If you say “Windows” to the average Geordie (s)he would probably say “in the Central Arcade” as that is the home of J.G. Windows, a large shop that sells musical instruments and music, both circular plastic and black spotted paper versions. As a young teenager I can recall asking for a single to be played then going into their soundproof booths to listen to it. One 45 immediately springs to mind- Following you around by Morecambe and Wise. (I decided that it wasn’t worth the 7/-6d of my ten bob pocket money). The more esoteric music was confined to the murky basement, where they had a rather nasty phone-dome that you stuck your head in to preview stuff.
Anyway, if you say “Christmas Windows” to middle-aged Geordies, they are probably likely to say “Callers” (to rhyme with Shall, not Tall) which was a large furniture store on Northumberland Street that had a labyrinth of shop windows that felt like they were several hunded feet deep before you got to the store itself. For 11 months of the year they showed off G Plan, but for December they were transformed into a fairy grotto of animated themed figures that drew children with their parents from miles around. It was a definite treat and a threat as well- If you are good I’ll take you to see the Callers Windows on Saturday.
All was well until 1969 when disaster struck- one of the window displays caught fire and burnt the entire building down. Children were in mourning and flags were flown at half mast until a new store was built. This was the new improved modern Callers which became Callers Pegasus when it opened a large travel agency in the building as well. (It also branched out into records in the 70s). It still had extensive window displays but they didn’t go quite as far back and the layout was somewhat simpler. There was one particular window in the old setup that I particularly remembered that was curved in such a way as to look like there was no glass there at all (ast least once all the children’s fingerprints had been polished off).
Now somewhere along the way Callers faded into obscurity and so Newcastle’s other big Department store picked up the challenge- Fenwicks. (When I was little I didn’t realise that unlike C&A, House of Fraser et al, Fenwicks wasn’t nationwide. There was one in London and a handful of others but it is far from ubiquitous. Binns was another big store that you didn’t find anywhere else much as well, along with Bainbridges but they ended up being part of House of Fraser).
On Saturday morning last week, whilst I was in Newcastle, I noticed lots of small children with their parents and grandparents looking into the Fenwicks Northumberland Street windows. There, for our enjoyment, was a recreation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (or at least the Lionel Bart version of it!)
I snapped the various scenes but there are a lot of extraneous reflections getting in the way of seeing what is within. It is strange how you mostly tune them out when you are there but when you commit them to an image they are all too obvious. The various puppets often moved and we were accompanied by a soundtrack from speakers mounted under the canopy.
It certainly wasn’t Disney but it would have delighted me when I was David’s age. Of course, this sort of thing is very common these days, even eXscape has animatronic Polar Bear Cubs inside ice cubes.