The lovingly restored Classic screen retains all the charm of the cinemas of old, from its red velvet curtains to its marble pillared screen. It was here that I discovered so many of the tastes that came to define me – my love of foreign films, of LBGTQ+ movies, of the kind of working class stories that I simply never saw on more mainstream screens.
Bambi’s loss was Tracey Sinclair’s gain, as she takes us on a memory-rich tour of Newcastle’s independent Tyneside Cinema: from its screens to its gorgeous art deco coffee rooms.
The first film I saw there was by accident. In the days when it was rare for cinemas to show films on multiple screens – in part because few cinemas actually had multiple screens – it was all too easy to miss a showing, especially when wrangling a bunch of small children, so I can’t really blame my mum for the fact that my first cinematic experience should have meant being traumatised by the death of Bambi’s mother, but wasn’t.
Instead, because the showing of Bambi at the Newcastle Odeon had already started, she decided to assuage our disappointment with a trip to the cinema that sat literally across the road to see The Amazing Mr Blunden. I don’t remember a thing about the film, but it doesn’t matter: the trip itself was serendipitous, because it was the start of my lifelong love affair with the one cinema I love above all others: The Tyneside Cinema and Coffee Rooms.
I’m lucky that I have always lived in places well-served by indie cinemas – from the Grosvenor and the GFT in Glasgow, to Brixton’s Ritzy in London to the Duke of York’s in Brighton. But the start of my love affair with cinema stems from much closer to home – at the Tyneside.
Sitting just off the city’s main shopping street, The Tyneside Cinema has stood at the cultural heart of Newcastle for over 80 years. Founded by entrepreneur Dixon Scott, it opened as a newsreel cinema in 1937 (and is the only such venue to still be operating as a cinema).
It has outlived the Odeon multiscreen which many predicted would spell its doom, which has long since been demolished to make way for shops and offices. Over the years it’s been revamped multiple times – when I first started going it had only two screens, and the second of those was basically a box room with the loos leading directly onto it, so if you needed a pee mid-film everyone could see you go into the toilets (and many was the tense movie moment disrupted by someone not realising you could hear the hand driers in the auditorium).
Now, it has expanded into four screens and a digital lounge and, complementing the original coffee rooms upstairs, there is an excellent ground floor bar / restaurant and a coffee shop, but its older spaces are still my favourites.
The Tyneside Coffee Rooms, opened by Mrs Scott in the late 1930s, are an art deco delight – all red plush and curves, and virtually identical to when I used to hang out there eating stottie sandwiches at the corner table with my college classmates. They are one of the few places in the city you can still get egg and chips served in an unironic way or buy a coffee and a cheese toastie and still get change from a fiver. (Perhaps because of this, it is not just popular with pensioners, but with the younger crowd taking their folks out: on any given day you can find some tattooed hipster having lunch with his gran, both of them happy with the ambience.)
The lovingly restored Classic retains all the charm of the cinemas of old, from its red velvet curtains to its marble pillared screen. It was here that I discovered so many of the tastes that came to define me – my love of foreign films, of LBGTQ+ movies, of the kind of working class stories that I simply never saw on more mainstream screens.
It was here I watched Letter to Brezhnev and Rita, Sue and Bob Too and saw female working class sexuality in all its messy glory. It was at the Tyneside in the era of Clause 28 and the media monstering of gay people that I saw queer stories given a sympathetic airing, and AIDS treated as a thing that affected actual human people rather than some biblical plaque against sexually incontinent sinners (Parting Glances – one of the first films to address the AIDS crisis, and featuring Steve Buscemi in one of his earliest roles – remains a favourite to this day). It was here I cried my eyes out after skipping college to watch an afternoon matinee of Torch Song Trilogy and here I developed a crush on Daniel Day Lewis that was so intense I made my friend accompany me to My Beautiful Laundrette six times in a fortnight.
One of the great pleasures of moving back to Newcastle was being able to become a member again of the cinema – and I’ve already seen some great films there, from documentaries like RBG and Apollo 11 to crowd pleasers like The Favourite to classics that I somehow never got around to seeing before (Jaws on the big screen was a lot scarier than I had anticipated).
A charity and a listed building, it’s obviously been impacted by the corona crisis – though in an illustration of just how beloved an institution it is, a fundraising drive has already raised over £50,000.
And, yes, I donated – because once this all is over, I really can’t wait to go back.
You can read more about the history of the Tyneside Cinema and how to donate here or watch the video below. You can also follow their Twitter hashtag #myTynesideCinema