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The Theatre Royal, 282 Hope Street, Cowcaddens, Glasgow

Formerly - The Royal Colosseum Theatre and Opera House

Main Article - Howard and Wyndham Period - STV Period - Scottish Opera - 2014 Development - The Theatre Royal Story 1957

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The Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow in May 2008 - Photo Graeme Smith

Above - The Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow in May 2008 - Photo Graeme Smith

 

 

The Theatre Royal is the oldest theatre in Glasgow and is the largest example in Britain of a theatre design by the Architect Charles Phipps. It is the home of Scottish Opera (the theatre`s owner) and of Scottish Ballet and is operated today by the Ambassador Theatre Group.

James Baylis in a montage of his new theatre building, known now as Theatre Royal - Courtesy Graeme Smith.The Royal`s founder was James Baylis, son of an Army bandmaster, who had worked as a clerk in a brewery and in the evenings helped his sister`s family run Sloan`s Oddfellows singing saloon in the Saltmarket. In the 1850s he and his wife Christina struck out on their own by creating the Milton Colosseum at Cowcaddens Cross. While operating that, he built and opened the Scotia Hall in 1862 in Stockwell Street, later to be known as the Metropole. He expanded to a third theatre in 1867 by opening the Royal at the top of Hope Street. James and Christina Baylis set high standards for theatre entertainment.

Right - James Baylis in a montage of his new theatre building, known now as Theatre Royal - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

James Baylis instructed his architect George Bell, a President of the Glasgow Institute of Architects, to design a complex of buildings in Cowcaddens at the head of Hope Street, containing the city`s largest theatre at the time, a smaller music-hall (the Alexandra Music Hall) above the theatre main entrance in Cowcaddens, and shops fronting the streets.

It opened in 1867 as the Royal Colosseum and Opera House and accommodated 3,000 people in the stalls and two galleries. He presented dramas, burlesques, ballet, and pantomimes, but only one season of opera. Other venues in the city performed opera, in 1868 there were 76 performances of 23 different operas. As part of the summer entertainments of 1868 Baylis presented evenings in his new Royal with Arthur Lloyd billed as the Grand Comique."

 

 

The opening advertisement for the Royal Colosseum / Theatre Royal on 28th November 1867

BAYLIS' ROYAL COLOSSEUM THEATRE AND OPERA HOUSE, COWCADDENS.
SOLE PROPRIETOR... MR JAMES S. BAYLIS.

The opening advertisement for the Royal Colosseum / Theatre Royal on 28th November 1867 - Thanks to Cameron Smith.Mr BAYLIS has much pleasure in announcing that his New and Magnificent Theatreis now open, With Company, Ballet, Band, Entertainment, Artistes, Staff, and Management entirely New to Glasgow.

"The Public may rest assured that I shall not be content until they get their Evening's Amusement at a Reasonable Rate. - JAMES S. BAYLIS." - Extracted from a letter in the Daily Mail of Nov. 4, 1867.

The splendid act drop the lake of Menteith and the new curtain, the Corsair's Isle - by J. Crawford.

The performances will commence with the laughable farce, The Laughing Hyena. To be followed by a miscellaneous concert, in which the following ladies and gentlemen will appear:- Madame Valckenaere, Miss Kate Hartley. Miss Howard Clayton, Mr Alfred Milner, &c. To conclude with the great sensational drama, entitled The Sea of Ice, or The Gold Seeker of Mexico.

The performance will commence at 7 o clock each evening, doors open half an hour previous. Prices of admission - Her Majesty's box, each person half-a-crown. Private boxes, each person two shillings. Dress circle, each person one shilling and sixpence. Stall boxes or lower circle, and front pit one shilling. Back seats (floor of the house) ninepence. Amphitheatre sixpence. Entrance to amphitheatre by side street, head of Hope Street.

Carriage regulations - in setting down, to approach by way of Sauchiehall Street, and head of Hope Street, and after setting down at main entrance in Cowcaddens Street, empty carriages to depart via Renfield Street. In taking up, to approach from Renfield Street, and depart by way of Baylis's private street, or otherwise to the west. No carts at any time to pass either up or down. N.B - no smoking allowed in any part of the house. Strictest order will be maintained.

Stage manager Mr Frank Hudepeth. Prompter Mr H. Somerville. Scenic artists Messrs J. Crawford and Ellerman. Property makers Messrs Geo. Hepburn & Ben Jones. Master carpenter Mr Macintosh. Tradesmen are cautioned not to supply goods to the theatre without a written order endorsed by the proprietor.

Opening advertisement courtesy Cameron Smith.

 

The Only known drawing, about 1870, of the interior of the Theatre Royal, as designed by Clarke & Bell showing its original proscenium and two balconies - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Above - The Only known drawing, about 1870, of the interior of the Theatre Royal, as designed by Clarke & Bell showing its original proscenium and two balconies - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

 

A Theatre Royal pantomime playbill from 1874 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.A Baillie magazine cartoon of William Glover, lessee of the Theatre Royal, scenic artist and producer - Courtesy Graeme Smith.In 1869 James Baylis leased the theatre's operation to William Glover and George Francis who brought the name Theatre Royal with them from Theatre Royal Dunlop Street when it was demolished to make way for railways to St Enoch Square near the Clyde.

Right - A Baillie magazine cartoon of William Glover, lessee of the Theatre Royal, scenic artist and producer - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The Baylis family owned it for 10 years before selling to a partnership. The Glover family staged seasons of opera, plays, burlesques and pantomime. It became the main theatre for opera, and its pantomimes had the best costumes and scenic effects. Lessees after Glover included Marie Litton, Charles Bernard, Fred Sydney, Edward Knapp, and William Rushbury.

A Theatre Royal programme cover from March 1878 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Right - A Theatre Royal pantomime playbill from 1874 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Following a fire, the auditorium and stage were rebuilt in 1880 to the designs of the architect Charles Phipps, this time with three galleries, and the front door became Hope Street. Another fire in 1895 caused the auditorium and stage to be reinstated, with minor modifications, to Phipps design of 1880.

Left - A Theatre Royal programme cover from March 1878 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

In 1888 the actor/managers Mr Howard and Mr Wyndham, who were running the nearby Royalty Theatre in Sauchiehall Street, took over with the financial backing and guidance of Baillie Michael Simons, of Simons, Jacobs & Co, the largest fruit importers and brokers in Britain.

 

A Baillie magazine cartoon of Michael Simons, champion of the Theatre Royal, founder and chairman of Howard & Wyndham Ltd - Courtesy Graeme Smith.The Simons family helped lead the early Jewish community in the city, the welfare of citizens generally and their emerging democratic rights, and promoted interest in theatre and the arts including the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts and the expansion of the McLellan Galleries.

Right - A Baillie magazine cartoon of Michael Simons, champion of the Theatre Royal, founder and chairman of Howard & Wyndham Ltd - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Michael Simons was also one of the conveners and promoters of the Glasgow International Exhibitions of 1888 and 1901, and the associated construction of Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum.

Mr. Howard and Mr. Wyndham

James Howard was born in Ireland in 1841 under his real name Michael Hoban and came as a boy to Liverpool where he first trod the boards. When a young man he joined the company of the Theatre Royal in Dunlop Street as a comedy actor, moving in 1866 to London and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. He then toured with his actress wife Sara Nathan.

A Baillie magazine cartoon of James Howard and Fred Wyndham who took over the running of the Theatre Royal from 1888 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Howard became the manager of Edinburgh`s Theatre Royal in 1876 in partnership with Robert Wyndham, who was a close friend of Edmund Glover. When Robert Wyndham, and his actress wife Rose Saker, retired to Sloane Street, Chelsea in 1883 he joined with Wyndham`s son Frederick in theatre management. Only a few months after Michael Simons formed Howard & Wyndham Ltd in 1895 James Howard died suddenly at the age of 54.

Left - A Baillie magazine cartoon of James Howard and Fred Wyndham who took over the running of the Theatre Royal from 1888 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Fred Wyndham was born to a theatre family and christened Frederick William Phoenix Wyndham. His father Robert trained as an actor in London, made his Scottish debut in 1844 at the Adelphi Theatre on Glasgow Green with his wife-to-be, and settled in Edinburgh. Young Wyndham was born in 1853 in the Adelphi Theatre, Edinburgh where his father had become the lessee. A week later the building burned down and his father added the name “Phoenix”, theatres often rose from the ashes! He worked in a shipbroker`s office in London until he decided to follow in the family footsteps. Fred Wyndham and his wife Louisa Hudson acted on a number of stages, moving into production and theatre management. With the help of a loan from old man Wyndham, Mr Howard and Mr Wyndham built a new theatre in 1883 in Edinburgh, the Royal Lyceum designed by Charles Phipps.

 

An Era Almanack 1890s photograph of Marie Loftus, as appearing in a Theatre Royal pantomime. Her daughter Cecilia Loftus was equally famed here and overseas - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Howard and Wyndham`s regime at the Theatre Royal, started on 10th September 1888 to a packed house, including the Lord Provost Sir James King and members of the city council. A Commemoration Supper was held afterwards in the Central Hotel. The opening night featured Henry Irving and Marion Terry in the drama Faust, followed the rest of the week by plays from Wilson Barrett and His London Company. The Carl Rosa Opera Company “with Full Band, Chorus and Ballet” returned in November, being conducted by Carl Rosa just a few months before his sudden death. He was born in Hamburg and became a violinist especially interested in opera. The operas over two weeks were Maritana, The Jewess, Carmen, Bohemian Girl, Faust, and Mignon.

Right - An Era Almanack 1890s photograph of Marie Loftus, as appearing in a Theatre Royal pantomime. Her daughter Cecilia Loftus was equally famed here and overseas - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The first pantomime by Howard and Wyndham could now take place, and the Baillie magazine reported:- 'The Forty Thieves begins its run at the Theatre Royal. Mr Howard and Mr Wyndham recognise that the Royal is essentially a pantomime house and they are determined that the public shall recognise this also.'

In 1895 Michael Simons, as chairman, created Howard & Wyndham Ltd, quoted on the Stock Exchanges, which became one of the largest theatre companies in Britain. Fred Wyndham was managing director. Deputy chairman was whisky distiller David Heilbron, a close associate of Simons, and another distiller became a founding director, Robert Crawford of Leith who had become the chairman and major shareholder of Edinburgh`s Theatre Royal.

 

An excellent cutaway drawing by John Hepburn showing the 1895 layout of the of the Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow - With special thanks to John Hepburn.

Above - An excellent cutaway drawing by John Hepburn showing the 1895 layout of the of the Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow - With special thanks to John Hepburn.

A Postcard of performers in a Theatre Royal Pantomime – The Forty Thieves in 1904 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.The company ran pantomimes for each of almost 80 years, the longest run of any. Plays, spectaculars, silent films – for a time in World War I - projected from the Dress Circle (with full orchestral scores played), circuses - for a time in World War II - and opera grew up with the Royal. And television would find a creative base there in later years.

Right - A Postcard of performers in a Theatre Royal Pantomime – The Forty Thieves in 1904 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

A Theatre Royal programme cover for the Red Riding Hood pantomime in December 1910 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.By invitation of the largely Newcastle-based shareholders of Robert Arthur Theatres Ltd Michael Simons, with David Heilbron and Fred Wyndham, took over in 1912 the group of theatres first established by Robert Arthur when he was based at Her Majesty`s Theatre, Dundee. Howard & Wyndham Ltd were well on their way to owning or managing some 25 theatres in Scotland and England.

Left - A Theatre Royal programme cover for the Red Riding Hood pantomime in December 1910 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

A Stewart Cruikshank, then of the King`s Theatre, Edinburgh was appointed managing director in 1928 in succession to Wyndham who was retiring. Ernest Simons, chairman now following his father`s passing, also appointed Charles B Cochran to the board. Further expansion of the group took place with Cruikshank becoming one of the handful of doyens who shaped and controlled theatre in Britain. He also became a director of other companies, most notably Moss Empires Ltd, and Howard & Wyndham Ltd became the major shareholders of HM Tennent Ltd, producers and agents.

In 1933 Stewart Cruikshank launched the annual summer shows which started as Half Past Eight in the King`s, Bath Street, Glasgow and later in the Edinburgh King`s. These successfully rivalled and outclassed the seaside revues which normally took business away from the cities in these months.

 

The Auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow showing seat numbers, around the year 1930 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Above - The Auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow showing seat numbers, around the year 1930 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

An advertisement for the Theatre Royal staging of Wagner`s Ring Cycle in 1911, the first time in Scotland and the second time in Britain - Courtesy Graeme Smith.What had been an experiment proved to be the best quality entertainment of song, dance and laughter, changing weekly or fortnightly, at a ticket price two thirds the normal rate with all the comforts and benefit of first-class theatres. The shows usually ran for over three months with Dave Willis holding the record runs in both cities, the highest of many being thirty-one weeks in Glasgow. The Theatre Royal`s main turn came in the early 1950s, led by Stanley Baxter.

Right - An advertisement for the Theatre Royal staging of Wagner`s Ring Cycle in 1911, the first time in Scotland and the second time in Britain - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

A Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow programme cover for 'Half Past Eight', in the summertime of 1952 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Apart from its only loss, in 1940, the most profitable of all the many Howard & Wyndham theatres prospering across Britain continued to be the Royal, from 1895 until the early 1950s when it made way for television; and as a replacement the acquisition was made of the immense and very advanced Alhambra Theatre in Wellington Street at Waterloo Street.

Left - A Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow programme cover for 'Half Past Eight', in the summertime of 1952 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The Half Past Eight shows moved there with the new name Five Past Eight. The Alhambra now became the group`s jewel in the crown.

In 1957 Howard & Wyndham joined with Roy Thomson of Canada to start commercial television in Scotland using the Royal as the headquarters and studios of Scottish Television (STV) (See below). Details from the farewell programme in 1957 can be seen here.

 

The STV period

Looking up Hope Street towards the Theatre Royal on the right, viewed from Renfrew Street during the STV Period in 1960 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Above - Looking up Hope Street towards the Theatre Royal on the right, viewed from Renfrew Street during the STV Period in 1960 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Roy Thomson, founder of STV, and future Lord Thomson of Fleet, who bought the Theatre Royal in 1956 by arrangement with Howard & Wyndham Ltd - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Canadian newspaper and radio millionaire Roy Thomson, now age 60, returned to his ancestral Scotland in 1953 determined to become a Press Baron, and buy newspapers here. He had no business experience of television but saw its possibilities in the USA. He successfully won the commercial TV franchise, aided in part by Howard & Wyndham Ltd, and opened for business in 1957 as Scottish Television by taking over the Theatre Royal for use as studios and headquarters.

Right - Roy Thomson, founder of STV, and future Lord Thomson of Fleet, who bought the Theatre Royal in 1956 by arrangement with Howard & Wyndham Ltd - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Sir Bill Brown, Managing Director of STV, and a director of Scottish Opera and Theatre Royal - Courtesy Graeme Smith.The entrance foyer became a reception and telephone switchboard area, and the fireplace was covered over. The raked stage was levelled, extended, and on one side was built out deep into the Stalls. The whole stage floor was screeded in concrete, with thick seamless linoleum laid over it allowing free camera movement. This left about 160 seats in the stalls. The back stalls underneath the Grand Circle housed the Control Room and its equipment for sound, vision and lighting.

Left - Sir Bill Brown, Managing Director of STV, and a director of Scottish Opera and Theatre Royal - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

In the Circles new boxes were built, next to the theatre boxes, and glazed in to make small hospitality rooms for VIPs, including advertisers, to see the live programmes. Public seating also remained in the central parts of the Circles. Altogether 700 people could be seated in the theatre for its many shows.

All television was of course black and white and live, no prerecordings were possible for either indoor or outdoor productions. Cinema films from America and Britain were also relayed. Videotape pre-recording was introduced some years later.

Altogether five studios were created, three being principal studios. Studio A was the theatre`s stage, with make-up rooms built along the left-hand wall, and was used for large audience shows. Studio B was the main working studio and was built on the right hand to the back of the stage, from which came the News, and Current Affairs. Studio C was added the following year by converting the cooperage next door where television scenery was made initially.

An STV advertisement supporting Scottish Opera, in the Theatre Royal Yearbook of 1983 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Scenery production moved to a unit in one of the shipyards, and after some years three STV buildings were erected in Balmore Road for making scenery, storage, and the garaging of outside broadcasting vans. STV established its own orchestra, and a melodic jazz quartet.

Roy Thomson recruited fellow Canadian Rai Purdy from the CBS television studios in New York where he was a producer and director to become Director of Programmes at Hope Street. At a press conference Purdy said he had three aims:-

1 to give first class entertainment
2 to give Scottish talent every opportunity to develop
3 to provide as many cultural programmes as possible

He announced plans for a weekly variety show, a weekly drama show with Scots actors, a cash quiz show, and Scottish News.

Programmes he would show from the network would include Sunday Night from the Palladium, I Love Lucy, and Dragnet.

By comparison BBC radio and television in Scotland was often stolid and largely anglified; its news reporting was establishment-minded and its journalism compliant to politicians.

Right - An STV advertisement supporting Scottish Opera, in the Theatre Royal Yearbook of 1983 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.


STV OPENING NIGHT

Summertime in 1957 was hectic in Hope Street. New things were happening and “that old fashioned mechanism called a curtain” rose again on the 31st August. After a luncheon hosted by the Independent Television Authority and speeches in the City Chambers the Lord Provost Andrew Hood, dignitaries and special guests joined the audience, all in evening dress, making their way into the theatre, to the sounds of a pipe band playing in the street.

STV prepare for their opening televised production – This is Scotland - from the stage of the Theatre Royal, August 1957 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Above - STV prepare for their opening televised production – This is Scotland - from the stage of the Theatre Royal, August 1957 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Rehearsal of This is Scotland in August 1957 in the Theatre Royal - Courtesy Graeme Smith.A variety show with film inserts and interviews of international and national talent was taking place, including the ballerina Moira Shearer. Her husband Ludovic Kennedy, a newsreader for Independent Television News, was also there. Just before 6pm the audience was asked to stay totally quiet, no noise. Unknown to them, on stage - and behind the curtain - Ludovic Kennedy read out the ITN News from Glasgow instead of the usual London. The curtain rose at 6.30pm with Jimmy Nairn announcing to all viewers “This is Scotland”.

Right - Rehearsal of This is Scotland in August 1957 in the Theatre Royal - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The show was “a sixty minutes tour of a country – its landscapes, its ordinary people, its celebrities, its heritage past and present” with a cast including Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Jack Buchanan, Alastair Sim, Moira Shearer, Jimmy Logan, Stanley Baxter, Kenneth McKellar, Fay Lenore, Glasgow Police Pipe Band, Clyde Valley Stompers, Mitchell Singers, Five Past Eight dancers and Geraldo and his Orchestra. Scripted by Robert Kemp, it was introduced by James Robertson Justice. The show was produced and directed by Rai Purdy and watched in Scotland by 750,000 viewers and by millions more across the whole of the early ITV network in Britain, including the large areas served by the new Associated Rediffusion, Associated TV and Granada stations.

To reach that number of people in Scotland the Theatre Royal would need to play to a full house for about 15 months. The rest of the evening`s programmes on television were Scarlett Pimpernel, Wyatt Earp, and the Office of Strategic Services films and the 64,000 Challenge Quiz.

Every year Thomson made huge profits from STV and declared he had “a licence to print money.” Very soon the profits from STV/Theatre Royal gave him cash enough to buy the Sunday Times and Times Newspapers of London. He was on his way to becoming Lord Thomson of Fleet.

Under Scottish Television the stage had been extended into part of the stalls, leaving room for 700 audience in stalls and dress-circle to watch many of the music shows and programmes being televised. STV promoted plays, documentaries, dance and opera and became the first and largest commercial sponsor of the newly formed Scottish Opera (see below).

 

SIR ALEXANDER GIBSON and SCOTTISH OPERA

Photograph of The Queen and friends at the Theatre Royal, Hope Street to see Fiddler on the Roof by the Scottish Opera in 1979. The first visit of a reigning monarch to the Theatre Royal. - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Above - A Photograph of The Queen and friends at the Theatre Royal, Hope Street to see Fiddler on the Roof by the Scottish Opera in 1979. The first visit of a reigning monarch to the Theatre Royal - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Scottish Opera`s Theatre Royal opening night programme cover on October 14 1975, in original Howard & Wyndham style - Courtesy Graeme Smith.In the 1970s STV expanded to new studios built on ground beside the theatre and offered to sell the Royal to Scottish Opera to become Scotland`s first national opera house. The theatre`s stage, dressing rooms and equipment were rebuilt and extended by Scottish Opera, and the auditorium was restored to the full glory of Phipps classical design, care being taken to retain the high quality acoustics. On 14th October 1975 the Theatre Royal reopened as a full live performing theatre again.

Right - Scottish Opera`s Theatre Royal opening night programme cover on October 14 1975, in original Howard & Wyndham style - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

This was one of the first theatre openings since television flooded across Britain. The Financial Times wrote:

'By means of intelligent planning, energy, discernment and guts, Scottish Opera in the 13 years of its existence has won a place among Europe`s leading companies. One thing has been lacking - a permanent base. Now one exists in the form of the Theatre Royal in Hope Street, Glasgow…. recently occupied by Scottish Television.

In a remarkably short space of time it has been expertly converted and restored as a well-equipped modern opera house with an old-style auditorium. Although a few stair carpets and coats of paint were missing, the opening took place on schedule this week, in a last-minute aroma of scarcely dry plaster and builders` dust, with a special performance of Die Fledermaus followed the next evening by Verdi`s Otello.'

 

A Postcard view of Theatre Royal ceiling and balconies as restored in 1975 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Above - A Postcard view of Theatre Royal ceiling and balconies as restored in 1975 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

A First Day cover, showing the Theatre Royal, October 15 1975 commemorating the opening of Scotland`s First Opera House – a Home for Scottish Opera - signed by Alexander Gibson.A handsome home they have made of it - The side boxes with Corinthian columns, the circle fronts with Renaissance-style plasterwork are surprisingly delicate and elegant. The colour scheme of chocolate brown and beige with touches of kingfisher blue and subdued gilt is extraordinarily pleasing - comfortable, warmly festive, not gaudy.

Left - A First Day cover, showing the Theatre Royal, October 15 1975 commemorating the opening of Scotland`s First Opera House – a Home for Scottish Opera - signed by Alexander Gibson.

Sir Alexander Gibson, doyen of the Scottish National Orchestra and also founder of Scottish Opera in 1962, promoting Scottish Opera Theatre Royal, outside the theatre in 1975 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Born in Motherwell in 1926 Alexander Gibson became the most distinguished Scot in the world of music in the second half of the twentieth century. He made classical music and operas accessible to all. In 1957 he became the youngest music director and conductor of Sadler`s Wells Opera in London, where he made his operatic conducting debut in 1952. He was appointed as the first Scottish principal conductor and musical director of the Scottish National Orchestra (SNO) in 1959, a post he held for 25 years, longer than any other conductor to date, establishing an international reputation for the SNO.

Right - Sir Alexander Gibson, doyen of the Scottish National Orchestra and also founder of Scottish Opera in 1962, promoting Scottish Opera Theatre Royal, outside the theatre in 1975 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Alexander Gibson founded Scottish Opera in 1962, using the King`s Theatre Bath Street, Glasgow and other venues as became available, while at the same time directing the SNO, and was responsible for its remarkable growth and artistic achievement. He continued as music director until 1987 when he became its Conductor Laureate and returned as a conductor many times. He was knighted in 1977, and became president of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama where, in his memory, the Alexander Gibson School of Opera opened in 1998 as the first purpose built opera school in Britain.

 

A Postcard view of Theatre Royal proscenium plaster detailing as restored in 1975 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.The other co-founders of Scottish Opera were Richard Telfer, a cinema and church organist, music teacher, and chorus master in Edinburgh who became its first company manager, and later it`s archivist; Ainslie Millar was a chartered surveyor in Glasgow, an amateur singer and the Scottish trustee of Sadler`s Wells. He was elected a councillor on Glasgow Corporation, and through his good offices the Corporation in 1968 gave a long (continuing) lease of the former Institute of Engineers and Shipbuilders building in Elmbank Crescent to be the Scottish Opera Centre, with offices, rehearsal rooms, and costume workrooms; and Ian Rodger – the most erudite of lawyers, and a part-time lecturer at the University. His wartime service in the 1940s ended appropriately in Venice! He created the Scottish Opera Society Ltd and linked to it an advisory council comprising the four founders, leaders of Scotland`s main orchestras and music organisations and the managing director of Scottish Television.

Right - A Postcard view of Theatre Royal proscenium plaster detailing as restored in 1975 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

A Postcard view of a Theatre Royal side box and more rich plasterwork as restored in 1975 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Although based in Glasgow, Scottish Opera had had been performing most of the times elsewhere because of the lack of a home theatre. Now with the availability of the Theatre Royal it could increase its activity in its home city, previously only 20% of its performances were in Glasgow and now that could be doubled; and, also importantly, rehearse in the same venue as its public performances. By 1973 the plans for its restoration and new life as Scotland`s first opera house were ready and fundraising began, led by Scottish Opera Theatre Royal chairman, corporate lawyer Gavin Boyd, who was chairman of the Stenhouse Insurance Group. Arup Associates were appointed as architects and Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons as contractors and project managers.

The Theatre Royal audience awaits the opening curtain, amidst French Renaissance architecture - Courtesy Robin Ward.Left - A Postcard view of a Theatre Royal side box and more rich plasterwork as restored in 1975 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Chairman Gavin Boyd wrote in the Theatre Campaign Brochure:- “Currently Scottish Opera has a schedule of 107 full company performances in 10 major cities in and out of Scotland and another 14 by its smaller company and 50 by its subsidiaries Opera for All and Opera for Schools. Today while Glasgow is the company`s spiritual home, lack of theatre availability is one of the main reasons why 80 per cent of its performances are given in other cities...

A Notelet of the Scottish Opera performance of Eugene Onegin, in the Theatre Royal in 1979 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Right - The Theatre Royal audience awaits the opening curtain, amidst French Renaissance architecture - Courtesy Robin Ward.

...The company needs a theatre, a permanent home in which it can cater for its large, regular audiences, improve the standards of production for touring and contribute even more to the quality of the balanced life offered by Scotland to its inhabitants and to those it seeks to attract. It needs a theatre of a size and character which will ensure that the best possible talents of the opera world are attracted to perform with Scottish Opera. Presently it is rare to find a full time company of international standing which does not have a theatre of its own. Such a base would provide facilities for longer seasons, a wider repertoire, and greater convenience for a larger public to choose and budget for its opera-going. Opera – the most complex and complete of the performing arts – needs space, time and a well-established headquarters if it is to flourish. From this base Scottish Opera would continue to tour on at least the same scale as that of today.”

Left - A Notelet of the Scottish Opera performance of Eugene Onegin, in the Theatre Royal in 1979 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

 

Opening Season

STV sold the theatre toScottish Opera for £300,000 and Scottish Opera Theatre Royal Ltd got the keys in October 1974. A year later it opened to great acclaim.

The fully restored Royal was seen by millions on its opening night 14th October 1975 when Scottish Television televised live the whole of Johann Strauss` comic opera Die Fledermaus, and Radio Clyde broadcast it in its entirety. An edited version was seen in eight other Independent Television areas. The evening included an opera cabaret inserted into the stage production. Scottish Opera`s production director Peter Ebert appeared on stage at the interval and spoke for all - “Well, we made it!”

The Bust of Sir Alexander Gibson, by Archie Forrest, unveiled at the Theatre Royal in celebration of Gibson`s life - Courtesy Anna Wilson.At 6pm that evening on the new main staircase between the stalls and the circle Mrs Peter McCann, the Lady Provost, unveiled the full size portrait of Sir Alexander Gibson painted by the Queen`s Limner in Scotland, David Donaldson.

Right - The Bust of Sir Alexander Gibson, by Archie Forrest, unveiled at the Theatre Royal in celebration of Gibson`s life - Courtesy Anna Wilson.

A few minutes later the audience, who had balloted for tickets, was admitted and began to wander round the theatre to see all that was new. All 1,550 seats were sold out. Their way in the Hope Street foyer and dress circle staircase was, and is, illuminated by grand chandeliers from the Marlborough function rooms in Shawlands. Some years later the company added to the foyer a bust of Sir Alexander Gibson specially commissioned from the sculptor Archie Forrest.

 

The auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Glasgow in 2005 - Photo Courtesy Arla Kean

Above - The auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Glasgow in 2005 - Photo Courtesy Arla Kean

The 1975/76 Scottish Opera Subscription Season brochure for 10 operas in the Theatre Royal - Courtesy Graeme Smith.The opening season ran from October to February with Scottish Opera presenting ten operas, twice as many as any previous Glasgow season of the company and around four times as many performances. The ten operas were Otello, Hermiston, Ariadne on Naxos, Cosi fan Tutte, The Golden Cockerel, Die Fledermaus, A Midsummer Night`s Dream, Don Giovanni, Madama Butterfly and Falstaff.

Left - The 1975/76 Scottish Opera Subscription Season brochure for 10 operas in the Theatre Royal - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The stage was greatly deepened, and can hold the sets for 10 different operas, one being used for the evening performance, and the other 9 stored at the rear. Scottish Opera was able to establish its exhilarating seasons of an average of 10 major operas a year. The orchestra pit now held 100 players, previously 40.

The Programme Cover for the Scottish Opera production of La Vie Glaswegienne in Prince`s Square as part of Glasgow Cultural Capital of Europe in 1990 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.The new Fly Tower was built with steel galleries, replacing the wooden ones, and new flying machinery installed. Much of the original flying machinery appeared to date from 1895. There had been 50 three line hemp hand lines with most of the sets having dyed strands to indicate the different lines, and relying on manhandling from the fly gallery. Twelve counterweighted sets had been added over the years. All new lines were now counterweighted.

The Dome above the auditorium of the Theatre Royal Glasgow in 2005 - Photo Courtesy Arla KeanScottish Ballet, formed in 1969, also made the Theatre Royal its home theatre. In the 1980s the new Scottish Theatre Company, most often directed by Tom Fleming, was established in Glasgow, using the Royal as one of its many venues.

Left - The Dome above the auditorium of the Theatre Royal Glasgow in 2005 - Photo Courtesy Arla Kean.

Right - The Programme Cover for the Scottish Opera production of La Vie Glaswegienne in Prince`s Square as part of Glasgow Cultural Capital of Europe in 1990 - Courtesy Graeme Smith. In March 1990 the Theatre Royal hosted the International Gala led by Scottish Opera, with Scottish Ballet, to open Glasgow`s year of celebration as the first city in Britain to win the accolade of Cultural Capital of Europe.

The Theatre Royal: Entertaining a Nation, written by Graeme Smith and published by Glasgow Publications in 2008. Scottish Opera`s own website, and current activity, can be seen here. Likewise details of Scottish Ballet can be seen here. Details of the 2014 Development of the Theatre Royal can be read below.

The above text on the Theatre Royal, Hope Street Glasgow was written and kindly sent in for inclusion by Graeme Smith who can also be seen talking about the Theatre in the video from STV below.

More about the Theatre, Howard & Wyndham, Scottish Television, Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet can be read in The Theatre Royal: Entertaining a Nation, written by Graeme Smith and published by Glasgow Publications in 2008 Shown Left.

 

 

Above - Graeme Smith on the heritage of Glasgow's Theatre Royal from STV Scotland

 

2014 Development of the Theatre Royal

An Architect`s drawing of Theatre Royal from Hope Street - Courtesy The Scottish Opera

Above - An Architect`s drawing of Theatre Royal from Hope Street - Courtesy The Scottish Opera

The New Foyers and Entrances for the Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow - Courtesy Urban Realm.In August 2012 a major revamp of the Theatre Royal was started and this will be completed in the Summer of 2014 when the corner of Hope Street and Cowcaddens will reopen in a new largely elliptical building, containing new entrances, foyers, bars, cafe, hospitality areas, education space and exhibition areas together with lifts to all levels and centred by an open spiral staircase. The total project for Scottish Opera is costing some £12m with Page & Park as architects, and Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons as main contractors. McAlpine were also the contractors for the restoration of the theatre in 1975.

An Aerial perspective of new development for the Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow - Courtesy Urban Realm.Right - The New Foyers and Entrances for the Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow - Courtesy Urban Realm.

Left - An Aerial perspective of new development for the Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow - Courtesy Urban Realm.

When winning the design competition Page & Park observed:- “One of the challenges of the design team has been to make a special and memorable corner at the junction of Hope Street and Cowcaddens Road. It will be as if a little bit of the splendid interior has escaped and flourished on the street edge, the auditorium and the lantern crowning the busy junction, working together to celebrate performance in the city. It will be a fun building to visit (and open all day); to climb through the levels will be exhilarating, guiding the visitor to the entrance to the auditoriums but at the same time framing the city around.”



A Poster advertising the Scottish Opera's Pop Up Theatre Royal in February 2014As part of the development a Theatre Royal Heritage project is underway and will display the story and use of the theatre from 1867 onwards; an oral history is being compiled; and costume displays will change over seasons.

Scottish Opera's Pop Up Theatre Royal.In this preparation local communities are able to have a visit from a Scottish Opera Pantechnicon fitted out as the theatre, with scenic effects by Kelvin Guy, the theatre`s top scenic artist, and a 40 minute entertainment provided in it for 20 people at a time.

Left - Scottish Opera's Pop Up Theatre Royal.

Right - A Poster advertising the Scottish Opera's Pop Up Theatre Royal in February 2014.

Scottish Opera`s own website, and current activity, can be seen here. Likewise details of Scottish Ballet can be seen here.

The Theatre Royal is currently run by the Ambassador Theatre Group and you may like to visit their own Website for the Theatre here.

 

The Theatre Royal Story

From the Farewell Performance Programme, Saturday, 16th February, 1957

(Please Note that there are some errors in this text and for research purposes you are advised to take notice of Graeme Smith's more accurate article which begins at the top of this page.)

Final performance programme for 'Robinson Crusoe' 1957, when the Theatre closed and was converted to a Television studio.The Theatre Royal has, without doubt, the most distinguished history of any playhouse in Glasgow, and stands on what is probably the oldest theatrical site in the city. It has been quoted as being the most fire conscious building in the city. It first opened its doors in 1865 as a Music Hall but was destroyed by fire in 1867. When it was rebuilt it was called Bayliss's Royal Colosseum Theatre and Opera House, the main entrance being in Cowcaddens.

Right - Final performance programme for 'Robinson Crusoe' 1957, when the Theatre closed and was converted to a Television studio.

Within a few years the name of the theatre was changed to the Theatre Royal and was acquired by two actors who already owned a theatre in Edinburgh; their names were J. B. Howard and F. W. Wyndham. Unfortunately in 1879 the theatre was once again destroyed by fire and during the subsequent reconstruction the opportunity was taken to transfer the main entrance round the corner into Hope Street. On the mosaic floor of the main entrance it is still possible to see the date: 1880.

On March 1st, 1891 the theatre was for the third time laid waste by fire. This fire occurred only a few days before the property was to be taken over by the limited company formed by J. H. Howard and F. W. Wyndham and only a day or two after the two partners had allowed the insurance to lapse. As private individuals however, they had to find the money for the new theatre. Within only a few months the work was completed and on September 9th, 1895, the building which we know today as the Theatre Royal was opened with a visit by the distinguished actor Sir George Alexander and his London Company. The Company had a repertoire of five plays including Pinero's new and then very daring "The Second Mrs. Tanqueray." Since that date it has been a tradition of the Theatre Royal to offer its audience only the best in every form of entertainment.

 

A Programme cover illustration of the Theatre Royal in the late 1930s - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Many of our greatest stars of the theatre have played at the Royal: Sir Herbert Tree, Mrs. Pat Campbell, Lewis Waller, Sarah Bernhardt, Maud Allen the dancer, Coquelin, the great French actor. There was also Sir Frank Benson, the great Shakespearian actor, who was followed in later years by Henry Baynton and Donald Wolfit.

Accoustically it is among the finest in the country. Built in the shape of a bell, every word spoken or sung on the stage can be heard clearly in all parts of the house; because of this every opera company of note has appeared at the Theatre Royal.

Left - A Programme cover illustration of the Theatre Royal in the late 1930s - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Even the cinema has played its part in the entertainment of Theatre Royal audiences with such classics as "The Birth of a Nation," "Hearts of the World," and later the German "Dr. Mabuse."

It is probably pantomime that will linger longest in the memories of Glaswegians. In the nineties it was the principal boy who was the main attraction: Marie Loftus played principal boy in 1889, 1895 and 1899, Vesta Tilley "the darling of the Music Hall" in 1892 and 1896, and Evie Green in 1898. Gradually however, as the years passed it was the comedians who became the star attraction and in 1905 Sir Harry Lauder stopped the show night after night with his song "My Scotch Bluebell." At the end of the first verse a little girl emerged from the wings to whom he sang the chorus. That little girl was later to become Jose Collins of "Maid of the Mountains" fame.

 

The Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow in 2003 - Photo M.L.In more recent years many in the audience here tonight will still retain happy memories of visits by Will Fyfe, Tommy Lorne, Dave Willis, Jewel and Warriss, Albert Burdon, George West, Harry Gordon, Jack Radcliffe, Jimmy Logan, Stanley Baxter and Alec Finlay.

The first break in tradition came in 1919 when the world famous musical Chu Chin Chow replaced the usual pantomime while in the last war a circus on two occasions was the Christmas attraction.

Right - The Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow in 2003 - Photo M.L.

Throughout the years the Theatre Royal has had a firm place in the affections of theatre goers, not only in Glasgow but throughout Scotland. On its stage have appeared the cream of acting talent in theatre land.

And now we, 'RING DOWN THE CURTAIN'

Above text from the Farewell Performance Programme, Saturday, 16th February, 1957. Please Note that there are some errors in this text and for research purposes you are advised to take notice of Graeme Smith's more accurate article at the top of this page.

The Theatre Royal is currently run by the Ambassador Theatre Group and you may like to visit their own Website for the Theatre here.

 

The Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow in 2003 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow in 2003 - Photo M.L.