Thriller on the Tyne

Get Carter the film celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year. Mark Holdstock reports from Newcastle where it was shot

IN the early 1970s a novel called Jack’s Return Home written by Ted Lewis and set in Doncaster and Scunthorpe was turned into one of the defining films of its generation.

But Get Carter, starring Michael Caine, was not filmed in Yorkshire. Director Mike Hodges chose Newcastle and neighbouring Gateshead as the location and he made a great deal of what the city had to offer.

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“He thought that this was a perfect back-drop for a story of Jack Carter coming up from London to investigate his brother’s death.” says Chris Phipps who runs guided bus tours of musical history called Tyne Idols. “In a way you can view it either as a Western, like High Noon, or you can see it as a sort of Jacobean or Restoration revenger’s tragedy in a city state.”

At the heart of it is the River Tyne and its six bridges. The most iconic is the Tyne Bridge, built at the same time as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and said to have been based on the design of its Australian big brother.

Jack Carter wreaked his revenge for his brother’s death from the top of a concrete Sixties car park in a style known as the “new brutalism” for the way in which it swept away the old with a florish and imposed its own outline on the landscape.

Like many of its dismal and ugly peers, it has been swept away in its turn, to make way for a new Tesco.

Other architectural features in the city which played a starring role have proved to be more permanent.

There’s the “Swing Bridge” for example where Caine/Carter purchases the drugs which he employs to kill a prostitute in revenge for her part in debauching his niece.

Over the past 30 years, much of Newcastle has been transformed, particularly the East Quayside. At the beginning of the 1980s, this was still a collection of disused corrugated iron sheds, a hangover from the days when when this was where the ships docked.

When other heavy industries that had once defined the North were put out to grass by Margaret Thatcher, regeneration fever took hold. Offices sprang up, with new bars and a new link to the Gateshead side of the river. A seventh crossing, a footbridge was a revolutionary structure designed to let small and medium sized boats pass underneath, whilst not being unduly steep for pedestrians and cyclists.

The design that chosen was dubbed the “blinking-eye”, where the footpath, and the arch supporting it tilted, to allow boats to pass underneath. It won the Stirling prize for Architecture in 2002, the year it was opened by the Queen. It leads across to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, built inside the hulk of an old flour mill, and to the Norman Foster designed Sage Gateshead, one of the country’s leading music venues and another stunning piece of architecture on the Tyne.

The Quayside, which has to be one of the most dramatic urban landscapes in Europe, is a 10-minute walk away (downhill) from the city centre. For those with limited mobility, or tired feet, there are frequent buses back up the hill. But it is worth doing it on your own two feet simply to have a proper look at Grey Street which boasts some of the finest Georgian architecture in Britain.

Traditionally Newcastle’s reputation as a party city is unrivalled. In the city centre, that largely involves wearing as little as possible, even in the middle of winter, and drinking as much as you can. It is best avoided on a Friday or Saturday night.

For something more civilised, head east to Ouseburn. This is where a stream runs down from the parkland of Jesmond Dene into the Tyne. At first glance it might look run-down, but some of the best pubs in the city are within walking distance of each other.

The Cumberland Arms, sitting in the shadow of the famous Byker Wall housing development, has a wide selection of real ales, as well as regular ad hoc sessions by local folk musicians in the snug on the right as you walk in.

A short distance away is the pub with one of the best views in the country. The Free Trade Inn sits on a promontory looking directly up the river. Although its decor and facilities are basic, the view is breathtaking.

Both pubs can be crowded and noisy but they are civilised and welcoming, and the kind of places that you might want to spend some time in.

Also nearby is The Cluny, a converted bonded warehouse, which as its name suggests was once used to store whisky. This is both a bar serving food and a music venue. Next door to that is Seven Stories which describes itself as “Britain’s gallery and archive that celebrates the wonderful world of children’s books”, certainly worth a visit if you are coming with children.

Ideally, take a walk along the river to Ouseburn, just for the views looking back at the bridges and the Sage. It’s lovely when the sun is setting on a spring evening.

Cafe Vivo, next door to the Live Theatre, is one of three restaurants run by the chef Terry Laybourne, who became famous with his restaurant 21 Queen Street in the 1990s.

Rasa on Queen Street under the Tyne Bridge, is the first branch of Das Sreedharan’s chain of Kerelan restaurants to be opened outside London. Keralan cooking is essentially vegetarian and it’s very, very good.

Marking the 40th anniversary of the release of Get Carter, there’s a season of events at Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema. An exhibition of rare original posters, artwork, promotional photos and memorabilia from the film opened in the cinema’s bar this week.

Chris Phipps says of the film’s local impact, “I think it did for Newcastle what Raymond Chandler did for LA. The city is as much the star as Michael Caine.”

GETTING THERE...

• Newcastle Tourist Information, 8-9 Central Arcade, Newcastle upon Tyne: 0191 277 8000. www.newcastle.gov.uk

• Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

• www.balticmill.com - Gateshead Quays, Gateshead - 0191 478 1810

• Cafe Vivo. 0191 232 1331

• Komal. 0191 226 1726

• Rasa. 0191 232 7799

• The Sky Apple. Excellent vegetarian cafe, evening meals Wednesday to Saturday. In the eastern suburb of Heaton, 0191 209 2571