Talk by John Matthews, 18th October 2012
Report by Margaret ApplebyJohn told a fascinating but sad story about the rise and fall of the Paramount and Odeon Cinemas in Newcastle. John is Vice Chair of the Tyneside Committee of the Northumberland & Newcastle Society and has been very involved in trying to save the Odeon for 10 years. Being in the construction industry all his life, John actually worked for the company Stanley Miller, who built the Paramount in 1931.
‘Movies’ arrived in London in 1891 and 5 years later in Newcastle. They were very basic black and white flickering pictures (hence the name – the flicks!) and were shown in various buildings as part of a variety performance. 1917 -1930 was the golden age of cinema construction across the country and in 1931 the Paramount was built in Newcastle. The architects were Beverly and Verity. The site was originally a garage which was cleared to build the cinema at a cost of £250,000.
As John’s talk was delivered with excellent accompanying pictures, we were able to see the true grandeur of the original building. Externally it was imposing buff stone with balconies, box office and a massive (57 ft) flashing Paramount sign – originally lit with 2500 light bulbs but later replaced with neon lights. Internally it was spectacular with terracotta silk panels on the walls, frescoes, chandeliers, ornate balustrades, deep seats, lovely carpet, orchestra pit and Wurlitzer. The stalls and circle held 2604 people. The curtains shimmered, fresh flowers were provided daily and the first film was shown in September 1931. In 1932 other buildings including the Carliol House, Fire and Police Stations were all built which enhanced the importance of this area of Newcastle. In 1939 Paramount sold the building and it became the Odeon.
The cinema continued throughout the 2nd World War and in the 60’s well known groups and stars visited, although in 1951 it had been refurbished and sadly the silk and frescoes painted over. Audience numbers fell with the advent of television so 3 screens were created in 1975 and the famous Paramount/Odeon sign was removed. The introduction of multiplexes in Gateshead and Manors further affected the Odeon and in 2001 the Odeon moved to the Gate. The building had been listed in 2000 but in later years it was delisted on appeal much to many people’s amazement as a part of Newcastle history was then at risk. The new owners were, and are now able to develop the site despite the sterling efforts of John Matthews and many others.
Many in the audience had fond memories of the Odeon and were fascinated but sad to hear John’s tale of two cinemas, which does not appear likely to have a happy ending.