The first theatre in Glasgow was built in 1764 on the
present day site of Central Station. But like many
theatres it was burnt down by self-righteous mobs.
Acting, especially for women, was considered scandalous
and thespians often had to be escorted to and from the
In 1805, the first Theatre Royal, the largest theatre
outside London, was built at Exchange Square. It was the
first in the country to be lit by gaslight but was later
In 1845, despite public protest, Britain's largest
theatre, the City Theatre, seating 5000, was built on
Glasgow Green but its over-ambitious size led to its
closure a few months later.
In the 1800s, during the Glasgow Fair, small booths
called 'Penny Geggies' staged short plays and launched
careers for stars like Will Fyffe.
Many permanent theatres, like the Britannia at 115
Trongate were reached by a stairway. It was bought by
the eccentric A.E. Pickard and re-named the Panopticon -
it is Glasgow's oldest remaining theatre.
Forgotten about for many years, a dedicated group are
now hoping to restore it to its former glory.
In 1878, Her Majesties Theatre opened in the Gorbals. It
became the Royal Princesses Theatre and is now the
Citizen's Theatre. Next door was the Palace Music Hall,
opened in 1906, with its famed Elephant's Head boxes now
displayed at London's theatre museum.
The only theatre in the West End, was the old Empress
Theatre at St George's Cross, Glaswegians preferring the
city centre and southside venues, unlike Londoners and
their favoured West End.
The Metropole Theatre played host to some of the world's
greatest stars. The first Metropole opened in Stockwell
Street in 1897, taking over the Scoria Music Hall which
had been established in 1862.
Sir Harry Lauder, who had made early amateur appearances
at the Scotia became a regular patron of the Metropole
in recognition of the opportunities it had given him.
But the most famous international star to learn his
trade on the Metropole stage was Arthur Stanley
Jefferson, whose first stage appearance was at the
Panoprican in 1906. His father, Arthur, manager of the
Metropole, then let him appear on his stage using the
stage name Stan Laurel for the first time.
The classic Glaswegian comedian Tommy Morgan spent much
of his career at the Metropole becoming its principal
comedian from the 20s to the 50s.
From the 1930s the well-known Glasgow theatrical family,
the Logans, ran the theatre until it burned down in
1961. The following year the New Metropole was opened by
Alex Fruitin, taking over the failed Falcon Theatre arts
centre in St George's Road, which had originally been
the West End Playhouse in 1913. And in 1964, the theatre
was purchased by the most famous member of the Logan
family, Jimmy, who sadly died from cancer in 2001. For
years he struggled to keep the theatre going but never
managed to make a great success of the place. It lay
empty for many years before being demolished to make way
for modern brick flats in 1989.
Glaswegians have always been mad about the cinema, so
much so that in 1939 the city boasted the highest number
of seats per capita anywhere in the world.
Glasgow's moving picture fascination started in 1896 at
the Ice Skating Palace on Sauchiehall Street. Within a
year music halls like the Coliseum, the Alhambra and
Pickard's Panopticon were incorporating 'films' into
their weekly entertainment.
Glasgow's first purpose-built cinema was Sauchiehall
Street's Electric Theatre which opened its doors in
1910. By the start of WWII the Associated British
Cinemas, ABC, had established more than 400 cinemas in
Cinemas were big business and no matter where you lived,
there were at least two cinemas within a 10-minute walk.
Glaswegians also went to the cinema more, exceeding 50
times a year compared to the Scottish average of about
Going to the cinema then was very different from today.
Shows ran continuously throughout the afternoon and
evening and had a Saturday morning children's matinee.
As well as a main feature there were also trailers,
cartoons, a news reel and a 'B' movie.
But as society changed after the war, with TV becoming
more accessible and popular and film-makers making less
films for children and families, the huge cinema culture
Of the 114 Glasgow cinemas, less than 40 remain today,
with only a handful still showing films, the rest now
mostly Bingo halls.
However cinemas have made a comeback with the new
multiplexes enticing a new generation 'going to the