Enjoying their night at the pictures

Morpeth and district u3a

‘A Night At The Pictures’, what an evocative sentence that is. With these magical words, Freda Thompson began her talk to 83 members of Morpeth U3A and enchanted everyone with a lengthy and captivating social history of Newcastle cinemas.

Members of a certain age, she said, will remember that many years ago all cinemas were spoken of as ‘the pictures’, bringing back memories of yesteryear.

Today, we have multi-screen cinemas, popcorn and so on, but many years ago, cinema screens were fronted by velvet curtains and gold friezes, and the smell of cigarette smoke would be everywhere.

Usherettes showed people to their seats, using torches to guide the way, and the posh seats were usually at the back of the auditorium, costing one and ninepence in old money.

This was more like visiting the theatre than spending the evening at the cinema.

The first moving pictures in this part of the country were shown at The Hoppings, followed by the use of abandoned churches. Freda then showed sepia pictures of many of Newcastle’s old cinemas, some of which have since disappeared, such as The Palace in the Haymarket, which gave rise to the Oxfam buildings.

There were stories about some of the picture houses, such as The Globe at Gosforth, which was the scene of an outrage by the Suffragettes when a plate glass window was smashed. Black’s Regal became The Odeon, with elephants’ footprints leading the way to the paybox. The Electric Cinema showed ‘clean and moral’ pictures and sitting in the darkness of the auditorium was banned. When talking pictures arrived so the price of a seat at the cinema increased, and in 1939 all picture houses were closed and then opened again two weeks later.

Television and bingo appeared and children’s matinees exploded onto the scene.

Then followed a long list of the many cinemas that inhabited Newcastle during this time, including The Pavilion, where the ceiling collapsed during a performance of Lawrence of Arabia, injuring 30 people; the closing of the Picture Drome, which was referred to in The Journal as ‘The Flea Pit’.

This was a nostalgic trip down memory lane, thoroughly enjoyed by everyone present.

The next general meeting of Morpeth U3A will take place on Tuesday at Morpeth Rugby Club, starting at 2pm. The speaker will be Alan Fendley on The Battle of Jutland.

For more information on Morpeth U3A and its 34 groups, phone 01670 505899, or visit the website at www.u3asites.org.uk/morpeth