Back in the 1930s, a phenomenon swept the country as news theatres were set up to show up-to-date newsreel films to the public. Before this people had relied on the radio, if they could afford one, and newspapers for their news. People flocked to news theatres to see world events as moving images for the very first time. Tyneside Cinema was one such news theatre, read on for the whole story.
1 February 1937
The Bijou News-Reel Cinema opened on 1 February 1937 – this is the start of our story.
It was Newcastle’s first newsreel cinema and was founded by local entrepreneur and film lover Dixon Scott.
Newsreel cinemas were popular back in the day, as they were one of the main ways people were able to hear about world news, topics and current affairs.
Our founder, Dixon Scott was a well-travelled man. His adventures took him all over the Middle East and the Far East, and he was inspired to bring the world to Newcastle.
Dixon is the great uncle of Hollywood directors Sir Ridley Scott – director of Gladiator, Alien, Kingdom of Heaven and Prometheus and Tony Scott of Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Crimson Tide and True Romance fame.
A window on the world
Dixon Scott opened the Bijou News-Reel Cinema to be a ‘window on the world’ for the people of Newcastle. The cinema screened a mixture of travel, sport, and news films – alongside the occasional cartoon – to regular audiences from across the North East.
His desire to bring the world to Newcastle even extended to the design and décor of the cinema, which was meant to represent a Persian palace and was awash with gold, greens and purples. Many of these features were brought back to life when we restored the cinema in 2008.
The original news theatre auditorium, now the ‘Classic’, showed newsreels continuously from 10.30 to 21:30 each day.
Audiences were fascinated by the moving images of world events and celebrities and weren’t deterred by news which was a few days old. As a result, there was a constant stream of people coming in and out of the theatre, and it quickly became a place for the community to gather.
A community space for Tyneside
Dixon Scott’s news theatre was so successful that two other existing cinemas were converted into news theatres within a year of its opening. Sadly, Dixon died in 1939, just two years after his news theatre opened but the business went from strength to strength, run by his widow, Virginia, and one of his sons.
It was, in fact, Virginia who opened The Tyneside Coffee Rooms, creating a cosy, welcoming place to spend time and explore the world through film.
TV and the end of the newsreel
The arrival of television into British homes in the 1950s marked the end of the newsreel business. When our News Theatre finally closed in February 1968, the lease of the building was taken over by the British Film Institute, based in London.
Since the early 1960s, the Institute had been looking for an opportunity to open a branch of its flagship National Film Theatre in Newcastle and so they reopened our building as the Tyneside Film Theatre.
From the star,t the aims of Tyneside Film Theatre were clear: to screen the best of world cinema from all periods and all countries of the world; to promote the use and appreciation of film; and to encourage local film production. To continue to be a window on the world.