Old Glasgow Club
Minutes of an Ordinary meeting of the Old Glasgow Club held at Adelaide’s, 209 Bath Street on Thursday 12th January 2012 at 7.30pm
Ms Sannachan (President)
Ms Sannachan welcomed everyone to the meeting and wished all a Happy New Year. She explained the fire regulations and remarked that it was a welcome sight to see numbers returning to normal after the storm at the last Ordinary meeting prevented many attending
There were apologies from Isabel Haddow, Jim Gibson, Charlie McCall & John McLeod
The minutes of the last Ordinary meeting held on Thursday 8th December 2011 were approved, proposed by Moira Robertson and seconded by Joyce McNae. Since the turnout for the 8th December meeting was so low, the minutes from the previous meeting on Thursday 10th November 2011 were also available and were proposed by Margaret Thom and seconded by Karen Donaldson. There were no amendments or matters arising.
Ms Sannachan requested that members keep their contact details up to date. The last few years have seen meetings cancelled at the last minute due to adverse weather and it would help greatly if any members with Email addresses could pass them on to Mr Gordon, the Membership Secretary. Contacting nearly 150 members to notify of any cancelled meetings isn’t easy. To ask if a meeting will go ahead please telephone the numbers on your membership card or contact Adelaide’s at 0141 248 4970 who will be informed of all decisions. The Directors will also discuss this issue at their next meeting.
Members Night, “A Flavour of Glasgow” on February 9th will start at 6.30 for 7.00pm. The author Meg Henderson (Finding Peggy, Holy City) will be present and will read from her novel “Ruby” set in the Bell O’ the Brae tenements, pre and post-WWII.
There will also be Irn-Bru and a selection of Tunnocks goodies.
The Old Glasgow Club would also like to launch “Mind the Time”. We will ask members (and non-members at Ordinary meetings) to write down any Glasgow memories, a short paragraph will suffice. These will be collected and hopefully published for the club at a later date.
Ms Sannachan also highlighted a talk on 19th January by Dr Tony Pollard of the Glasgow Archaeological Society on “Back to the Front – the archaeology of WWI” which will take place in the Boyd Orr Building of the University of Glasgow.
There was no Secretary’s Report.
Mrs Sannachan introduced Mr Graeme Smith, a Director of the club who would talk on his recently published book – “Alhambra Glasgow”.
Mr Smith started by quoting Mr Rikki Fulton’s opinion that the Glasgow Alhambra was one of the best theatres in Europe.
The Alhambra Theatre Glasgow opened on the 19th December 1910 at the corner of Waterloo Street and Wellington Street, formerly the site of the Waterloo Rooms and the original Wellington St Church. Designed by J. J. Burnett, its red brick and minarets at each corner lived up to its Moorish namesake, the Alhambra, meaning “red fort”. It was one of the first steel constructions in the city and its interior had some elements of a prototype Art Deco style, none of the old fashioned rococco. The minaret domes hid the air conditioning vents. Its capacity was for an all seating 2,500 making it the largest theatre in Glasgow right up until its demolition.
Glasgow in the early 1900’s was a busy, thriving city with good public transport services and its citizens were keen cinema and theatre goers, coming from all over the region. Sir Alfred Butt, a variety impresario, conceived the idea for the Alhambra and in 1909 he issued a prospectus inviting the public to invest in Glasgow Alhambra Ltd. 800 Glasgow citizens invested and the theatre was born. He tried the same in London, New York, Paris and Berlin which resulted in a cycle of variety acts which could take 3 years to complete. Variety shows at the Alhambra comprised comics, mimists, singers, illusionists, gymnasts, tumblers, dancers, whistlers, whirlers, conjurors, memory men, trick cyclists, jugglers, exotic animals and ventriloquists. Business boomed and plans for a second theatre for opera were discussed but WWI changed the plans and an extension was added to the Alhambra instead. Harry Lauder, Harry Houdini, The Dolly Sisters, Fred Karno’s troup, Sophie Tucker and a young Stan Laurel (as Stan Jefferson) all trod the Alhambra’s boards.
The 1920’s brought jazz acts and the Alhambra proved very popular with American acts at this time due to prohibition in the USA. Eventually variety/vaudeville’s popularity waned and musicals like Showboat, No No Nanette and Rose Marie were all the rage. In 1925 cabaret was introduced and musical reviews starring Jack Buchanan and Jessie Matthews were popular with audiences towards the 1930’s.
In mid-1930’s the Alhambra put on the pantomime Mother Goose starring Will Fyffe and introduced the scout Gang Show. Ballet was also popular thanks to Mona Inglesby and her International Ballet Company which brought world famous dancers (including a very young Moira Shearer) to the Alhambra. During WWII the theatre continued to put on productions ranging from the ever popular panto’s, ballet and a turnover of rep companies still performing.
In 1953 Howard and Wyndham, having sold the Theatre Royal to Roy Thomson in preparation for the launch of Scottish Television, put in an offer for the Alhambra which was accepted by its shareholders. In 1955, Stewart Cruikshank introduced a “Spectacular Song, Dance and Laughter Show”, also known as the Five Past Eight show (although on a Saturday there were 2 shows that started at 6.00pm or 8.30pm). These were extravagant productions usually held over 5 months in the summer, starring Scottish talent. There could be as many as 20 sketches some with scene changes within scenes. Lionel Blair staged the choreography. Around 400,000 people attended the shows in an average summer. 250,000 would attend the pantomimes. Stanley Baxter, Alex Findlay, Jack Radcliffe and Jimmy Logan were regular faces. In 1956 Rikki Fulton appeared in the pantomime Babes in the Wood with Kenneth McKellar and Jimmy Logan.
On 3rd July 1958 the first Royal Scottish Variety Performance was staged with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in attendance. Ticket prices were as high as £50 and sales went to the Scottish Theatrical and Variety Artists Benevolent Fund. The entertainers included Stanley Baxter, Bernard Bresslaw, Tommy Cooper, Lonnie Donegan, Rikki Fulton, Jimmy Logan, Kenneth McKellar, Larry Marshall, Jack Milroy, Tommy Morgan, Jimmy Shand, Charlie Sim, Andy Stewart and Frankie Vaughan amongst others. What a line up! The show was scheduled to finish at 10.30pm but went on till 01.30am the next morning.
The theatre itself was technologically advanced, there were 15 dressing rooms, all with showers, a lift up to the stage from the lower floors, automated counter balanced flys for scenery movement, a moving orchestra section which could be raised 12 feet, moving and revolving stages and lavish sets incorporating swimming pools and fountains.
By the 1960’s The Bluebell Girls, 5 past Eight shows and Scout Gang Shows were still drawing in crowds. In 1960 “A Wish for Jamie” starring Kenneth McKellar was introduced followed a few years later by “A Love for Jamie”. Musicals were still popular with My Fair Lady drawing in 650,000 in 1964.
In 1962 the Starlight Room was created increasing the size of the stage, and allowing more impressive and lavish productions. It had 5000 lights. Opening night had Dickie Henderson, Lena Martell, Una McLean and the Tiller Girls on the bill. The last half of the 1960’s had the 5 past 8 show resident in the Starlight Rooms, complete with Francie and Josie. Marlene Deitrich appeared in 1964 to a sell out audience. Startime was introduced starring Frankie Vaughan, Harry Secombe and Shirley Bassey amongst others. Morecombe and Wise were scheduled to appear over the festive period in 1968 but had to withdraw due to illness. The Norman Wisdom Show was the replacement and the theatre made its first economic loss.
In 1969 the theatre had been offered for sale at a discount to Glasgow Corporation. Television and the lack of big name stars in big name shows meant the theatre was unsustainable. The corporation declined the offer and despite many efforts to save the theatre it was forced to close, the last act being Cilla Black who finished her performance with Auld Lang Syne. As was the way with many older Glasgow buildings, despite being a category A building of architectural and historical interest and having been kept in a well maintained manner it’s it was sold off to a company who demolished the building in 1971. Now a shiny new office block its name has been retained as Alhambra House.
Q. How many people were involved in a show?
A. Apart from the performers there could be an additional 50-70 backstage staff for a big production. Not forgetting the cleaners too- it had a very clean reputation unlike others.
Q. Did Fred Astaire ever appear?
A. Yes, many Hollywood stars appeared. Steam ships and later aeroplanes made it easier for American performers to appear. Fred and Adele Astaire appeared in 1927 in the Gershwin show Lady Be Good.
Q. What was the last show?
A. Cilla Black appeared on the final night. Talking about the closure had been banned by the management but Cilla made her feelings known and sang an unscheduled Auld Lang Syne.
Vote of Thanks
Mr Brian Henderson carried out the Vote of Thanks. He started by pointing out that he spotted the name Miriam Barback in an advert for the Alhambra in the 1930’s on page 70 of the book. She was an Old Glasgow Club member in later years. Mr Henderson thanked Mr Smith for his memories of the late lamented Alhambra, a halcyon era in Glasgow theatrical history. He congratulated Mr Smith on the publication of his book and noted that it truly must have been a labour of love.
The quiz was won by Sylvia Smith who correctly identified the fact that Glasgow 800 was celebrated in 1975.
Next Ordinary Meeting – Thursday 9th February 2012. Members Night.
Ms Sannachan wished all a safe journey home.
P Cairns, Recording Secretary.