I firstly need to lament 2 cinemas in Geordieland. I mentioned before the destruction of the West Jesmond Picturehouse. Now the Odeon opposite today’s subject is also due for demolition, abandoned for the nearby entertainment venue The Gate c2002, and then Odeon departed central Newcastle in 2006 as the new Odeon became an Empire. Cunningly, the Pilgrim St Odeon’s art deco fittings were removed and thus it could be argued that there was nothing worth preserving here.
I now learn that two days ago the Odeon collapsed! I’m very suspicious.
I am sad that the Tyneside cinema couldn’t have used the old Odeon when it augmented, instead of adding the little extra screens.
The Tyneside is very much a case in point of my Single Screens – it’s the experience that counts argument. There is only one screen I’m interested in – the Classic. I’ll show it to you in a minute. Its seats 263 including the gallery (circle), whereas the other 4 seat 30, 33, 89 and 132, and none have any character. Unlike the Classic.
It’s a shame that the website is all close ups of glass and seats, and not really showcasing the spaces available.
The Tyneside was the first cinema I joined – here is my membership card and my first ever ticket, in the days when the second screen (the Electra) was a flat attic with eggboxes on the walls.
That was before the refurb, when the logo changed, and the blue neon and typewriting font became silvery. Unlike other cinemas in places starting with the letter N, the restoration was on time.
The Tyneside likes to remind is it’s Britain’s last newsreel theatre and so it rightly shows these still – I saw one recently, to commemorate the anniversary of India becoming independent. It’s an anniversary year for the Tyneside, who is ten years older. I also got a free tour by an enthusiastic lady who then disappointed me by confessing her love and knowledge is of golden age cinema and her youth, but not current films. So much about cinema is fixed on nostalgia of this kind, but this blog has always been about living cinema and renewal as much as the early twentieth century picture palaces.
I’m as interested in the 1960s change at Tyneside when the newsreels gave way to the art house fare which had already been shown here to film societies. They have the first listing poster on display still.
The outside isn’t all that cinema-y. The entrance has tiles to help reflect light in the alley, but the box office was originally a little further along, where the little cafe on the street is. The canopy always has been weeny. The front was built as offices to hire, part of the business plan. But it’s inside that’s interesting.
There are two floors of these Moorish looking plastered ceilings, and then there’s the main auditorium. It’s an odd mix of the straight 1930s lines of Stowmarket’s Regal and a fussy, older decor to the proscenium arch and curtains, yet the ceiling’s plain.
The balcony is now expensive but I’m told that was a return to the original, which was part of the deal with funding the refurbishment. But it is a bit exclusive – especially if you’re not a couple, as several seats are doubles.
Here it is – the Tyneside Classic original screen, the one we pay for!
The Coffee Rooms never quite hit the olde cinema mark intended. In my Newcastle life, they closed mid evening (now 10pm) and apart from the tiny coffee and cocktails almost booth (then Intermezzo, now Vicolo), that was it for drinking and eating here. And in an eat OR drink culture that puts cafe chilling definitely as an afternoon pursuit, it mattered that Newcastle didn’t have that kind of bar. Now it does – for the Tyneside’s got another one where a building society was. It’s open all day and evening, and has a suitably theatrical curtained off area. You can eat and drink and chill, although it’s not huge and is understandably busy, whereas the larger tea rooms upstairs are more cafe-like.
The film fare has got more mainstream, as with elsewhere – they were showing Beauty and the Beast when I was last there, but there’s lots of other bits… yet they are bitty as they’re not shown so much and are in the little screening rooms, and rarely in the room we want to sit in.
Newcastle’s got two other interesting cinemas which puts it high on my radar – the Side and the Star and Shadow in Ouseburn. These are volunteer run and properly quirky – one has an informal relationship with Bristol’s Cube.
Otherwise, this is a multiplex city and only one is central – the rest are spread about the suburbs and most are not even in Newcastle. The other cinema in Tyne and Wear which is of interest is South Shield’s Custom House. I’ll let you know if I get to those.
But for now, I’ll close by saying that Tyneside staff are still friendly and helpful and I remember the generosity with his time of the programmer when I was interested in setting up my own cinema – I may still do so. It is deservedly well loved, and although more pricey than some other cinemas in the area, it is much better than the ridiculously expensive south.
The final reason that this cinema is meaningful to me is that it’s just the sort I imagine for my novel, where my characters go to a special cinema, up in the gallery, for a story within the story about the power of cinema. And this looks more like the auditorium I had in mind than the place I set it does now. One for the film adaptation?
And, people of Newcastle, I finished my first draft whilst living here and being a member.