it'll all be lit up."

Visitors will get to inspect Hovercrafts from more than 50 years of British history, deployed for military, travel and racing uses. They're both a labour of love and "a terribly British invention", according to Jacobs.

"They're like a motorbike or an aircraft," he points out. "For every hour's operation you get there's an hour's maintenance. With some of them you're talking about 45-year-old engines, so it takes quite a lot of care.

"They are temperamental, but then they are able to do something nothing else can do."

Open 2pm-10pm.Admission £4-£6. Read the event brochure online for more details.

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