THE CINEMA YEARS – TYNE THEATRE AND OPERA HOUSE, NEWCASTLE

Last December the APAC Newsletter included an article by Alan Butland, Trustee of the Tyne Theatre and Opera House Preservation Trust, about the three day film festival organised as part of the Theatre’s 150th anniversary celebrations. This month’s blog expands on that article and describes the challenge researchers’ face when archives become “distributed”.

 

Clear-outs by successive lessees had left “not a rack behind”.  Our challenge was to pull information together for the three day film festival. The V&A Theatre and Performance Archive, the local library service, the Tyne & Wear Archive Service, and the Matcham Society have all played their part in piecing together the history of the Stoll Years.

THE TYNE THEATRE

The Tyne Theatre and Opera House opened on 23 September 1867 and ran successfully under a series of innovative managements until the onset of the Great War. Bioscopes and early cinemas were attracting audiences, and newsreels from the front line were feeding a changing appetite.

TYNE THEATRE AS THE STOLL PICTURE THEATRE

Impresario Oswald Stoll had converted a number of his theatres to cinema use and saw the potential of the Tyne Theatre and Opera House for conversion.

The modifications by Matcham Associates at the Tyne Theatre were minimal. A projection box was installed at the back of the Upper Circle and the Grand Circle seating altered to improve the sight lines. The plans were viewed at Blythe House.

The Tyne Theatre and Opera House was renamed the Stoll Picture Theatre and opened on 2 June 1919.

We offered “Dainty Teas” when we opened our film festival with TARZAN OF THE APES, with piano accompaniment.

Local newspaper advertisement for the opening programme, 1919.

The local history collection in Newcastle’s Central Library has a comprehensive collection of local newspapers. These became the prime source for the cinema programmes, helpfully displayed in a column on the front page. Editorial was contained on inside pages and time was short in the run up to the festival to get below the surface. However, it was an important discovery for further research.

GHOST SIGN – TALKIES

The Stoll was the first cinema in Newcastle to install and show the “talkies”.  Al Jolson in The Singing Fool began a ten-week run on 11 May 1929.

Ghost sign for “talkies” on side of the Stoll building, c. 1929

Stoll produced flyers advertising coming attractions.  During a Matcham Society visit to Bristol Hippodrome (like the Tyne Theatre converted for cinema by Stoll) I spotted Stoll flyers in their archive. Were there similar publications for the Newcastle Stoll? Peter Millican, Chief Technician for the Tyne Theatre, dug deep and found this treasure and a playbill.

Flyer advertising upcoming attractions at the Stoll, Newcastle.

THE HEYDAY OF THE STOLL

In its heyday the changing film programmes were extensively advertised. The frontage of the theatre became the canvas for pictorial displays and mobile advertisements were toured around the streets of Newcastle.

The Stoll Picture Theatre, Newcastle, in its heyday.

END OF AN ERA – 1974

In the early 1970s numbers for cinema audiences were dwindling. BBC2 had started in April 1964 and from July 1967 became Europe’s first television channel to broadcast regularly in colour. Colour television took off in 1971, so there was much a greater and cheaper choice of entertainment in the home.

Whereas in the 1960s the Stoll had featured and attracted an audience to films by the French New Wave, by the 1970s it was trying to attract a different audience to another kind of ‘continental’ films, But Naked as Nature Intended and Swedish Bed and Board attracted insufficient interest.

The Stoll organisation closed the Picture Theatre on 23 March 1974.

Fortunately, the City Engineers Department carried out a survey of the building supported by valuable photographs.

 

A NEW BEGINNING

Cinemas were being demolished all over Newcastle.  The Tyne Theatre and Opera House was a much loved building and a campaign to Save the Stoll was started by Jack Dixon, a local enthusiast for musical theatre. It took three years but by 1977 the Council offered a lease to the New Tyne Theatre Preservation Trust.

But that is another story.

(Photographs courtesy of Newcastle Libraries and by the author)