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Empress Theatre Glasgow variety collection with Scottish Music Hall and Variety Theatre Society
Empress Theatre, Glasgow

Rich Waldon of the Royal Princess's Theatre formed a new business company with Ballantine of the Pavilion Theatre as Managing Director and James Duff as chairman, called West-End Playhouse Ltd, Glasgow. They built their new Theatre in 1913 on a prime site at St Georges X where several of the most important tramway routes converged at the time.

Mr W. B. Whitie, Glasgow architect, designed the Theatre. It's aim was to "provide high class attractions not confined to any particular line. The directors would be continually on the look out for the best of everything, whether in musical comedy, serious plays or variety amusement."

The building had a red sandstone ashlar façade in Louis XV style. It originally sat 2,200. (Later being reduced to 1,300). It had "spacious waiting rooms for all parts of the house". In the auditorium, which was decorated with restrained Baroque plasterwork, there was "a complete absence of garishness. The circle particularly striking with it's grand sweep and slope allowing all occupants to have an uninterrupted view of the stage without the necessity of ladies removing their headgear." A large gallery was above the Circle. There were roomy passages between rows of seats and every seat had a facility for holding umbrellas and hats. A programme notice stated "In view of the rule of the Theatre regarding the removal of Ladies' Hats, the Management beg to draw the attention of their Patrons to the attachments provided on the back of the seats for their convenience and comfort, viz:- A Mirror for general use, an Ashtray, an Umbrella Stand, a small tube for Ladies' Hat Pins, and a Cushion to which a Lady can attach her Hat, while under each seat is a Gentleman's Hat Rack. Capacious Cloakrooms are also provided."

Ventilation was provided by a sliding roof that could be opened even in wet weather. The orchestra pit even had a pipe organ! A review at the time said "the Pipe organist, Mr J.A. Clapper, L.R.A.M., will be seated inside the rail surrounding the orchestra seats, and the pipe installations are situated above the boxes on each side of the front auditorium. By means of electrical action, the organ - which has been installed by Mr H. Hilsdon, Glasgow - will be able to play 100 notes per minute, this capacity enabling it to render rag-time airs with as great facility as the ordinary organ can execute more legitimate music." It said the organ was the first of it's kind to be installed in any Theatre.

Vincent Potter was the manager of the West-End Playhouse which opened on Monday 4th August 1913 with a variety bill. Advertised as "Glasgow's Theatre of Distinction", the opening show included: Guy Standing & Company in "The Blackmailer"; Angus Strong (baritone); Signoretta Carmen Turia - "The Spanish Queen of Song"; Jackson Family of Instrumentalists; Rex Millar (magician); Phil Coleman & Lydia Alexandra - "£1,000 of Harmony"; Jllen Quin's performing dogs; Harry Merrylees heading an all Scottish Company in a sketch entitled "The Panel Doctor" by Catherine Mann.

An announcement was made that "the programme would not be confined to vaudeville and although two houses a night will be introduced during the opening week this practice will not be adhered to rigidly." Seats could also be booked at the Pavilion Theatre. The then novel policy of mixing variety with plays did not hit off with the public. The Alhambra Theatre had really cornered the market in high-class variety and the Theatre Royal and Kings Theatre presented good plays. The Theatre managed to keep going with variety bills until it had a change of management and name in April 1915 to The Empress Variety & Picture Playhouse. (Sole proprietors still the West-End Playhouse Ltd, Glasgow, although the lessees were now Glasgow Empress Varieties Ltd.) The manager was Henry (Harry) Godwin, the conductor was John Henderson.


It presented cine-variety twice nightly at 7pm & 9pm, with a picture matinee on Saturdays at 2.30pm. The name soon became shortened to the Empress Playhouse. By 1924 the Theatre was still presenting the same bill of fare with James Stuart Neilson as manager and Alec B Smith conductor. By late 1935 the manager was J. Munro.  George Urie Scott, who had been running cinemas in Glasgow since 1910 took over the management of the "New Empress" in 1933, continuing the cine-variety policy until a fire on 13th March 1956. It was restored and reopened by Urie Scott the same year at a cost of £40,000.

In February 1960 The Empress was sold to the Falcon Trust who renamed it The Falcon Theatre, presenting plays. The Falcon Trust wanted an Arts Centre and devised a scheme to extend the Theatre at a cost of £250,000. A public appeal for funds only raised £25,000 so the scheme was doomed. The Theatre struggled on for a couple of years and hit difficulties. Glasgow Corporation would not assist and the Theatre looked like it would have to be closed, however, Alex Frutin whose Metropole Theatre had just burnt down, needed a venue to transfer his productions into. He bought the Theatre for £40,000 in June 1962 and spent £10,000 refurbishing it.  Frutin opened his "New Metropole" on 22nd June 1962 with "Scotland Calling", a variety show starring the well-loved Glasgow comedy husband & wife act, Clarke & Murray. He ran his new Theatre on the same lines as his old one, a good earthy mixture of Scottish variety. 

The Scottish comedian, Jimmy Logan, wanted to fulfill an ambition of running his own Theatre. With the Logan Family connections from the old Metropole he knew Alex Frutin very well and heard he was thinking about selling up so he approached him with an offer to buy the New Metropole. Frutin wanted £80,000. Logan put up his life savings of £40,000 and borrowed the rest from the bank. In May 1964 Logan became the new owner of the Theatre, renaming it, Jimmy Logan's Metropole Theatre. He was chairman of the board; his father, Jack Short, Managing Director; his wife and mother both directors of Logan Theatres Ltd. He retained the house manager, Sonny Allen and stage manager, Willie Walker, both from the old Metropole. Alex Frutin stayed on in an advisory capacity with Logan for 5 months before retiring.

Courtesy of Arthur Lloyd website

Programmes from The Bob Bain Variety Collection.

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