The origins of the drive-in cinema date back to New Jersey in the early 1930s. The person with the brainwave was Richard Hollingshead, a cinema fan by night and car worker by day. Hollingshead’s mother found going to the movies uncomfortable, thanks to the narrow, wooden seats, and so he set about creating an automobile alternative in his drive. He stuck a projector on the car roof, tied a sheet to a couple of trees and stuck a radio behind for the sound.

By June 1933, Hollingshead had developed this idea into a patented product, working out the correct positionings of car, screen and sound to create an outdoor cinematic experience. The first movie shown was the slightly ominously-titled Wives Beware about a married man who pretends to lose his memory so he can see other women. ‘The whole family is welcome,’ the drive-in’s slogan ran, ‘regardless of how noisy the children are’. What the whole family made of the husband’s amnesia-affair antics is left to history.

It wasn’t until after the Second World War, and Hollingshead’s patent expired, that the drive-in really took off. By the late 1950s, there were around 4000 across the US, and the phenomenon became firmly ensconced in both Americana and teenage culture: best encapsulated in the film Grease, perhaps, when John Travolta is left stranded at the drive-in by Olivia Newton-John.

The late fifties and early sixties were the peak of the drive-in as part of culture and the cinematic experience. As cities expanded, drive-in locations became bought by property developers, and the arrival of the VHS and video rentals shrunk their reach still further. The number of drive-ins dwindled down to a few hundred for fans and aficionados.

Fast forward to 2020, however, and suddenly the drive-in is both back and has gone international. In response to the pandemic and the ongoing closure of cinemas and theatres, drive-in venues have started springing up across the UK. And not just cinemas either: comedian Mark Watson is currently running a Drive and Dine tour, featuring stand-ups such as Shappi Khorsandi and Ed Byrne, and food provided by chef Tom Kerridge.

For sure, the drive-in doesn’t feel quite the same experience in the UK as the US. Being sat in your car in a disused cattle market with the windscreen wipers going doesn’t quite have that golden Americana feel you might be hoping for. And just as you can get stuck behind the tall guy in the cinema, so the person parking up in front with the 4x4 can obscure the view.

But get good weather and book yourself a slot in the front rows, and you can enjoy the unexpected cinematic experience of the year.