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Interesting facts from the Scottish Music Hall and Variety Theatre


At the turn of the last Century, Glasgow boasted at having approximately 26 Theatres in the City. Today the City only has six main Theatres left, The Kings, Pavilion, Theatre Royal, Mitchell, Tron and the Citizens. Those were the days!!!!!


Music Hall Artist Mark Sheridan appeared in four Panto seasons in Glasgow at the Theatre Royal. They were:

1895-96 Sinbad the Sailor with Marie Loftus.

1898-99 Cinderella with Evie Green.

1901-02 Dick Whittington starring Mark Sheridan.

1907-08 Babes In The Wood with Harry Conlin.


During the recent demolition of the former STV Studios in Cowcaddens, the stone rectangular proscenium of the Alexandra Music Hall built in 1867 for James Baylis as part of the complex of buildings of his Royal Colosseum and Opera House has been found. An article on this find will feature in the December edition of STAGEDOOR. 


Ronnie Coburn and his cast from “A Breath of Scotland” have the nickname ‘Coburn’s Commandos’. In the 45 year history of the show, casts have been rescued by Helicopter from 50ft snowdrifts in Labrador and blown of the highway by horrendous storms. One year the cast once woke up in the morning to find their hotel buried in 30ft of snow and they have also been known to form human chains to get from the bus to the motel due to seriously high winds. A commando course indeed. 

There’s no business like show business!

"DID YOU KNOW!" The Alhambra Theatre, Glasgow staged a Royal Variety performance on the night of the 3 July 1958. The cast included Alec Finlay, Rikki Fulton, Margo Henderson, Clark and Murray, Jimmy Logan, Kenneth McKellar, Jack Radcliffe, Alistair McHarg, Tommy Morgan, Stanley Baxter, Jimmy Shand and his Band and the Glasgow Police Pipe Band.

"DID YOU KNOW!" In the 1920’s, Sir Harry Lauder was commanded to give a special performance in front of King George and Queen Mary at Balmoral Castle. After the performance, Sir Harry was presented with two silver framed signed photographs from their Majesties.

"DID YOU KNOW!" Daily Record 3rd May 1955:

‘The Spring Show: Every week in every way, we’re getting better and better. If that’s the Spring Show company slogan for their season at the Pavilion, they’re certainly living up to it. Jack Anthony, and Chic Murray and Maidie are tops in this week’s better than ever edition. Chic Murray enhances his growing reputation with his novel form of comedy."DID YOU KNOW!" The 1956/57 choice of pantomimes in Glasgow included: 

Puss in Boots” with Jack Milroy at the Pavilion Theatre, “We’re Joking”, with Chic Murray, Duncan Macrae, Jack Anthony and Robert Wilson at the Empire Theatre, “Robinson Crusoe” with Harry Gordon and Jack Radcliffe at the Theatre Royal, “Scotland the Brave” with Clark and Murray at the Metropole Theatre and “Babes in the Wood”, with Jimmy Logan, Rikki Fulton and Kenneth McKellar at the Alhambra Theatre.

"DID YOU KNOW!" Wartime entertainment in Glasgow remained unchanged during Christmas of 1940 when no fewer than seven first class pantos were being presented. Glasgow was the only city in Britain which had an unaltered Christmas Entertainment Season. Among the pantos running that year are “Babes in the Wood” with Dave Willis at the Theatre Royal, “Bonnie Prince Charlie” with Tommy Morgan at the Metropole and “Humpty Dumpty” with Frank and Doris Droy at the Queens Theatre.

"DID YOU KNOW!" In 1962 there was a Royal Gala Performance of Rob Roy at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh in honour of The King of Norway, The Queen and HRH Duke of Edinburgh, two very well know Actor/Comedians appeared in this Royal Production, they were Walter Carr and John Cairney."DID YOU KNOW!"

The following bill appeared at the Empire Theatre , Glasgow. Monday 1st March, 1954, twice nightly - 6.10 and 8.25 pm.



Paul Arland and his Magic Fish -THE MERRY ANGLER:


Derek Rosarie presents his Wonder Horse - TONY


Jill, Jill and Jill - DANCE TEAM


"DID YOU KNOW!" When Ron Coburn received his honour of the M.B.E. from HRH Prince Charles he was wearing his Brother in Law Hector Nicol’s kilt. Hector only wore the kilt once at a Royal Command Performance at the Kings Theatre in Glasgow. A kilt by Royal Appointment indeed!!!

"DID YOU KNOW!" That many of the famous Variety/Vaudeville stars tread the boards of the Tivoli Theatre in the 1920’s and 30’s these included: Mark Lupino, Tommy Handley, Hylda Baker, Marie Kendall, Billy Danvers, Charles Coborn, Fred Karno’s "Mumming Birds", Chung Ling Soo, Florrie Forde, Gus Chevalier, Jimmy James, Arthur Lucan & Kitty McShane, W C Fields and Charlie Chaplin, who also returned to the Tivoli for a nostalgic visit 60 years later while travelling south from a holiday in Deeside.

"DID YOU KNOW!" The comedian Charles Coborn remembered today for his songs Two Lovely Black Eyes and The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, started performing in the Music Halls around 1886 and continued to do so until his death in 1945 at the grand age of 93

"DID YOU KNOW" Doodles the Clown, real name William McAllister was Chief Clown of Hengler’s Circus in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow and in summer seasons he starred in the Blackpool Tower Circus prior to Charlie Cairoli. Sadly Doodles never appeared in the new Kelvin Hall Circus when Hengler’s closed but his memory as a wonderful Clown lives on.

 "DID YOU KNOW" That in the early 1950’s William Mutries Theatrical Costumiers who were established in 1847 had 750 hampers in use, a staff of over 100 and a hefty weekly laundry bill!

"DID YOU KNOW" Clark and Murray were the first husband and wife act in Scotland to be honoured with the BEM for services to Entertainment.

"DID YOU KNOW" In 1957 the Metropole winter show "Thistle of Scotland" with Clark and Murray ran for 20 weeks and was recorded as "The longest twice nightly run in Britain".

"DID YOU KNOW" When "Scotland's King of Comedy" Lex McLean played the Glasgow Pavilion, Mounted Police were seen in many occasions to control the audiences leaving the 6.25 pm show and entering for the 8.35 pm show.

"DID YOU KNOW" Billy Crotchet - "The Mad Musician" was one of Elstree Studios "Three Stooges" before he created his own Musical Clown Act when he then toured round the world with.

"DID YOU KNOW" When Harry Gordon played Dame in Panto, he always made one appearance in a very up to date outfit. It became a known fact that certain ladies would come to the Panto, to see his latest outfit and then go and buy one like in the shops.

"DID YOU KNOW" Max Wall ( 1908-1990) was born in London and his real name was Maxwell George Lorimer and he was the son of the Scottish Comedian Jack Lorimer.

"DID YOU KNOW" Frank Droy wrote all the scripts for the Queen's Theatre Pantomimes in which he starred with his wife Doris. He wrote every script on an F2 jotter, and in pencil, and it was then sent to the Lord Chamberlain to be licensed.

"DID YOU KNOW" The Princess Theatre pantomimes traditionally had thirteen letters in the title. This was because Harry McKelvie who was the owner had thirteen letters in his name.

"DID YOU KNOW" If you wanted a good seat to see Scotland's first Royal Variety Show at the Alhambra Theatre in 1958, it would cost you a staggering £50.00

"DID YOU KNOW" Accordion virtuoso Will Starr was the Scottish Amateur accordion champion at the age of ten, after this he went on to great renown in concerts home and abroad, variety theatre and television

"DID YOU KNOW" At one time George Clarkson claimed that there were some 60 halls within easy reach of Motherwell and playing them in turn could take up to nearly two years. And May Moxon said that there were 20 possible venues to play in Glasgow alone.

"DID YOU KNOW” The great escapologist, Harry Houdini appeared at the Hippodrome Theatre, Airdrie in 1913. So many people wanted to see the great entertainer that after he had played to a packed audience, he then performed in front of a crowd of 7,000 at the road junction in front of the theatre. Standing on the front steps, he was chained and handcuffed by the local Police sergeant, but, as usual escaped from a variety of sacks and crates. Following this, the famous ‘Water Torture Chamber’ was wheeled round and filled by the local fire brigade and of course, Houdini escaped again!

"DID YOU KNOW” That on a few occasions a circus ring was built on the stage of the Alhambra Theatre, Glasgow for animal acts and also a glass-fronted swimming pool with blue water for formation-swimming acts. During a Royal visit in 1963 the Queen and Queen Mother witnessed this very special lavish spectacle, however, theatre bosses were embarrassed when during the performance the swimmers stood up to take their bow and it was discovered that their trunks were transparent when wet! This brings a new meaning to the phrase "A Royal Performance!!"

"DID YOU KNOW" That American comedian Jack Benny appeared at the Cragburn Pavilion, Gourock. In the summer of 1952 whilst Jack was appearing at the Glasgow Empire he had the same agent as a well known Scottish comedian who had a financial interest in that year’s summer show, which starred Jack Anthony. The agent arranged for Jack Benny to walk on stage crack a few jokes and crown the Queen of the Gourock Carnival

"DID YOU KNOW" That in the mid fifties Ronnie Coburn shared the stage of the Edinburgh Empire with comedy legends Laurel & Hardy on their last British Tour of the U.K. Ronnie took part in a sketch with “The Boys” and from that day he has never looked back.

"DID YOU KNOW” When the original plans were drawn up for Green’s Playhouse, it was to seat a total of 4,368. These were divided up with 1,900 in the stalls, 1,354 in the balcony, 1,016 in the upper balcony and 98 divided up between the various boxes in the auditorium. Originally built as a cinema, it then became the Apollo and was then demolished. Many years later the UCG cinema was built on the site of this once luxurious cine-variety Palace.

"DID YOU KNOW” The Odeon Cinema in Renfield Street opened in 1934 was originally named the Paramount and was a large and luxurious cine-variety theatre and housed a 2,784 auditorium shared between stalls and a “Royal Circle”, a Balcony café and Paramount Restaurant. Audiences were thrilled to the music of a full orchestra, a Compton organ with a silver console and the dancing of a troupe of Tiller Girls.

 "DID YOU KNOW” On 30 May 1955 Lex McLean burst on the stage of the Aberdeen Tivoli with his first Tivoli Summer Show and it ran for 19 weeks. On the bill were Jimmy Carr and Vonnie; Glen Daly; BBC Tenor Richard Hardie; soprano Maureen Kershaw; accordionist Johnny Whyte and the dancing O’Doyle Brothers; crooner Larry Davis; singer Joan Stuart; the musical Earl King Trio, with the Moxon Girls providing the glamour.

 "DID YOU KNOW” The Citizens Theatre on Gorbals Street in 1989 received a major renovation and the existing Victorian auditorium received modern Pullman seats and a studio theatre was added to the building. However there is still a remarkably well-preserved set of Victorian wood machinery below the stage, the best survival of its kind in Scotland.

 DID YOU KNOW” Like other Scottish comedians, Jack Anthony discovered he had a public on the other side of the Atlantic and in 1954, Jack did an 11 week coast-to-coast tour of America which included cities in both the United States and Canada. 

"DID YOU KNOW” Frank and Doris Droy took their double act to England and worked the clubs, especially in the North. They had a fresh and successful career until Doris’s death, after which Frank played the piano for a while at the Star and Garter Hotel in Leeds.