Northern Stage: Newcastle on-screen

Though nowadays we wouldn’t think twice about the Toon’s presence in mainstream media (cheers Geordie Shore), Newcastle has historically had a hard time finding a home on our screens. Television in particular took its time before finally using Newcastle as a setting, let alone reference the city itself, so learning about this rocky relationship is something an eager Media student like myself is all over.

The Royal Television Society saw such an opportunity to educate, and so on January 26th held Forget Carter: Newcastle on Film and Television at Newcastle City Library. Condensing the research of media historian Chris Phipps’ book of the same name, the presentation went over the surprisingly vast history of shows that had been conceived, filmed, or even just referenced here in Geordie Land. It turns out the society is actually a regular visitor here, holding their annual North East and the Border Centre Awards at the Newcastle Hilton hotel on 27th February.

Graham Thompson, the society’s chair, introduced the event, praising the more recent TV shows currently being filmed in Newcastle. CBBC in particular has many shows in production here, including Tracey Beaker spin-off The Dumping Ground and partial Twilight rip-off Wolfblood. Vera has also been using various buildings along the Quayside, and George Gently, ironically enough, was filming along my street in Summerhill Square the other week.

The main bulk of the presentation was taken up by Chris Phipps, going over a large portion of research he had done for his aforementioned book. It was certainly an eye opener into Newcastle’s journey onto our screens; the city wasn’t recognised as a part of UK cinema until late on, with only North West regional accents featuring on film both at home and internationally. This all changed with Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? in 1973, a drama-comedy on BBC1 that saw the birth of the Geordie accents on screens.

The Tube was another notable mention, as it was the show that originally drew Phipps to the North East to work as a producer for Tyne Tees TV. Airing from 1982-1987, this music show, in Phipps’ words, “made Newcastle cool”.

“[Newcastle] wasn’t recognised as a part of UK cinema until late on, with only North West regional accents featuring on film both at home and internationally”

Perhaps the most interesting anecdote was on Quayside, a cancelled soap opera that was headed by now Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper and the team behind Byker Grove. Only 17 episodes ever aired, and it’s a shame that, till this day, the North East has no soap opera to its namesake.

Phipps also aired his frustration at Newcastle’s now stereotypical use as a location for crime thrillers. Stormy Monday, a 1988 thriller featuring Sean Bean and Tommy Lee Jones, made great use of the Tyne Bridge as a key location, and eventually spawned the spin-off TV series Finney on ITV six years later starring David Morrissey in his pre-Governor days. Newcastle hence has a reputation of showcasing the ‘urban mafia’, as Phipps calls it, making use of only more run-down locations such as multi-storey carparks and Cruddas Park flats.

Finishing the night off with a complimentary glass of wine, reflecting on the evening proved to be a sombre affair. The media industry is perceived as all taking place in London, yet the North has so much to offer. As a student keen in working in the sector, but too nervous to make the move down South, it’s encouraging to see the vast history Newcastle has in the television sector, and the possibilities it holds for filmmakers in the future.

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