Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Byker (1983)

Courtesy of Amber Films

Main image of Byker (1983)
16mm, colour/black and white, 53 mins
DirectorSirkka-Liisa Konttinen
Production CompanyAmber Films
Financial AssistanceNorthern Arts
 Channel Four
Script DevelopmentSirkka-Liisa Konttinen
 Peter Roberts

Cast: Cathy Chester; Norma Day; Joel Denman; Gwen Doran; Nora Fulton

Show full cast and credits

The changing face of a close-knit working-class community from the late 1960s to the early 1980s.

Show full synopsis

In 1969, Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, a Finnish-born photographer and founder member of Amber, came to live in the old Byker area of Newcastle. Over the next twelve years, she documented the life of the local community in photographs and taped conversations. During this time, the old terraced streets were demolished and replaced by a modern housing estate of more than 2,000 houses and flats, designed by award-winning architect of social housing, Ralph Erskine.

Combining photography, interviews, live action documentary and dramatised sequences, Byker is an inventive and technically accomplished representation of this transition. Bracketed by city planner Wilf Burns' now-infamous statement of the need for slum clearance - "The task, surely, is to break up such groupings, even though the people seem to be satisfied with their miserable environment, and seem to enjoy an extrovert social life in their locality" - Byker takes a more didactic position than much of Amber's work, and may be argued to slip into nostalgia for mangles in preference to tumble dryers.

While Murray Martin has defended such nostalgia as "experiences held in affection", the uncharacteristic lack of any counter-view of the potential benefits of urban renewal does unbalance the film. It is ironic that, 20 years after the film was made, the Government announced that the new Byker Estate was to be given listed building status. A Guardian report noted, "since the day the builders moved out, residents have been divided between passionate love and loathing, and deep weariness with being asked about it. 'They must be the most consulted people in Britain,' Mr Brown [a planner with the North East Civic Trust] said. 'One man told us, 'I'm sick of being empowered, just get on and do something' and that about sums it up for many.'" One wonders what Amber make of that.

Martin Hunt

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Extract 1 (1:58)
Extract 2 (4:57)
Amber Collective (1969-)
Amber Films