Obituary: How cowboy films shaped the course of Tony’s life
PUBLISHED: 08:01 27 September 2019 | UPDATED: 18:09 27 September 2019
Young cinema projectionist sketched the guns he saw, and later became an acclaimed Suffolk gunsmith. He’s died at 87
Numerous owners beat a path to Tony Reeman's door when their firearms needed some care and attention from an expert, but it's unlikely many knew how his own love of gun craftsmanship developed.
Daughter Allison reckons it was down to the job he got after leaving school, probably at the age of 15. Tony became a projectionist at the Central Cinema in his native Bury St Edmunds (today's Abbeygate Cinema, in Hatter Street) and developed a lifelong love of films.
"He loved watching westerns," says Allison. "He used to sketch the guns and then make them himself. He was a self-taught gunsmith."
"I admired him greatly, because he was so dedicated to his art," says Gareth Jenkins of his late friend. "Literally thousands of guns must have passed through his hands.
"He told me he was interested from an early age. He was interested in the wooden stocks, and made that his chief occupation."
And to great effect. Gareth describes his friend as "one of the most renowned" of Bury St Edmunds' gunsmiths.
Won many trophies
Anthony Rex Reeman was born in St John's Street, Bury St Edmunds, in 1932. He was the only child of Winnie and Harry. The family later moved to Springfield Road. Tony also spent a lot of time at his grandparents' home: Arlington House, in Out Risbygate.
He went to the Silver Jubilee secondary modern school at the end of Grove Road that had been named in honour of George V's 25 years as king (which didn't last much longer, as he'd died early in 1936).
After leaving, Tony got that job as a projectionist at the Central Cinema and developed his passion for films - and those westerns.
Afterwards, he became a carpet layer for cousin Russell Dutton, before working for Jillings' Carpentry in Bury St Edmunds. There, he honed his talents at repairing and reproducing antique furniture. "Interested in guns from an early age, he found that the same woodworking skills applied," says Gareth.
Tony had become a practised pistol-shooter at a young age. When he was 17, an accident involving an elastic band left him partially sighted in his right eye. But he taught himself to favour his left eye and went on to earn many trophies with target-shooting organisations such as the rifle and pistol club based at Stanstead, near Lavenham; at Bisley in Surrey; and with the Vikings of Framlingham.
Tony and Ida were married for more than 57 years. She was a Norfolk girl, nine years younger, and he a Suffolk boy.
Ida was a nanny when they met, looking after a couple's children in the road where Tony's parents lived. In effect, they talked over the garden fence and he pursued her.
They married on New Year's Day, 1962. "Mum was quiet and homely, and I think he liked that," says Allison. "She was a fantastic wife and homemaker, and a great cook. Spoiled him rotten!"
"When the long-established gunshop Norman's of Framlingham was taken over in 1968 by the famously-eccentric American Christopher 'Kit' Ravenshear - a specialist in antique and reproduction firearms - Tony went to work for him, undeterred by the daily trip by motorbike," explains Gareth.
Unfortunately, Christopher Ravenshear emigrated in 1971 and the shop shut.
Tony joined forces with Derek Last and they opened a gunshop (Anglian Arms) in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds. "Tony's meticulous repairs brought in many customers, so in 1982 he set up his own business, Custom Gunstocks."
Tony also worked as a Forestry Commission ranger - culling deer and servicing guns until he retired in 1996. "This gave him time to shoot with old friends in the great Canadian forests and to help run stalls at gunshows in Germany and Belgium," says Gareth.
"Despite an innate modesty, he was occasionally persuaded to appear on television natural history programmes.
"A love of reading and an impressive library made Tony a real bibliophile. He liked to keep up to date with technological innovations, especially in the realm of cartridge reloading.
"An expert, he was always willing to help."
Proper family man
Tony leaves his wife, children Andrew, Allison and Rachel, and four grandchildren. Allison says her father was a craftsman. "A very modest man. Very quiet. Always willing to help anyone.
"He was a proper family man − a good father who always supported us in everything we did. He taught me to shoot − mainly pistols.
"I am so proud to have been his daughter. I only hope we made him proud of us."
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