this Glasgow theatre has seen it all

From Charlie Chaplin to Jimmy Krankie: this Glasgow theatre has seen it all (Image: Archive image. Newsquest.)

Just as February 29 doesn’t come along very often, neither does a venue as special as the Glasgow theatre which opened on that day in 1904.

The Pavilion Theatre was designed by Bertie Crew, one of the country’s leading theatre architects who was also responsible for London’s Piccadilly Theatre, Manchester’s Palace Theatre, and the Brighton Hippodrome.

Along with the Glasgow Hippodrome in New City Road and the Palace in the Gorbals, the Pavilion was one of Thomas Barrasford’s chain of luxurious new British music halls which popped up around the UK around the turn of the century.

Glasgow Times: Pavilion Theatre 1969

Glasgow Times: Pavilion Theatre 1969


Apart from undergoing a refit after a fire at a nearby nightclub, little has changed in the theatre’s design and layout. Crewe used a style known as Rococo from the French Renaissance period.

The theatre’s owners, Pavilion Ltd, once described the interior as ‘pure Louis XV’.

The grand entrance hall has a mosaic floor and mahogany fittings, with a grand staircase adorned in white and gold mosaic and the ground floor leading into the foyer.

Glasgow Times: Billy Connolly at the Pavilion

Glasgow Times: Billy Connolly at the Pavilion

Billy Connolly at the Pavilion

The seats are designed in tip-up fashion in plush red velvet, and you’ll never be stuck with an obscured view, as the 76-foot auditorium does not have one single column.

In its early days, the Pavilion’s stage was graced by most of the world’s then-leading music hall artists, including Harry Lauder, Little Tich and Florrie Forde.

An aspiring young performer who had not long finished a tour as a member of the clog-dancing troupe the Eight Lancashire Lads also made an impression on the Pavilion audience for his comedic talents– a then-unknown Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr.

Glasgow Times: Charlie Chaplin

Glasgow Times: Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin

While we all recognise the name Charlie Chaplin as the star of iconic films such as The Kid, The Gold Rush, and The Great Dictator, it is rather incredible to think that he once stepped out onto the Pavilion’s stage as an unknown music hall act.

For nearly four decades, the theatre was managed by Fred Collins and his family. In his heyday, Fred had written over 300 songs for performers such as Harry Lauder, and when he took over the running of the Pavilion, he began producing pantomimes.

His company made all the props and scenery for the shows at their workshop in Edinburgh.

Glasgow Times: Fred Collins

Glasgow Times: Fred Collins

Fred Collins

Fred’s son Horace was a keen filmmaker, and his footage has been restored and set to music by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera and Glasgow University.

Examples include a recording of a 1936 performance of Sinbad the Sailor starring Dave Wallis, and Forty Thieves starring G. H. Elliot and Jack Anthony was filmed in colour during its 1937-38 run at the Pavilion.

With a Glaswegian spin on children’s classics, pantomimes have entertained the city for decades.

Glasgow Times: Children's visit to a pantomime at the Pavilion

Glasgow Times: Children’s visit to a pantomime at the Pavilion

Children’s visit to a pantomime at the Pavilion

Some of the Pavilion’s most notable and regular panto stars include Pop Idol winner Michelle McManus, River City’s Stephen Purdon, comedian Jim Davidson and The Krankies.

A 2004 performance of Jack and the Beanstalk was disrupted when Janette ‘Wee Jimmy’ Krankie fell and became seriously injured, but she soon made a full recovery.

The Pavilion is still known to showcase a variety of talent, not just pantomimes, especially since it reinvented itself in 2007 as the Scottish National Theatre of Variety.

The venue is a popular one for receiving plays, comedians on tour, and more alternative shows. One of the biggest-selling acts to hit the stage is The Mighty Boosh.

They have performed several times over the last 20 years, and their Boosh Live shows in 2008 set a record for the fastest-selling act ever at the Pavilion, with tickets selling out in 3 hours for both nights.

For now, the theatre’s future remains unwritten as it was put on the market last year for a value of £3.9million.

Iain Gordon, who has been managing the venue for 40 years after saving it from potential financial ruin in the 1980s, has said that there will be “no further discussions” on the sale.   

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