The Metropole Theatre, 217 St. Georges Road, Glasgow
Formerly - The West End Playhouse / Empress Theatre / Falcon Theatre / Jimmy Logan's New Metropole Theatre
Above - Photograph from 1985 showing Jimmy Logan's Metropole Theatre in St. Georges Road, Glasgow - Courtesy Jessie Bremner.
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."
Right - Poster for "Skirl O' The Pipes" at Jimmy Logan's Metropole Theatre in 1966-67 - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.
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.
Left - Jimmy Logan's New Metropole Theatre, Glasgow in a photograph taken during the run of 'Married Bliss' in 1965 - Courtesy Grame Smith.
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.
Right - The Royal Box at the New Metropole Theatre, Glasgow with Princess Alexandra attending a Charity Show in 1964 - Courtesy Grame Smith.
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.
Above - The New Metropole Theatre Auditorium in the 1960s - Courtesy Grame Smith
The first few years were prosperous with a mix of well produced traditional variety shows, an annual winter variety show and seasons of comedy plays, mostly written by Sam Cree and starring Logan himself. Two Royal performances were produced and Logan refurbished the Theatre spending £30,000 on creating a plush modern but classic feel. What he didn't know was that Glasgow Corporation had already by 1964 decided to concentrate on redeveloping the nearby densely populated Maryhill area and a massive road building plan was planned around the St Georges X area.
Logan had realised before buying the Theatre that he had to have alternative plans for the summer when the Theatre was traditionally quiet. He planned to develop the building adjacent to the Theatre, turning it into an American style restaurant and bars with cabaret. Glasgow Corporation turned down his license application with no apparent good reason. In total 5 major plans were submitted to the Corporation for the Theatre and building next door. All were rejected. With all the major redevelopment around the areas the corporation were not interested in the fate of an old Theatre. One day he was amazed to hear from a colleague that the Theatre had been listed. On enquiring if this was true and why he had not been informed he was told it had been listed 2 years previously and the Corporation had simply not got round to telling him!
Families in their thousands were being moved out of the area and rehoused in outer Glasgow schemes miles away. Roads were closed off and torn up and whole streets of tenements demolished, the new motorway from Charing X ripped right though the area. His audience was disappearing. He tried everything to keep the Theatre alive as well as working harder than ever before all over Britain in plays, cabaret, TV and Radio.
A respite was found in 1970 when the rock musical Hair was produced there for the first time out of London, running for 10 months, playing to over 200,000 people. There was not another Hair after that. On 12th Feb 1972 Logan had to close his Theatre in the middle of a season of music hall shows with silent films his father was producing. Electricity cuts caused blackouts, canceling performances. It never reopened. The corporation were not interested in the Theatre and refused any development stating it was listed. It was only a matter of time when in 1973 the bank stopped his overdraft which had reached £170,000.
Above - The dilapidated and long closed Metropole Theatre, Glasgow in the 1980s - Courtesy Andrew Ward. The photograph shows the Theatre's Canopy still sporting a sign for 'Twice Nightly' performances.
In 1974 vandals set fire to it and the thousands of gallons of water poured into it caused irreparable damage. The insurance money went straight to the bank. For 10 years the building hung round his neck while he worked hard to pay his debts. In 1983 the Theatre passed into the hands of the bank who eventually sold it for £7,000 to a developer who, strangely enough, got planning permission to tear it down and build a block of flats on the site.
Logan continued his career as a comedian and actor appearing in plays, films and Theatre, working around the world until his death in 2002.
Text written and kindly sent in by John Logan, whose uncle was Jimmy Logan.
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