The site now occupied by Tesco on the corner of Chillingham Road and Tosson Terrace was once, as many readers will know, a cinema. Sadly, the Scala (always pronounced, as was stressed at a recent Heaton History Group talk, Scay-la) became a victim of the growing popularity of television, closing its doors for the last time over 50 years ago on 1 July 1961. The photograph below appears in ‘Cinemas of Newcastle’ by Frank Manders (Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2005):
Former Heaton resident, ‘RS’ has only vague memories of it:
Being only six when The Scala closed, I would have been too young to have been allowed to go there on my own, but there is a vague memory of having visited there once, with a friend and his older sister. Certainly however, even at that young age, I was entrusted to make my own way to and from Ravenswood Primary School, and the most direct route by which to do so would have taken me past The Scala twice a day. To sum up: I may have visited it once, and must have seen it on many occasions, yet my memories of the building are faint.
However, he has much clearer memories of what came next. The world of retailing was changing and the old Scala was eventually demolished to make way for what RS believes to have been Chillingham Road’s – and, possibly, Heaton’s – first supermarket, a ‘Fine Fare’.
The writer was there, standing on the pavement with many others – trust me, it was a big deal at the time, and there was quite a crowd – at its grand opening.
I recall a bright but chilly Saturday morning and, if so, a best guess would be for sometime in the spring of 1965, when I would have been nine or ten. Predictably enough, there was a ribbon to be cut, and men in suits officiating, likely to have been a director of Fine Fare and a perhaps a local councillor. And there was a show business presence as well. On that Chillingham Road pavement, outside the Fine Fare, was a female celebrity, who I believe may have been a pop singer of the time. Now we’re not talking someone with the profile of Cilla, Dusty or Lulu here, but there was definitely someone from showbiz. I recall her having dark hair, and am tempted to have a guess at her identity … but no, that’s all it would be – a guess.
But there’s more – the main attraction, in fact. On that pavement, right in front of the shop entrance, there was placed at least one trestle table – maybe more – where the star guests performed their familiar routine, well known to ITV viewers since 1956. Yes, two or three of the Brooke Bond PG Tips chimpanzees had been brought along and – suitably and safely harnessed – were put through a traditional ‘chimps’ tea party’ act, for the benefit and amusement of the assembled crowd. At least we were all led to believe they were the genuine Brooke Bond TV chimps, hitherto only ever seen in black and white: it didn’t seem to be in the spirit of the occasion to ask for proof of their identities, and they may have been random, Geordie-based chimps for all anyone could tell. But on reflection – probably not. The demanding of autographs was also judged to be an unrealistic option. And then it was all over – no doubt much to the chagrin of the various grocers, butchers, bakers etc. of that stretch of Chillingham Road, now faced with the arrival of a new form of retailing which would do their own businesses no favours at all.
I shopped at the Fine Fare from time to time myself, and actually ended up working there, after school on two evenings a week and on Saturdays, in the early ’70s, when in my mid-teens, tasked with filling the freezer cabinets, but unfortunately without the benefit of an incipient frostbite allowance.
No longer resident in Heaton, I still occasionally drive past the premises noting occasional changes in ownership and name. And, after a gap of probably over four decades, one afternoon in the summer of 2013, I finally ventured back inside. On leaving the old, former Fine Fare, I lingered on the pavement outside for a few seconds, and those memories of nearly half a century ago returned – the memories which you have just read. Just a Tesco Express. Who would give it a second glance or thought today? But once it mattered. Maybe only for that single Saturday morning, so long ago. But, in the history of Heaton, once it mattered.
The photograph below was taken outside Fine Fare in 1974, on what appears, at first sight, to have been a somewhat less memorable moment in the history of Heaton.
We have Hungarian Laszlo Torday to thank for capturing just an ordinary moment some 40 years ago. Torday was a chemical engineer and amateur photographer who took hundreds of similar everyday scenes around Newcastle – and especially around Heaton because he lived on Jesmond Park West. The writer, Paul Torday, best known for his novel, ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ was Laszlo’s son. Newcastle City Library bought Torday’s photograph albums when they came up at auction some years ago and has given us permission to reproduce this one here. See more Torday photographs here.
Can you help?
Do you have memories of The Scala, Fine Fare or its successors to share? Do you remember who the celebrity was? Maybe you took a photo of the chimps? Or remember other early supermarkets in Heaton? Or perhaps you recognise someone in Torday’s photo? Post a comment by clicking on the link below the article title or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to ‘RS’ from whose longer essay, these memories have been taken.