Friday, 17 June 2011

167: O is for Odeon

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The A-to-Z of the GFFA.

On Friday 3rd June 1983, my mum picked me up from school in the car. I only lived a 15 minute walk away from school, and at age ten, used to walk it usually. Anyway, she picked me up and I had a change of clothes in the back of the car (I actually got changed in the back of a moving car, safety fans). We made the 25 minute drive over to Newcastle, and met my dad. He'd finished work early and reserved our places in a massive queue snaking down Pilgrim Street (because it's not at all annoying when people join someone in front of you when you've been standing there for two hours).

The Odeon, Newcastle. Photo ©Stagedoor. Click through for full version.
^^ The Odeon, Newcastle. Photo ©Stagedoor/Ian Grundy. Click through for full version.

We were queueing at the Odeon Cinema to see Return of the Jedi on its opening day*. I'd love to tell you about the atmosphere in the line that day, but I can't remember anything other than me being a model of barely restrained hyperactivity.

So, we got in, took our seats and prepared for the movie. Even as recently as 1983, there were short films (and/or cartoons) shown before films like a sort of support act. On that day it was an animated short called 'Dilemma', a fairly grim wordless piece about nuclear war. A sign of the times, I suppose. After that, the house lights went down, the cheering started up, and the Star Wars saga came to a glorious close (for the next sixteen years, anyway). A six-year ride, and good finally triumphed, the Emperor was revealed then destroyed, and oh, that's his sister.

The RotJ Storybook

I had the storybook of the film already, and at ten years old, wasn't able to resist the lure of spoilers. I knew what Yoda's role in the film was, and what his destiny would be. In the three years in between Empire and Jedi, I'd grown very attached to the little green fella (oh come on, who didn't?), and the thought of him not being around at the end of the film made me very emotional.

Now, bear in mind that E.T. had been released the year before, which I saw in the cinema and subsequentally cried like a girl (oh, seriously). I didn't want a repeat performance of that when a small wrinkly alien died (and actually died this time, not a close-call followed by a heartbraking goodbye like last year), so I formulated a plan; When the scene in Yoda's hut came on, when Luke Skywalker has come back to see his mentor, I'd go to the toilet, so that I didn't have to witness first hand what I knew was going to happen. I'd watch it in the future, of course, I just didn't want to see it this time.

So, Jabba was dead, the Millennium Falcon went one way, Luke's X-Wing went another, and I went to the toilet with barely any subtlety as the subdued tones of Dagobah filled the screen and I scrambled past a row of cinema patrons, my eyes at bursting point, rather than my bladder. I can't remember if I spent any time actually peeing, although I probably did anyway, but I left what I thought was the appropriate amount of time for the passing of a Jedi Master, and returned to the auditorium....

The second alien-death to make me cry in two years.

...yes, just in time to see the culmination of the scene between Luke and Yoda. Bunch of bloody arse. I made my way back to my seat (no use standing by the fire-exit crying), sat down between my mum and dad who probably worked out exactly what I'd been trying to do, and enjoyed the rest of the film. No, I genuinely, did enjoy it. Awesome. The rest is history.

What started this misty-eyed nostalgia trip is the Newcastle Odeon itself, which I saw the other week for the first time in about ten years.

Newcastle Odeon, 2011. My photo, this time.

Not derelict as such, but abandoned, certainly. The cinema transferred to new custom premises before those ten years (it was empty at the time but didn't seem quite as tragic then) because an old-fashioned two-screen cinema just can't compete in the multiplex market. The new Odeon is on the other side of town and is doing very well (as well as any cinema in today's market, anyway).

It's not just my memories that were forged in those auditoria, but those of how many others? What makes me sad isn't the relocation of the business, but that the building's not being used for anything. The Robins' Cinema in Durham is similar in that it's an old-school picture-house which closed down as it only had two screens (no nearby competition, though). But Robins' is now a Walkabout bar. I'm sure many theatre and cinema lovers are horrified at the prospect, but it's probably taking more money than a bingo-hall, and it's certainly better than an empty building. As long as it's being used, it's not just gathering dust and falling into disrepair.

Sadly, the Odeon isn't alone on Pilgrim Street. All along the west side of the road, shops, buildings, entire blocks have been boarded up and abandoned. Scaffolding sits on some, but there doesn't seem to be any sign of work taking place. A fire station, a bus station, an entire office-block. All waiting to be renovated and repopulated. If I recall correctly, the Odeon was used as a club briefly after the cinema relocated, but that was a long time ago. I'd dearly love to look around in there before it's either renovated or left to atrophy.
Now the empty frames overlook a street where the only things that stop are buses and the people waiting for them. Don't get me wrong, the rest of Newcastle is positively thriving, and is only a block away from the old cinema. But the bottom of Pilgrim Street is like the corner where elderly relatives sit at a children's party. Watching, remembering. And they have a lot to share if you'll go and talk to them for a while.

Standing on Pilgrim Street, looking down High Bridge, Newcastle.

* Online sources tell me it opened on Thurs 2nd, but I don't recall extended opening weekends back in those days. All I know is, it was definitely a Friday, and definitely the opening weekend.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• Photos and videos appearing in this blog post are for informational and reference purposes only, and no ownership of copyright is claimed or implied by me. The intellectual and physical copyright of such material belongs to its creators and owners.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.


  1. Same here, I loved the Old Odeon it had an atmosphere it was the queuing outside waiting to get you're ticket, talking to other people that were beside you.
    Once you were inside "WOW" that was what you call a Cinema, Brass shiny Balustrade up the main stairs the smell of Hot Dogs & Popcorn, Odeon 1 was the Biggest Screen in the Northeast,, i loved it in there.. The licensed Bar was great to sit & chat to others about films,, it's a Dam shame because Cinemas these Days have no character, same as you I would love to have a look around inside it now.. I have just got some pictures off google, type in "inside the Odeon Cinema Northumberland. Street " it shows you it in its hay Day & when they were stripping it out... "Tragic"

  2. It opened on a Thursday as all films did in the early 80s (only few years earlier films still changed on a sunday)