Friday, September 29, 2023

Chilli Chimps

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):

Scala cinema Chillingham Road

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.

Star attractions

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.

Fine Fare
Fine Fare

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

Thank you to ‘RS’ from whose longer essay, these memories have been taken.



  1. I’ve got a comment: now there’s a surprise!
    I only ever visited the Scala once and the contributing circumstances are distinctly vague. I do recall being taken there by some older lads as I was only about six or seven at the time, so we are talking ’59/’60. It was a Saturday morning kids’ affair that amounted to lots of cartoons and also an episode of Batman, which I had to research in order to tell you it was probably Robert Lowery and Johnny Duncan in the ’49 series of 15 B&W episodes for cinema.
    It must have been very cheap to get in because I walked home (alone) with money in my pocket and stopped at Manners’ pork shop for a hot savaloy dip with peas-pudding and stuffing. That became a ritual thereafter on return journeys from Chilly Road baths when an extremely healthy appetite always occasioned a savaloy dip AND a regular dip – which skipped the sausage.
    ps Anyone feeling anoraky where the Batman episode is concerned will be puzzled to learn that they sported the famous utility belts which doesn’t dovetail with history at all.

  2. Sandra McClelland wrote to us: My friends and I went to the Scala every Fri. night in the early 50s and in my memory it was avery nice place. On Saturdays we all trooped to the Lyric cinema which tended to show a lot of M. G. M .musicals. I remember as a 10 yr old being blown away by the fantastic dance sequences of 7 Brides for 7 Brothers and the iconic Singing in the Rain. I was also interested by the Fine Fare photo because you can see the car showroom of Don Smith in the background. Did you know he was resident band leader at the Oxford Galleries for many years. He won many awards and was thought by many to have the best band in U K. As someone who loves to dance it was marvellous to dance to his music, he was No.1, no-one was better.

  3. Bruce Herneston emailed to say:
    Hi just being reading your write up on Heaton.I was born there in 42 in Simonside terrace ,left in 63 and have happy memories of the Scayla ! I remember going there sometimes as much as twice a week.Most Saturday nights my mother and father would take me there and nearly always we had to stand in a queue.During the week if my mother had no money for me to go , [as money was tight for a lot of working class people in those days [,i would go around hoping to collecting empty lemonade bottles.Because then you could get 3 pence old money when you took them back to the shop.So if i was lucky enough to collect 3 of them,it got me into the cheapest seats for 9 p.I often remember standing out side asking an adult to take me in,as the film that was showing would be an A certifagate,meaning i had to be with an adult.Once inside i would be off on my own.You could not imagine that now!

    • That is the second time I have heard the exclamation of amazement at asking an adult to ‘take you in’ to see an A cert. movie; I read exactly the same thing just last week. Truth be told, it was almost certainly more dangerous back in the good-ol-days than it is today, yet my parents knew what I was doing and didn’t forbid it; why do you suppose that was?

  4. Mike Ryan emailed:

    Dear Chris
    just found your article on the above via a skyscrapper city link.
    I was employed as Assistant Manager at that branch from the late 60s to early 70s, the store Manager at that time was Alan Richardson. Most of the staff lived in the various streets going off from Chilli Rd [Simonside was very popular], with very few of us living outside the area.

    Around 1969 there were other Fine Fare Supermarkets close to Heaton the nearest ones were at Arndale Square, Longbenton and Wellbeck Rd, Walker.

    The building was also the location of a Co-op store next door but I do not know if it was a self service operation or counter service as I never went into it. In the middle was a small Carricks bakers which may have opened at the same time as FF [mid 60s], both companies [ FF and Carricks] were owned by Assosiated British Foods.

    After leaving FF I went to work for the Moores Stores group [HO at Newgate St, Newcastle] and managed a few stores for them and by a strange quirk of fate ended up back on Chilli Rd in 1974 in the branch that in recent times was under the SPAR banner.

    Fine Fare changed a lot of their stores to Shoppers Paradise [Cheap prices/ Limited Service] and were taken over in the early 80s by Gateway later Summerfield/Co-op.

    Moores had been taken over by Cavenham foods in the early 70s and then they bought out Allied Suppliers [Broughs, Duncan & Hadrian RE-Branded as Liptons & Presto]. This new company made small stores Liptons [as Chilli Rd] and larger units Presto`s [as Shields Rd, Byker]. Safeway then took over Presto which later ended up as Morrisons.
    I have many happy memories of Chillingham Rd and several of the other retailers Greggs Bakers, Mannors Butchers and the
    little cafe on the corner near the Garage later Motorist spares shop.

    Feel free to contact for any other info as I still live local in Gosforth.

    All the best Mike

  5. I would have been 8 when the Scala shut down. I think of it now through a haze of nostalgia – a massive imposing building it seemed to me as a kid, with all sorts of exciting things going on in there in the pitch black dark. And the way cigarette smoke drifted across the projection beam, and feel of the worn stiff velour seats, and the stickiness of the floor. I remember the usherettes with Lyons Maid trays round their necks and how much you longed for a choc ice but you’d spent every last penny on the ticket. You could sit through film after film watching again and again till your bum ached. I remember the Fine Fare came when the Scala was pulled down. I got a Saturday job there when i was a bit older, weighing out tatties and putting them in bags. I may only have been about 11. This was on top of the two paper rounds (morning and evening) I did for Youngers the newsagents further along Chilly Rd, probably the next block. I must have made quite a bit cos I got a guitar through my mam’s catalogue and was able to pay it off weekly no problem. It was dead easy to pinch stuff from the Fine Fare. All us kids were at it. Sweets and nylon stockings, they were the best, you could sell them at school for other kids to give their mams for birthdays and christmas. Re Keith’s reference to Manners’ Pork Shop. Yeah, I remember that well. Those saveloys. A bun dipped and stuffed and a bit of pease pudding in. That was life worth living, that really was.

    • Savaloy dip still beats the living daylights out of Periwinkles Shelley My Dear; I’ve never been able to get my pin out and tuck in to Willicks.

  6. Mrs. Fletcher emailed to say:

    Happy New Year from another “Heaton exile” and thank you for such an interesting and fascinating website. It is a wonderful resource. I wondered if some memories of shopping on “Chilly Road” many years ago would be of interest?

    I grew up and lived in Heaton in a typical Tyneside flat from 1940-64. As a child living in Warton Terrace, I was only a “hop skip and a jump” from Chillingham Road and I enjoyed shopping there with my Mam or “going for messages” for her. In those days “Chilly Road” looked rather different – there were no trees, handy seats, estate agents, charity shops or supermarkets and a takeaway to us was fish and chips ( taking newspaper for outer wrapping). There weren’t many cars but there were trams (later replaced by buses).

    There was however a wide variety of shops. Some that come to mind are – Burrel’s butchers where we bought such things as black pudding and “scrag end”… Pinder’s greengrocers for “half a stone of potatoes”… Nesbit’s bakers for an “Edinburgh brown” loaf… Sayer’s greengrocers where Mam first bought frozen food – a carton of bilberries. She’d have used them fairly quickly as we never had a fridge! There was Law’s stores for groceries, Little’s Dairy

    which sold wonderful ice-cream and Donkin’s toyshop which also had a lending library. Nearby was a drapers.

    Then there were several Co-op shops, Fong Wah’s laundry, a radio shop, Manners pork shop, two drycleaners, an off-licence, chemists, a wallpaper shop, fresh fish shop and many others.

    At the post office I bought sheets of colourful pictures called ” scraps” to stick into my scrapbook. Next to the pillar box outside was a useful stamp machine. There was a newsagent who would deliver my ” Beano” and “Dandy” comics and later “School Friend”.

    At the tiny branch of Clough’s we used to buy our sweets, like my favourite sherbet lollies, on the way to enjoy “the pictures” along the road at the Scala.

    I also remember the “Tru-time Watch Co.” where I bought a necklace in the 1950s ( I still have it). Happy days…


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