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Palace Theatre, Dundee

Photograph of the Palace Theatre courtesy of Arthurlloyd.co.uk

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The Livermores graduated to their first People's Palace music hall in February 1891, at the Old Cattle Market, Lochee Road, on a former circus site which the previous year had a portable Theatre erected on it for variety and drama, the Prince of Wales Theatre. The architect was James Hutton and the building was in Moorish style, made of wood and corrugated iron. It had stalls and a gallery, and two boxes. Accommodating 2,500 people, which included a promenade for 500, the owners announced that “with no fewer than sixteen exits the building can be emptied in 1 ½ minutes.” The drop curtain was of Windsor Castle by D'Inglo; the ceiling was panelled and hand decorated by French artistes.

The Dundee People`s Palace of 1893 when newly constructed in the Nethergate - Courtesy Graeme Smith.They moved from that to a better site in the grounds of the Queen's Hotel, building upon a circus property known as the Jollity Theatre which had burned down. With the Lord Provost in attendance the new People's Palace complete with a handsome facade fronting the Nethergate opened on 2nd January 1893 in a building again designed by architect James Hutton.

An adjacent building was designed to contain stables in three storeys, the ground floor stables being reserved for circus horses. At the same time and for the same client Hutton was designing the People's Palace, Bristol in almost identical style.  Anticipating its construction newspapers remarked upon “A series of beautifully-fluted Grecian columns, which are to form a feature of the interior, are being supplied by Messrs Macfarlane & Co., Glasgow.”

“The new Palace is to be so erected that in a few days it can be transformed to a circus. To effect this change, it is intended to make portable the front of the stage, portions of the proscenium, and of the seating. When used as a music hall the arena will be filled with seats and when employed as a circus the whole of the stage will be seated.”  The Palace stalls and galleries seated 2,500 people, and presented extensive programmes of variety, including Marie Lloyd, and Harry Lauder, revues and pantomime. By 1904 it was advertising variety programmes lasting three hours.  The Livermores circuit included People's Palace theatres in Aberdeen, Sunderland, Bristol, Plymouth and Weymouth and the King's Gateshead. In 1910 they leased their Theatres to the new United County Theatres Ltd, and as that grouping ran the very new King's Theatre in Dundee the People's Palace now became a fulltime cinema, adopting in due course the name Savoy.

Randle Collins, son of impresario Horace Collins, writes:- "In the early years of the 20th Century the Palace Theatre, Dundee became a music hall / occasionally cinema, and during this time the Fred Collins Organisation presented many attractions. In 1931 Horace H. Collins became managing director of the Fred Collins Variety Agency on the death of his father and was asked by the directorate of the Palace, Dundee to accept the position of managing director of the Theatre (continuing after the chairmanship was taken up by James Lockhart). The Palace and his other Theatres remained very profitable under his control until his sudden death in 1947. The Theatre was sold to others and all Collins managerial ties ended.

In 1938 ex-Bailie James Lockhart, a former director and shareholder of the King's Theatre, took possession, ending the films, and reintroduced variety and the name Palace Theatre. There was a large scale reconstruction and all pillars were removed out of sight; accommodation was now for 1,300. The Theatre had a variety and a drama licence and, before the war fully developed, popular weeks included the jazz and dance bands led by Henry Hall, Harry Roy, Nat Gonnella, and Charlie Kunz.

It excelled in its new life with variety, revues, plays, pantomime – including Florrie Forde - and circus. Its summer shows in the 1940s were the Finlay Frolics, with Alec Finlay, and in that decade its orchestra leader was Bobby Dowds who went on to become Music Director of the Empire Theatre, Glasgow.  Variety headliners over the years included GH. Elliot, Dave Willis, Harry Gordon, Tommy Morgan, Jack Anthony, Alec Finlay, Jack Radcliffe, Lex McLean, Denny Willis, Margo Henderson and Lena Martell. 

A Dundee Theatre Royal programme with Calum Kennedy in 1965 - Courtesy Colin Calder.As an experiment, for one week in 1958, Howard & Wyndham Ltd staged their Edinburgh version of Five Past Eight once it finished its season in Edinburgh, and in 1963 Dundee Repertory staged repertory weeks at the Palace when their own base was burned down.

In 1965 an Aberdeen consortium led by the irrepressible Calum Kennedy took over, but lasted only one year. He renamed the theatre The Theatre Royal. However the refurbishment and the costs of performers such as Frankie Vaughan and Billy Cotton exceeded income.

For the next six years the Theatre was successfully controlled by the singing duo The Alexander Brothers and general manager George Clarkson.The brothers had summer and winter seasons each year. They added to the bill of fare, by arrangement with Howard & Wyndham, two winters of the Jamie pantomimes, starting in 1966 with A Wish for Jamie and the following winter A Love for Jamie – with principals different from the original casts.

The major Jamie pantomimes had run for four years at the Alhambra Theatre, Glasgow and would run for a further six years across Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Newcastle. In 1970 Jack Milroy and Rikki Fulton came as Francie & Josie.  After 1971 the Theatre went over to bingo and then disco before being consumed by fire in October 1977 and subsequently demolished.

The above information on the Palace Theatre, Dundee was written for the Arthur Lloyd site by Graeme Smith in February 2013.

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