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The Citizens Theatre, 119 Gorbals Street, Glasgow

Formerly - Her Majesty's Theatre and Royal Opera House - The Royal Princess's Theatre

Introduction and Early History - The Opening of the Theatre - The Royal Princess's Theatre - The Citizens Theatre and its Company - Recent History

Glasgow Index

A Google StreetView Image of the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow - Click to Interact

John Morrison, builder and first owner of Her Majesty's Theatre and Royal Opera House / The Royal Princess's Theatre / Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, and neighbouring Grand National Halls.The Citizens Theatre is the creation of James Bridie, firstly, in 1943, in Buchanan Street, and two years later in Main Street, Gorbals. The originator and builder of the Theatre in 1878 was John Morrison, the son of a builder in Dunoon. For a few months it was known as Her Majesty's Theatre and Royal Opera House and thereafter as the Royal Princess's Theatre, the first Theatre on the city's southside of the River Clyde. It presented plays, musicals, and pantomime.

Right - John Morrison, builder and first owner of Her Majesty's Theatre and Royal Opera House / The Royal Princess's Theatre / Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, and neighbouring Grand National Halls.

The Theatre at Main Street, (later named Gorbals Street) and its next door Grand National Halls, which would become the Palace Music Hall, and the eleven adjoining tenements and shops were built and owned by John Morrison as part of his own developments on land bought from the City Improvement Trust close to Gorbals Cross, when the city was becoming the Second City of Empire. His building firm Morrison & Mason Ltd became one of the largest in the country, building the City Chambers, Merchants House, Glasgow Stock Exchange, People's Palace on Glasgow Green, Clyde Navigation Trust headquarters, Coats Memorial Church, Paisley and much more. In 1903 his company built the King's Theatre, Bath Street, for Howard & Wyndham Ltd, soon followed by the Coliseum Theatre, Eglinton Street for Moss Empires Ltd. On a smaller scale his company rebuilt the Star Music Hall in Watson Street, Gallowgate in 1881 when it became known as the Shakespeare Music Hall leased to Arthur Lloyd, and later the Queen's Theatre.

Gorbals Cross, Glasgow in the 1900s -  Courtesy Graeme Smith.His palatial mansion in Pollokshields is now Sherbrooke Castle Hotel. In the 1920s the Morrison family switched to whisky distilling, including Morrison Bowmore Distillery, and very recently opening their Clydeside Distillery and visitor centre on the banks of the river next to the Scottish Exhibition Centre which sits atop the huge Queen's Dock built by John Morrison's company.

Left - Gorbals Cross, Glasgow in the 1900s viewing west. The tram has just crossed the Stockwell bridge over the Clyde heading south on Main Street(Gorbals) very soon to pass the Royal Princess's Theatre (out of view) - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Morrison got Dean of Guild Court permission in June 1878 to build the Theatre and Halls, a year after he started building the tenements.

James Sellars, architect of Her Majesty's Theatre and Royal Opera House / The Royal Princess's Theatre / Citizens Theatre, Glasgow.Designed by architect James Sellars (who designed St Andrew's Halls, Charing Cross in 1873 and then designed the Scotia/Metropole Theatre in Stockwell Street in its new form of 1875 for the Baylis family) the Theatre seated 2,500 people, across its stalls, dress circle / balcony and gallery. Boxes were added in later years. The two galleries are of horseshoe shape, and the proscenium stage opening is 27 feet wide.

Right - James Sellars, architect of Her Majesty's Theatre and Royal Opera House / The Royal Princess's Theatre / Citizens Theatre, Glasgow.

Reflecting the quality of Morrison's work the new building was very safety conscious, substantially built; with fire hydrants on each level and on stage. The stairways were extremely wide and the lobbies spacious. John Morrison commissioned the doyen of sculptors John Mossman to create the six statues which adorned the roof line, above the classical Corinthian columns of the facade. These are of Shakespeare, Burns, and four muses. The columns, made originally by John Mossman, came from the headquarters of the Union Bank of Scotland in Ingram Street – a building which continues today as the Corinthian facing towards George Square - which was being enlarged and deepened and would have new columns in front of it.

A Newspaper Advertisement for Her Majesty's Theatre, Glasgow, 15th February, 1879 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.As Her Majesty's Theatre and Royal Opera House, Morrison leased it in December 1878 to James Frederick McFadyen, who had studied at Glasgow University in the 1860s and then become a lessee of Theatres in England.  He was possibly related to two generations of McFadyens who had a music-publishing business in the City's Wilson Street.

Left - A Newspaper Advertisement for Her Majesty's Theatre, Glasgow, 15th February, 1879 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

McFadyen was assisted by his wife, actress and vocalist Carrie Nelson – who had gone as a child artiste to Australasia and then as one of the two Nelson Sisters performing in America, thereafter back to Britain. For a period she was the directress of the Operetta House, Edinburgh. During 1878 she was a leading member of the stock company of the Prince of Wales Theatre, Cowcaddens, as it toured Scotland with her starring in The Daughter of the Regiment and other productions.

Their opening pantomime was Ali Baba or the Forty Thieves, with Carrie Nelson as principal boy. Into 1879 it became Ali Baba or the Naughty Bankers when the trial started of the directors who had caused the financial failure of the City of Glasgow Bank . By July 1879, perhaps affected by the bank collapse eight months earlier, McFadyen came to a stop.

McFadyen's manager of the new Theatre was George H. Burnside, previously of the Gaiety/Empire Theatre in Sauchiehall Street. His five-year-old son Robert H. Burnside would go on to become one of the most influential artistic directors in New York in the early 20th century when he controlled its 5,200 seater Hippodrome, the largest Theatre ever known there, with its stage 12 times larger than any Broadway Theatre.

The Opening of Her Majesty's Theatre and Opera House

From the ERA, 5th of January 1879

This magnificent Theatre, which has been in the course of erection during the past seven months, was opened to the public on Saturday evening, 28th December, 1878, under the management of Mr J. F. M'Fadyen. The event is one of more than ordinary importance in the theatrical annals of Glasgow, inasmuch as the new house is on the south side of the river, where, hitherto, no place of dramatic entertainment has ever existed. Within the last few years several schemes for the erection of a south-side Theatre have been proposed, and in one instance endeavours were made to promote a joint-stock company with that object in view. Plans were even prepared, and a prospectus issued pointing to the purchase of an eligible site in Carlton-place; but there the matter ended, and our fellow citizens "across the water" were yet without a dramatic retreat of their own. That state of affairs has now, however, been altered by the enterprise of Mr John Morrison, the Proprietor and builder of "Her Majesty's," which for elegance, comfort, and completeness is unsurpassed in Scotland.

The building, which also comprises a commodious suite of assembly halls, is situated in Main-street, Gorbals, one of the most populous districts of the city. The frontage is in the Doric style, with a row of six fluted columns supporting an ornamental entablature, which is surmounted by six large figures. At the two extremities are capital statues of Shakespeare and Burns, the figures between them representing Tragedy, Comedy, Music, and Burlesque. The general effect of the façade is at once graceful and imposing.

The principal entrance from Main-street is 12 feet wide, and leads first of all into a vestibule 30 feet by 25 feet, from which access is gained to stalls and dress-circle, the former being fitted up with luxurious chairs in crimson velvet. The circle is also upholstered in the same rich material. A separate door, 11 feet wide, in Rutherglen-road, leads to pit and gallery, the latter being reached by a substantial stair, and being seated for 750 persons. The pit is seated for the same number, and the house can accommodate in all 2,500 persons.

The Auditorium of the Citizens Theatre - Courtesy The Citizens Theatre

Above - The Auditorium of the Citizens Theatre today, formerly Her Majesty's Theatre - Courtesy The Citizens Theatre

The circle and gallery above are both constructed in horseshoe shape, and rise gently to wards the rear. There is a corresponding incline from the stalls to the back of the pit, and a clear view of the stage can thus be had from all parts of the house. From the stage to the back of the pit the distance is 60 feet, with a width of 55 feet, while the measurement from footlights to middle of circle is 30 feet.

The roof is covered to the height of eight feet with ornamental ribs rising to the circular ceiling in the centre, from which depends a large sunlight, having, a ventilator shaft above, communicating with the various air openings throughout the structure. Smaller sunlights are introduced in other parts of the house, and serve the double purpose of lighting and ventilating. The decorations, which are of the most chaste and elegant description, were designed by and executed under the personal supervision of our clever local artist, Mr Joseph Sharpe, on whom they reflect a world of credit. The prevailing tints are maize, pink, and green, picked out with gold. The embellishment of the balcony consists of alternate scrolled panels, with puffings of crimson satin, and ornamental trusses bearing miniature caryatides, which support the coping.

All the doors in the building are made to open outwards, and special modes of egress have been provided in case of emergency, while hydrants are placed at convenient stations throughout the building ready for immediate use. All parts of the house are provided with well-ventilated lavatories, &c., stalls and circle having additional accommodation in the shape of cloak and retiring rooms for both ladies and gentlemen. .Altogether, the arrangements for the comfort of the audience are thoroughly satisfactory and complete in every respect.

The proscenium opening is 27 feet wide, and on each side are two fluted pilasters, surmounted by emblematical figures, which, as well as those on the façade, are the work of Mr Young, Dumbarton-road. Behind the curtain the stage has a depth of 42 feet, with a width equal to that of the auditorium, while the depth of the cellar is 28 feet, The usual galleries are run along the side walls at a height of 25 feet above the stage, and on this level also, but at the very back of the stage, is a spacious painting room. The stage itself is fitted up with all the most modern machinery and appliances that money could procure. The comfort of the artists, too, has received the most careful attention. The dressing-rooms, of which there are a great many, have each a fire-place and a plentiful supply of water. There is also a green-room, band-room, large supers-room, property-room, and wardrobe, all of which, as well as the dressing-rooms, are in the rear of the stage, while on either side are a scene dock and carpenter's shop. The lime-light tanks - the finest in Scotland - and gas-meter are in a shed outside the main building so that, should any accident occur, the audience will be beyond danger. No cost has been spared in the construction of the Theatre, the end in view being completeness in all departments, and that end has certainly been attained. The architect is Sir George Douglas West, George-street [see note], Mr Morrison (Proprietor) himself being the builder. The woodwork was executed by Mr James Morrison, the gas-fitting and ventilating by Messrs D. and G. Graham, the machinery of the stage by Mr Farrel (resident carpenter) and assistants, the upholstering by Messrs F. and T. Smith, Union-street, and the painting by Mr Edgar. The splendid act-drop is the work of Mr John Connor, and when disclosed excited great admiration. It may be added that the walls of the building and also the staircases are constructed of stone.

The Pantomime of Ali Brba; or the Forty Thieves, was the opening attraction. Previous, however, to the commencement of the performance the National Anthem was sung by the entire strength of the company. As might have been expected, the house was crowded in all parts.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 5th of January 1879.

NB. The ERA article shown above suggests that the architect of the Theatre was Sir George Douglas West but this is thought to be an error. Archibald Campbell Douglas, who had his own architectural firm in Glasgow, joined with James Sellars to form Campbell Douglas & Sellars, and it is this architectural firm that is thought to be responsible for the Theatre.

Renaming to The Royal Princess's Theatre

Gorbals Street, formerly Main Street, Glasgow in 1945, showing the Royal Princess's Theatre façade, and to its right the entrance to its sister Palace Theatre, formerly the Grand National Halls - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Above - Gorbals Street, formerly Main Street, Glasgow in 1945, showing the Royal Princess's Theatre façade, and to its right the entrance to its sister Palace Theatre, formerly the Grand National Halls - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

H. Cecil Beryl, lessee of the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Harcourt Cecil Beryl took up the lease from December 1879, with the Theatre now named the Royal Princess's Theatre (the "Royal" was to counter the publicity of the redesigned Theatre Royal in Hope Street reappearing in 1880.) He and his younger brother had been expected to follow their father's footsteps, Mr Sparrow of Norwich, and join his law firm but instead they sought theatrical careers, with both changing their names. His brother was John Henry Savile who in twenty years' time would become head of Paisley Theatre and add Perth Theatre to his bow.

Right - H. Cecil Beryl, lessee of the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The Good Templars Harmonic Association, under the presidency of Mr E. Freer of the Royal Standard Hotel, 35 Main Street – soiree and supper purveyor - and operator of the Standard Halls nearby, leased the Grand National Halls and rooms adjoining the Theatre from 1878 from John Morrison. (The Standard Halls became the first synagogue on the south-side.)

The Princess's Theatre, Glasgow in 1934.The Association also provided Saturday concerts and penny-bursts at the Albion Hall, the Wellington Palace and the Mechanics Hall. The new National Hall was as large as the Wellington Palace Hall and could seat 3,000 (for tea 1,600). It had a stage, dressing-rooms, balcony and gallery.

Left - The Princess's Theatre, Glasgow in 1934.

There were five Lesser Halls seating from 750 to 200 persons; and seven large rooms for smaller meetings. The Halls and saloons hosted concerts, temperance variety, soirees, weddings, meetings and lectures. When it became the Palace Variety Theatre the smaller saloons continued for public meetings. Mr Freer's brother Walter Freer became the first and enterprising general manager of Glasgow Corporation's halls including the famous St Andrew's Halls and the Kelvin Hall.

An 1881 Directory Advert for the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow - Courtesy Graeme Smith.H. Cecil Beryl joined by his wife, actress Marisa Eversfield, had been manager of the Globe Theatre, Glasgow and later of the Prince of Wales Theatre, Cowcaddens. Back in his native Norwich area he became manager of a touring company with its base in the Masonic Theatre, Lincoln.

Right - An 1881 Directory Advert for the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

A Newspaper Advertisement from December 1889, for the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow Pantomime.An act-drop of the Bosphorous was unveiled, drawn by W. W. Small, the resident artist. A canopy over the pavement was added, complete with lanterns. The vestibule was now decorated with medallions, encircled by a rich floral design and "the doors leading to the balcony and stalls – these fertile sources of draughts and discomfort – have been provided with curtains and silent doors." The opening drama was New Babylon, including a scene at Tattersall's with live horses and ponies, and a ball-room at Cremorne Pleasure Gardens, with its bandstand and 2,000 lights.

Left - A Newspaper Advertisement from December 1889, for the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow Pantomime.

Twenty six of the nimble and witty pantomimes staged by Beryl and Waldon, were written by the famed Fred Locke, of Glasgow, whose pantomimes – for many impresarios - were enjoyed throughout Britain and Ireland over three decades. Previously a clerk in Glasgow for the Paisley thread-makers J. & P. Coats, Locke enjoyed theatrical stage management and had assisted at the Globe Theatre in Tobago Street when it was managed by Goddard Wyatt and Cecil Beryl. As a young man Locke, real name Fred Scobie, stayed in Main Street, Gorbals. On taking the Princess's Theatre, Cecil Beryl gave him his first commission as a pantomime writer. At times he had as many as eight libretti placed at Christmas, and his total was well into hundreds. A playbill of the Theatre's 1885 pantomime can be seen here. With the overture at 7.30pm ahead of three hours of hearty laughter Beryl's adverts stated at the foot "Performance Terminates in Time for Pantomime Trains and Tram Cars."

Under Cecil Beryl it was the only Theatre in Glasgow that was open all year round. After seven fruitful years, theatrical management now sat heavily on him. It was in February 1887 that Beryl assumed a new business partner, Richard Waldon, after Waldon's pantomime success as The Wicked Uncle in Babes in the Wood at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh that winter. At this time Beryl had a Theatre in Glasgow, one in Edinburgh (Theatre Royal) and three companies touring.

Rich Waldon's USA Postcard Flyer for Fun on the Bristol - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Richard Waldon was born at sea in 1848 in British Columbia, Canada at the time of the gold rush. His father was a hotel owner and his mother's maiden name was Coleman. In time the family returned to Britain, staying in Liverpool.

He came to prominence in the musical comedy Fun on the Bristol, written by British-American George Fawcett Rowe who had served his theatrical apprenticeship in Australia. The SS Bristol was a steamer plying between New York and Boston and the show advertised two and half hours of "Continuous Hilarity".

Right - Rich Waldon's USA Postcard Flyer for Fun on the Bristol - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Waldon was originally a scene artist under Sam Bough in Lancashire and became head of the scenic department of the Sam Hague Minstrels in their base in St James Hall, Liverpool. On a tour with them in New York he was spotted by a Yankee as a potential burlesque tragedian. In addition to his acting ability he had "a good bass voice." In that city in 1880 G. F. Rowe launched his Fun on the Bristol with Waldon in a leading role . For two years he featured across America in the original company led by Rowe. Altogether Waldon appeared in America and Britain over 2,000 times in the highly profitable Fun on the Bristol, latterly with his own company. He was Captain Cranberry of the magnificently appointed Bristol, commander of "The Dollar Line." He also featured in pantomimes in Britain.

Waldon commissioned Fred Locke to write a musical comedy successor to the Bristol entertainment, Hunt the Slipper, which had its debut in Cork Opera House in 1887, but not with the same longevity. In the Princess's pantomime of Blue Beard in 1887, written by Locke, " Mr . Richard Waldon, as Bluebeard, plays remarkably well, never missing a point . Glasgow has never seen Mr . Waldon to better advantage. His make-up is admirably artistic, his voice is just sufficiently sonorous for this part, and his burlesque scena in conjunction with the prima donna Miss Marie Faudelle fairly brings down the house." The Hamburg-born soprano and comedienne, a star in his Fun on the Bristol Company, stayed on for a second year of pantomime. Waldon had a fondness for Miss Faudelle and left her a substantial bequest on his passing four decades later.

Miss Ella Retford - Courtesy Graeme Smith.He would very soon take over by buying Cecil Beryl out in 1888, after which Cecil Beryl became sole lessee and manager of the Grand Theatre, Cowcaddens and for a time the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh. December 1888 was the first time Glasgow had three competing pantomimes, one at Howard & Wyndham's Theatre Royal, one at Cecil Beryl's Grand Theatre, and one at Rich Waldon's Royal Princess's Theatre.

Left - Miss Ella Retford - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Waldon was an actor in, and producer of, pantomimes, and much later a writer of them after Fred Locke's passing. In his first Royal Princess's pantomime the cast included Robert Courtneidge and Walter Passmore. Others he introduced to fame included Harry Weldon, Neil Kenyon, Ella Retford and Daisy Dormer. W. F. Frame was an already established star. One of Waldon's stock company, which took the summer seasons, was actor John Clyde. The parts played in the summer seasons as an American were usually by Rich Waldon himself.

Miss Daisy Dormer - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Four new private boxes were added. The Theatre's resident artist in all seasons and many years was James C. Bontor, who became responsible for scenic art in all Waldon's associated Theatres. His wife Sarah Logan became the wardrobe mistress. The musical director became Edward de Banzie who also led his Dramatic Band/String Orchestra playing in public parks and halls, the Exhibition Band called upon often for city exhibitions and the Orchestra of the South-Side Choral Union, formed in the late 1860s. He was an author and composer of comedietta enjoyed around Britain.

Right - Miss Daisy Dormer - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

In 1897, ten years after becoming lessee, Rich Waldon bought the Princess's Theatre, Grand National Halls and tenements for £32,500 from the builder John Morrison, who was now moving into his very new baronial mansion in Pollokshields. It was designed by architect Robert Sandilands who was also designing alterations in the Theatre at this time.

In 1898 Waldon (with Ernest Stevens of the Grand Theatre, Cowcaddens) was building the red- sandstoned Lyceum Theatre, Govan which would hold 3,000. The booking of visiting companies would now become one week at the Princess's , one week at the Lyceum , and one week at the Grand. Domestically Waldon had no family nearby, but in his later years enjoyed his off-time at Crosslees House, Thornliebank looked after by a cook and a domestic servant. Both ladies spoke the Gaelic.

A Theatre Token for the Princess's Theatre, Glasgow - Courtesy Mark McBride A Theatre Token for the Princess's Theatre, Glasgow - Courtesy Mark McBride

 

Above - A Theatre Token for the Princess's Theatre, Glasgow - Courtesy Mark McBride who found it with a Metal Detector in 2015 - The Token was for the Gallery of the Princess's Theatre Glasgow, priced 6d, and also has the partly obscured word Rich...' on one side which could be referring to its one time Manager Richard Waldon - If you have any more information on the Token please Contact me.

Waldon and his staff had no difficulty in packing the house and prospered greatly. His pantomime titles included Willie Winkie and Diccory Dok. Ella Retford continued to be a great favourite in pantomime at the Princess's (and other venues). Some of her recordings can be enjoyed here. In partnership with Tom Barrasford – whose Theatre group around Leeds and London was greatly expanding - the Grand National Hall next door changed in 1904 to become the exuberant and handsomely appointed Palace Theatre of Varieties, seating 3,500 people, running twice nightly.

Harry McKelvie, the Pantomime King and owner of the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow - From The Bailie Magazine, 1935.Waldon appointed Harry McKelvie as manager of the new venue, which also featured condensed pantomimes produced by John Tiller's company. The architect was Bertie Crewe who also designed the very new Pavilion Theatre in Renfield Street. In the same opening month of March, 1904, Waldon's Lyceum Theatre in Govan changed its billings to become a variety Theatre. Two years later the partnership with Barrasford ended and Waldon became sole proprietor of his Palace. Barrasford and E. H. Bostock had also combined, building the Glasgow Hippodrome and other venues but Bostock found Barrasford difficult and recovered his sole control.

Right - Harry McKelvie, the Pantomime King and owner of the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow - From The Bailie Magazine, 1935.

Harry McKelvie continued to produce all Rich Waldon's pantomimes, and revues. Allowing for a shutdown each summer, the few months on either side of pantomime had visits from Repertory companies including Yiddish repertory companies.

As with other Theatres the Princess's had automatic vending machines for sweetmeats, chocolate and opera glasses. Around 1914 it had cine-variety in the summer months.

By 1914 Rich Waldon was the busiest Theatre operator, and substantial shareholder, with five Theatres in the City - the Royal Princess's, the Palace, the Lyceum in Govan, the Pavilion, and the West End Playhouse/Empress (which was spawned by the Pavilion Theatre.) He also became a shareholder in picture houses in Glasgow and Ayrshire. Rich Waldon as pantomime writer also had his pantomimes, all produced by his deputy Harry McKelvie, in other venues and towns on both sides of the border for a week or fortnights, in winter and early spring, twice nightly. Venues included Moss Empire's Coliseum in Eglinton Street and at E. H. Bostock's chain of venues, these often featuring Peter Bermingham. Waldon's record of 35 years management of the same Theatre was unique.

Richard Waldon, lessee and future owner of the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow, celebrated in a Foyer Plaque - Courtesy Mike Weir.On his death in 1922, Harry McKelvie, who was now the general manager of the Royal Princess's and of the Palace, took over both Theatres as an unfettered gift under the Rich Waldon Trust, the gift also including the mansion at Thornliebank. Born in Rothesay in 1876, the son of a shoemaker, and moving to Polmadie Road, Hutchesontown, McKelvie had become a bill poster for Waldon and worked his way up the business, becoming known as the Pantomime King, the mastermind behind each year's longest running pantomime in the United Kingdom. Easily lasting twenty weeks and more.

Left - Richard Waldon, lessee and future owner of the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow, celebrated in a Foyer Plaque - Courtesy Mike Weir.

In his will, Rich Waldon made generous bequests to his two sisters in England, and staff at home and at the Theatres. As and when McKelvie decided to cease using the Theatres the buildings were to be sold and the proceeds would go to the Victoria Infirmary - which had opened in 1890 at nearby Langside - "as a memento of me that I have not forgotten my friends in the South side of Glasgow." In time the Victoria Infirmary received his generous bequest, approaching £2 million in today's money.

1923 saw a major modernisation of the auditorium which was now fully carpeted and the walls finished in wood panelling. Later each Spring each pantomime, having completed its long run in Gorbals, would then tour round other venues in Scotland and England under McKelvie. At the end of the first night of each new pantomime at the Princess's he would stand on the stage and ask the audience one question – "Do you like it?" - the reply being a roar of commendation. Harry was a man whose word was his bond – with never a written contract between him and his artistes.

New Year Greetings from the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow - From an ERA Advertisement, 23rd January 1923.

Above - New Year Greetings from the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow - From an ERA Advertisement, 23rd January 1923.

Gorbals Street, Glasgow showing the Citizens' and Palace Theatre Façades in the 1970s - Courtesy Iain Cunningham.In his book Music Hall Memories, Jack House recalls Harry McKelvie... "producing pantomimes on a scale impossible now. The chorus numbered a hundred but there were only twenty real chorus girls, all professionals, occupying the first two rows with eighty local girls dancing behind." McKelvie threw on comics in bundles of six. He discovered Tommy Lorne when he was on the bill next door at the Palace and he brought him in to the Princess's pantomimes. He got him a first class feed, Bret Harte, and Lorne's timing became immaculate. Tommy became a star and it was difficult to get a seat in the Princess's, even although the pantomimes broke all British records for long runs. Jerry Desmonde once said of the Princess's "It's the only pantomime I know where you start it wearing a fur coat and end wearing a straw hat".

Right - Gorbals Street, Glasgow showing the Citizens' and Palace Theatre Façades in the 1970s - Courtesy Iain Cunningham.

The Glasgow Princess's stage with George West on the right and his feed, Jack Raymond left - Courtesy Graeme Smith.When Tommy Lorne moved to the Pavilion he was succeeded by one of his boyhood pals and comics, also discovered by McKelvie. This was George West, whom James Bridie described as a great clown in the French tradition. He wore almost a clown's make-up , usually with a 'fright' wig and elaborately funny clothes, which brought instant hilarity. West created the custom, for luck, of all the pantomime titles having thirteen letters – with marvellous outcomes. Examples include: The King o'Clubs, Jingling Geordie, Tammy Twister, Bobby Dazzler, and Bee Baw Babbity.

Left - The Glasgow Princess's stage with George West on the right and his feed, Jack Raymond left - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

He holds the world record of leading 21 consecutive pantomimes in the one Theatre. In his pantomimes Jack Raymond was his side-kick. West also headed revues around the country in other months and in particular the quality seaside shows at Barrfield Pavilion, Largs. A short film of George West and company in the Princess's Tammie Shanter pantomime 1933/34 and at summer venues can be seen here, and the frontage of the building during that pantomime can be seen here.

A Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow, Pantomime curtain call in 1921 - Courtesy Glasgow University Library, Scottish Theatre Archive.

Above - A Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow, Pantomime curtain call in 1921 - Courtesy Glasgow University Library, Scottish Theatre Archive.

The musical director at the Princess's for decades was Robert McLeod, a successor to Edward de Banzie who moved on to the Theatre Royal in Hope Street.

In 1931 Glasgow Philharmonic Opera Society gave the British premiere of the opera La Sirena by Dr James Lyon, and in 1932 another premiere was staged, this time by the Glasgow Grand Opera Society performing The Betrothed Lovers by Ponchielli.

In the 1930s the next door neighbour cine-variety-house, the Palace, was converted to a cinema, operated by Henry Maitles and family who had a number of venues in Lanarkshire, and after television started it became a bingo hall.

McKelvie pantomimes travelled throughout Britain. He was also the managing director of Dennistoun Picture House and of the Olympia Theatre/Cinema, Bridgeton. On the Theatre front he also became joint managing director, with George Urie-Scott, of the Pavilion Theatre and of the Empress Theatre, Glasgow. At one time he had control of 12 places of amusement in Glasgow.

His pantomimes at the Princess's attracted over 350,000 customers each year. Accompanying its sketch of Harry McKelvie, The Bailie magazine writes in 1935:- "The Princess Theatre, particularly its annual pantomime, has become as intimate a part of Glasgow life as football or shipbuilding. Its aim, for the public, is to provide clean entertainment which can be visited by families."

He was an office-bearer of the Gorbals Benevolent Society; and supported many other charitable organisations. He never turned down anybody who sought his help, and he shrank away from personal publicity.

A number of scenes from pantomime productions were relayed by wireless from the Princess's on BBC Scotland in the mid-1930s, and a brief extract on 25th December 1934 on the Empire Broadcast heard as far away as Australia. Harry McKelvie's last pantomime was Hi Johnnie Cope, led by George West.

When Harry McKelvie let it be known he was retiring in 1944 he offered a generous ten year lease to the newly formed Citizens Company created by James Bridie, who took it up and moved from the Athenaeum Theatre in Buchanan Street. In 1946 Harry McKelvie died, his funeral being held in the Theatre.

The Citizens Theatre and its Company

The original Citizens Theatre frontage, and the Palace Theatre which was next door - From the book 'Glasgow since 1900' Archive publications.

Above - The original Citizens Theatre frontage, and the Palace Theatre which was next door.

A Citizens Theatre Company Programme for 'The House of Regrets' by Peter Ustinov at the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow in 1945, but before the Royal Princess's Theatre was renamed The Citizens Theatre.At the end of the lease in 1955 the new Theatre company bravely decided it should be purchased, resulting in Glasgow Corporation buying it from the McKelvie family and leasing it to the Citizens company.  It was at this point that Rich Waldon's generous gift to the Victoria Infirmary was carried out resulting in the cubicalisation of one ward and the formation, in the space of what had been the Matron's flat, of the Waldon Suite - a dining room and meeting area for the doctors, senior staff and consultants where as well as refuelling at any time of day and night they could usefully discuss in peace and quiet how best to handle a case. Waldon's mansion in Thornliebank was gifted to the local council, becoming a home for children and young people.

Right - A Citizens Theatre Company Programme for 'The House of Regrets' by Peter Ustinov at the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow in November 1945, but before the Royal Princess's Theatre was renamed The Citizens Theatre.

James Bridie (in real life Dr O. H. Mavor) at a premiere of one of his comedies in 1938 in the West End of London - Courtesy the Mavor family.James Bridie, in real life Dr Osborne Henry Mavor, enters the scene. His son Ronald recalls "he was an artist, and his passion was the Theatre." Future playwright and screenwriter of international status, cartoonist, magazine creator and editor, the tall, soft-voiced and dynamic Henry Mavor was a son of a founder of Mavor & Coulson Ltd, engineers and pioneers of electrical supply. He relished student life and creativity and stayed there more years than most. The many faces of O. H. Mavor can be enjoyed here, and here. He graduated from Glasgow University in time to serve as a doctor in WWI in foreign theatres of war as distant as Persia. Juggling his literary and medical life (and names in each) he became a general practitioner and a consulting physician for fifteen years principally at the Victoria Infirmary, becoming Professor of Medicine at Anderson's College, while always encouraging Theatre and drama across Scotland and beyond.

Left - James Bridie (in real life Dr O. H. Mavor) at a premiere of one of his comedies in 1938 in the West End of London - Courtesy the Mavor family.

After the success of his comedies in London, James Bridie became a full time playwright in 1938. In WWII he again enlisted and was on duty across Britain and Northern Ireland until in early 1942 he requested, and was granted, leave to return to civilian life, to become "useful in matters artistic." In November 1942 he was appointed the first chairman of the Scottish Committee of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts - the future Arts Council of Great Britain of which he became a founder member. (This was a body Alfred Wareing had campaigned for at Westminster long before WWII.) In its first year 1945/46 the Arts Council was active in four Theatres – directly managing the Theatre Royal, Bristol and the Arts Theatre, Salisbury and in association with the Royal Opera House, London and the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow.

An Interior view of the Citizens Theatre during a post production discussion in 2011 - Courtesy Tommy Ga-Ken Wang.

Above - An Interior view of the Citizens Theatre during a post production discussion in 2011 - Courtesy Tommy Ga-Ken Wang.

George Singleton, one of the founders of the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow - Courtesy Ronald Singleton.The founding trio of the Citizens company was James Bridie, Dr Tom Honeyman and George Singleton. Before its public launch for support and money, three more joined the group – dramatist Paul Vincent Carroll, accountant Norman Duthie, and lawyer John Boyd.

Right - George Singleton, one of the founders of the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow - Courtesy Ronald Singleton.

Dr Tom Honeyman, another medical doctor by profession, amateur producer in his spare time, and respected art dealer in London and Glasgow by calling, was now the most enterprising professional director of Glasgow Art Galleries and Museum, at Kelvingrove, with queues of thousands of people round the block to visit his exhibitions and shows.

Dr. Tom Honeyman, one of the founders of the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow - Courtesy Graeme Smith.While in London he had been asked to take over the administration of the Old Vic after the death of Lilian Baylis, but he declined it despite Bridie urging acceptance. George Singleton, Cinema impresario running a chain of quality picture-houses, now including the art deco Cosmo in Rose Street, today's Glasgow Film Theatre, was commercially alert. All three were members of Glasgow Art Club but had not worked as a trinity on any project.

Left - Dr. Tom Honeyman, one of the founders of the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The Great War ended Alfred Wareing's Glasgow Repertory Theatre based in the Royalty Theatre, leased from Howard & Wyndham Ltd, and on occasion at the Alhambra, flying the flag for courageous new drama. After that war the Scottish National Players re-formed following Wareing's initiative but had no permanent base. Wareing and Bridie were theatrical friends. In the early 1920s Glasgow Corporation mooted a civic or municipal Theatre, with Councillor Mary Barbour stating that boys and girls leaving school should be offered apprenticeships in the civic Theatre to acquire a range of skills. But the recession grew and bit hard, and nothing happened.

An Audience gathers at the Citizens Theatre - Courtesy the Citizens Theatre.Meanwhile, in Perth, J. H. Savile, who started his Paisley Repertory Company in 1915 at his Paisley Theatre and continued his company when he opened up the new Perth Theatre, was succeeded by his widow and by his daughter Winifred Saville, who became Mrs Winifred Bannister. When that Theatre was sold in 1935 to Marjorie Dence the Perth Repertory had credibility and a base. At its growing Festivals and elsewhere James Bridie was patron and senior advocate.

Right - An Audience gathers at the Citizens Theatre - Courtesy the Citizens Theatre.

The energetic Winifred Bannister, known to all as Midge, now living in Glasgow, played her part in getting the founder trio to come together and to take action. In early 1942 she met George Singleton at the elegant Cosmo wishing to hire it on Sundays to present plays but its stage proved to be too narrow. He confided that he had a wish to develop an intimate, performing Theatre but building restrictions had frustrated his plans. Nearer the end of that year, and after lively correspondence in the Glasgow Herald about the need for a new drama Theatre, Winifred Bannister arranged for George Singleton, Bridie and Honeyman to meet. She would become business manager and in the meantime was tasked to find suitable premises. She looked at halls, old kirks, even the booking-hall of the unused Botanic Gardens station, Kelvingrove Art Galleries (but the lecture-room space was the wrong shape) and other places before concluding that, indeed, the Athenaeum Theatre in Buchanan Street was the only place. Its owner the Scottish College of Music used it for concerts and the new Unity Theatre company also used it from time to time. The first performance there took place on October 11th, 1943, with Holy Isle by James Bridie.

From the start the Citizens was a fulltime professional company. It was formed by Bridie and lead by Bridie.

On the Southside Harry McKelvie of the Royal Princess's Theatre was planning his retirement. George West was hoping the Theatre might come his way but McKelvie generously offered his Theatre, staff and equipment, to Bridie's new company. It would be a ten year lease at £1,000 a year and a guarantee was sought. Out of the blue, and without asking, a gift of £10,000 came to the Citizens from industrialist Sir Frederick Stewart, head of the engineers Thermotank and chairman of the North British Locomotive Ltd, the largest firm of locomotive builders outside of the USA. The Citizens crossed the Clyde in 1945. (By strange coincidence, this was the Theatre which Winifred Bannister's uncle Harcourt Cecil Beryl successfully leased for its first ten years.)

Writing in 1948 James Bridie recalls:- "We took the little Athenaeum (in 1943) for a thirty weeks season and looked round for a producer. We were given a guarantee by CEMA to meet what we thought would be an inevitable loss. It was war time. Actors were hard to come by as was material.

The Theatre had a comfortable auditorium, but few other amenities. But two boards and a passion were enough. We broke even in our first year and made a four figure profit in our second (with plays by Welsh, Scottish, English and American authors). We did twenty plays and took two of them to places ill-supplied with drama. We hit a remarkably high standard of acting and production and chose no catchpenny plays."

The policy of the Citizens' was the performance of the best type of play with the best possible company, and the encouragement of Scottish drama.

Dr Honeyman recalls the time of McKelvie's kind offer in 1944 of the Princess's Theatre: "Harry McKelvie s generosity reflected that he did not want his beloved Theatre to fall into the hands of Messrs Muck and Mick (as he described a particular form of entertainment)."

The first Citizens play in the Princess's which would be renamed the Citizens Theatre was in September 1945 and featured a play by J. B. Priestley. Mr & Mrs McKelvie were among the guests of honour and at the interval Christina McKelvie turned to Mrs Singleton and said: "It's nae very cheery!" Which was true.

The Auditorium of the Citizens Theatre, formerly the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow in 2016 - Courtesy Tommy Ga-Ken Wang.

Above - The Auditorium of the Citizens Theatre, formerly the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow in 2016 - Courtesy Tommy Ga-Ken Wang.

Of many achievements, James Bridie was one of the founders of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947, and three years later he founded the College of Drama in Glasgow, which today is a central part of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in the City's Renfrew Street. Unfortunately he died in 1951, still full of plans and vitality.

Speaking of his plays, Bridie himself said: "I make patterns. I am a carpet playwright. I weave. If you cannot follow the lines of my design; if you cannot read the great Names of Allahs woven among the olive-trees and the scorpions and the stages, at least I hope you will like the gaiety of the colours and the variety of the shapes. Tread lightly on my Berlin Persians, on my quaint linoleums, for you tread on my dreams."

The Auditorium of the Citizens Theatre, formerly the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow, in the 1970s - Courtesy the Citizens Theatre.As biographer and fellow dramatist Winifred Bannister writes:- "Not only did Bridie provide a stage for the Scottish dramatist and actor, and a dramatic school, but he arranged for seasons by guest companies that might not otherwise be seen in Glasgow. These included the Ulster Group, formed in 1940, the Gate Theatre from Dublin, the Ballet Rambert and the Perth Theatre; and not forgetting Bertha Waddell's Children's Theatre (formed in 1927 in the McLellan Galleries, the first such professional company in the world.)"

Right - The Auditorium of the Citizens Theatre, formerly the Royal Princess's Theatre, Glasgow, in the 1970s - Courtesy the Citizens Theatre.

A 1947 Citizens Theatre programme cover can be seen here. In the programme for the International Season of 1956 J. B. Priestley observes: "Bridie brought to Theatre a mind that was large and copious, humorous and witty and philosophical in the best sense, widely and deeply expressed. Our occupational diseases in Theatre are jealousy, envy, malice and cold hard egoism, and Bridie had none of them. Let us honour a great original talent, a most lovable man."

In the first 21 years the Citizens presented nearly 300 plays, including 72 British and world premieres, and reached schools and communities. In the late 1960s Glasgow Corporation decided to plan the construction of a new Theatre and concert hall for Glasgow. This eventually emerged in the late 1980s as the Glasgow International Concert Hall at the top of Buchanan Street but without the envisaged Theatre. The Citizens remain in the Gorbals today.

The Citizens Theatre Recent History

The Citizens Theatre, Glasgow during the run of 'Snow White' in 2003 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Citizens Theatre, Glasgow during the run of 'Snow White' in 2003 - Photo M.L

Three Programmes for the Citizens Theatre in 1943, 1944, and 1945.The seating capacity reduced to around 1,000 and later to 500. A number of studio performing spaces totalling around 150 seats opened within the buildings. The original Theatre stage machinery continued. The classical frontage was demolished in 1977 when most of the surrounding site was finally cleared for redevelopment. A decade later a glass and brick foyer took its place.

Right - Three Programmes for the Citizens Theatre in 1943, 1944, and 1945.

A set of interior photographs by Ian Grundy can be seen at the Theatres Trust database here.

In 2018 the Theatre closed for a well-deserved restoration and rebuilding aided by the National Lottery Fund and other public money, to be reopened later in 2020. News of what events are on, mainly at its temporary venue The Tramway, can be seen in the Theatre's website here and more information about the rebuilding can be seen in Bennetts Associates site here.

An Artist's impression of the exterior of the Citizens Theatre, Gorbals Street, Glasgow from 2020 onwards - Courtesy Bennetts Associates.

Above - An Artist's impression of the exterior of the Citizens Theatre, Gorbals Street, Glasgow from 2020 onwards - Courtesy Bennetts Associates.

You may like to visit the Citizens Theatre's own website here.

The above article on the Citizens Theatre was written Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion on the site in January 2019. Some archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

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