Posts Tagged ‘tyneside’

Love them or hate them, reality TV shows are now a huge part of modern popular culture. The UK has embraced this form of mindless reality television within the past several years. The US gave us Laguna Beach, The Hills and The Simple Life, and so I guess we have them to thank for shows like The Real Housewives of Cheshire, The Only Way is Essex and Made in Chelsea – cheers, America! Although Britain is fairly late to the game in this brand of TV, we could certainly give the States a run for their money if the goal is to satisfy guilty pleasures.
MTV’s Jersey Shore first came to our screens in 2009 and ran until December 2012. The show is a quintessential example of American ‘reality’ television: it follows the highly dramatised lives of eight twentysomethings sharing a house in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. Just two years later in 2011, we were treated to our very own British spin-off in the form of MTV’s Geordie Shore. Essentially the only differences between the two is the location and the accent. The rest is pretty much the same – even down to the false tan. To someone who has never seen either shows, I’d encourage you to imagine a soap opera where all of the characters are intoxicated. Ask anyone on Tyneside about the show, and I’d say that the majority will roll their eyes. Although I myself am not from Newcastle (Sunderland native here), I can guarantee that watching Geordie Shore will not give you an accurate picture of the average Newcastle local, just as I imagine that watching Jersey Shore will give you a very skewed depiction of a true Jerseyite.

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Russell Routledge, Muhammad Ali: Tyneside 1977 (Gloucestershire: Amberley, 2014).


In July 1977 the reigning world heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali, was persuaded by a Tyneside painter and decorator to visit the region for four days and for no personal fee. In Muhammad Ali: Tyneside 1977, Russell Routledge depicts the sense of excitement alloyed with scepticism felt by the people of Newcastle leading up to the proposed visit, placing it in context of Ali’s sporting, religious and humanitarian history.

However, more might have been written about Muhammad Ali as exemplar of the Black Power movement (SNCC chairman H. Rap Brown described Ali as “one of the greatest symbols of our militant black youth and manhood”[1]). Tyneside’s historical involvement in the African-American struggle could then have been explored, tracing its transatlantic lineage from the role played by Newcastle civil rights activists in gaining the freedom of fugitive slaves, including Frederick Douglass, to the letters of condolence sent from South Tyneside immediately after the assassination of the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, to Newcastle University’s awarding of an honorary degree to Martin Luther King.

It would also have been interesting to learn of the lasting effects, if any, on the region’s psyche. Was the city suffused with Ali’s spirit by osmosis? Did the people he touched, literally and figuratively, adopt the facets of his character that embodied an archetypal Americanness – boldness, flamboyance, a drive to succeed – and did those traits ripple outward, to the rest of the community and to subsequent generations, enriching Tyneside posterity with tenets of the American Dream? Muhammad Ali: Tyneside 1977 leaves the reader with more questions than answers.

[1] H. Rap Brown quoted in “Black Leaders Blast Unjust U.S. Conviction of Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali,” Muhammad Speaks, Vol. 7, Issue 9 (June 30, 1967).

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Newcastle Brown Ale (NBA) was the largest alcoholic drink in the UK in the 1990s and by 2000 the majority of its sales were in America. NBA broke the US by targeting the increase in Anglo/Irish bars, and as Richard Fletcher says in The Journal, ‘NBA was a dark beer and it tapped a niche in the US market.’[1] This shows the difference in the market, in the UK, the beer was seen and promoted as a working man’s drink, whereas in the US it was a much more niche market. Andy Pike said in Transactions of the institute of British Geographers, ‘Geographical entanglements in the place of Newcastle are evident in NBA’s origins.’[2]  However there’s also evidence to prove that the brands connection to the North East resides very little with the US, a staff member of NBA said, ‘The Americans couldn’t give a shit if it was brewed in Sunderland, Gateshead, wherever it is…they want English beer.’[3] The US cared more about the ‘Imported from England’ label. NBA’s advertising in the US have been a major selling point, the blue five point star became iconic and more recently the ‘No Bollocks’ campaign. Buzzfeed said recently ‘the campaign is especially brilliant when placed side by side with the bad, base beer advertising of America’s big spenders – Budweiser.’[4] Its recent ‘fake’ Super Bowl advert allowed the brand to tap into the Super Bowl advertising phenomenon at very little cost. The brand had to find a niche in the biggest market in the world and change its advertising strategy to compete. The beer still sells 100 million bottles in the UK each year with very little advertising however the brand had to change its strategy for America.  

[1] “How Newcastle Brown Ale earned its stripes in America,” The Journal, accessed February 15th, 2014, http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/how-newcastle-brown-ale-earned-4400775

[2] Andy Pike, “Placing Brands and Branding: a socio-spatial biography of Newcastle Brown Ale” Transactions of The Institute of British Geographers, Vol.36, No. 2 (2011), pp. 206-22

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Best Beer Advertising in The World,” Buzzfeed, accessed February 15th, 2014, http://www.buzzfeed.com/copyranter/the-best-beer-advertising-in-the-world-right-now

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Over the next few weeks, first-year students taking an Intro to American Studies module at Northumbria University will be posting a series of short commentaries on local examples of the relationship between the US and the North East of England. Later commentaries will reflect British student responses to the American Icons – and the readings of those icons – featured on this fascinating site. It is good to be able to contribute and thanks to Bryant Simon for the invitation to join the discussions.

Of course, one obvious recent example of those transnational connections is Northumbria’s decision to launch one of the most ambitious initiatives in American Studies in Europe for over a generation (see: http://www.northumbria.ac.uk/americanstudies/), but there are plenty of other historic and contemporary, cultural, economic, demographic, and political links to explore.

For example, the city of Newcastle upon Tyne, where Northumbria University is located, was (briefly!) once home to Jimi Hendrix; Frederick Douglass technically got his freedom on Tyneside in the 1840s; in 1967, Martin Luther King came to town to accept an honorary doctorate, Jony Ive, Apple’s main designer responsible for most of what look cool from that company, did his undergraduate degree at Northumbria; Jeremiah Dixon (the surveyor partially responsible for the Mason-Dixon line) was born nearby in Cockfield, not far from Hilary Clinton’s ancestral home; Muhammad Ali had his wedding vows blessed just south of the River Tyne in South Shields; the local Wallsend club won the national British baseball championship in 1896; countless US poets, including, Allan Ginsberg and Robert Creeley, have read at the historic Morden Tower venue; the kitchens at the historic Belmont Mansion in Nashville proudly boasts a huge urn made in Newcastle upon Tyne…and Krispy Kreme have recently opened a slew of shops and a factory in the area!

What else can you add to this list of US-North East connections?

Brian Ward, Northumbria University

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On June 21st 1957, Rudolph Ivanovich Abel was arrested in Brooklyn, New York, charged with spying for the Soviet Union and sentenced to 45 years imprisonment. Few know that Abel was born William Fisher (July 11th 1903) in Benwell, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK to German parents who had emigrated from Russia due to political circumstances. After spending his early life in the North East, Fisher had acquired a respectful education in Whitley Bay, returning to Russia in 1921 after the revolution – his parents strong supporters of communism and claiming links to Lenin himself.

Fisher worked as a translator for the Comintern during WW2, being fluent in five languages. In 1946 he joined the KGB and trained as a spy, arriving in the United States in 1948. He was tasked with smuggling nuclear secrets to Russia although his success is disputed; much information having already been passed on by his predecessors. Following betrayal by a drunken associate Fisher was uncovered and captured. His arrest was hugely significant at the time due to east/west cold-war paranoia.

Fisher was later traded for captured US spy plane pilot Gary Powers in 1962.

Fisher’s case highlights the common fear of communist aggression held by the US and UK in the immediate post war years. It was that same fear that led to the U-2 spy plane overflights from which Powers was later shot down. It also shows the willingness of both countries to embrace immigrants and many would argue that this has been a weakness exploited by our common enemies.




Kahn, Jeffrey, ‘The Case of Colonel Abel’, Journal of Nation Security Law & Policy, Vol. 5, 2011

Whittel, Giles, Bridge of Spies, A True Story of the Cold War (UK: Simon & Schuster, 2011) pg. 17

FBI: Famous Cases and Criminals, Rudolph Ivanovich Abel (Hollow Nickel Case), (http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/hollow-nickel) Accessed 18th Feb, 2014




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