Classic Memories

A 1970’s trip to the Low Fell Classic cinema always produced a few childhood hours to savour.  Situated about 50 yards from Cranstons jewellery shop and Reeds confectioners on the western side of Durham Road, this small three screened movie theatre wasn’t as sartorially impressive as, say, the Newcastle Odeon or the Newcastle Theatre Royal. However it bore the engaging and personal ambience only the diminutive local cinemas of that era could provide; making it feel like it somehow belonged to us Low Fell dwellers.

The picture-house’s aura of territorial intimacy fulfilling my childhood needs of comfort and security. Rightly or wrongly, when watching a Classic cinema celluloid showing as a kid it was a cosier experience than the more impersonal big city venues. Kind of like viewing the movie in a massive front room of a mate. One living close to Reeds, allowing me to enjoy the action with 1/4lb of rhubarb & custard (R&C) boiled sweets.

R&C flavoured candy my ‘go to’ choice for confectionery accompaniment to a cinema shown movie; although in hindsight their sugar content will’ve contributed towards later requirement of dental fillings.

Despite this later down side to the practise, the experience of witnessing James Bond’s shooting of Scaramanga, Chief Brodie’s slaying of a great white shark and Travolta & Newton-John’s music infused romance was somehow enhanced by two hours of slurping this candy.

When I say enhanced I’m referring to it from a purely selfish perspective, as I don’t envisage my cacophonous slurping would’ve been much fun for the cinema goers within close proximity. However, I was ordinarily too engrossed in the domestic disputes of Kramer & Kramer, or laughing at Inspector Clouseau’s clumsy detective work, or subscribing to Brodie’s conclusion that “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!” to notice.


The 1970’s cinema experience was a very different beast to the comforts of contemporary movie theatre visits. Not just from a perspective of modern seat comfort and state of the art vision/audio systems; but also from the smoking edict differences. These days there’s a blanket no smoking ban everywhere within the venue, a very different story from four decades ago.

Then, if viewing with a large audience of adults, onscreen action was often witnessed through a haze of tobacco smoke….. And that included the actors on the screen!

Back in the 1970’s/80’s, arriving home bearing the heavy fragrance of John Players Special, Embassy Regal or Silk Cut eau de toilette was an unavoidable consequence of congregating in public venues.

053053:The auditorium Capitol cinema Durham Road Low Fell Gateshead Riddell c.1935

I spent many a happy hour with family and friends at the Low Fell Classic in the 1970’s/80’s. On my more ostentatious days I’d substitute the rhubarb & custard flavoured boiled sweets for the luxury of the more expensive lemon bon-bons. A taste of the confectionery elegance for which I’d occasionally push out the boat.

Around the time I started dating my now wife Karen (circa 1983), Classic audiences were diminishing as a consequence of the boom in families owning Video Cassette Recorders (VCRs) and the birth of a fourth terrestrial channel on TV.

In an attempt to counter this, management at the Low Fell Classic decided to reduce Monday night entry to only £1 per person – A deal Karen and I took advantage of on numerous occasions.

At the time I’d explain to anyone prepared to listen that my motives for attending the cheaper screenings were as a mark of support for a local business……. In reality, though, Karen was probably nearer the mark with her own conclusion of the Monday night thriftiness being a consequence of my Yorkshire roots!

Sadly, the reduced price strategy only provided temporary respite for south Gateshead’s premier cinema. Unable to compete with those new fangled VCR thingys, it sadly closed it’s doors for the last time on 16th April 1987.

Although not linked, it’s closure around six months prior to me moving away from Gateshead…….. I want to clarify I’m not so sensitive I’d take the huff and move 200 miles south to work in London purely because my local cinema had been closed down. My decision to re-locate was purely career based.

The building itself was demolished in 1999, damaging the local economy when Reeds rhubarb & custard candy sales plummeted, leading to redundancies at their producer Kenny’s Kanny Kets’ ‘factory’ in a Bude Gardens shed.

Not learning from the mistake of the Classic’s management, the owner of Reeds started reducing the price of rhubarb & custard (R&C) sweets on a Monday. I’ve no idea if Reeds still gratifies the discerning confectionery palates of Low Fellians, but if they don’t I’ll be blaming their late 1980’s R&C sales strategy.

Although physically no longer standing on the edge of Durham Road opposite Thow’s barbershop, the memories created in the lives of the people it touched can’t be as easily disposed of.

What is my greatest memory of the once greatest entertainment venue in south Gateshead?….. Perhaps that of as a young looking 16 year old sneaking in cinema 3 to watch the X-Rated movie Emannuelle. During this ‘educational’ foray bizarrely the thing that struck me most about the movie was the promiscuous Parisian lady had the same room drapes as my aunt Agnes!



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