EVERY time they walked past the entrance to Glasgow’s Plaza Ballroom, Jimmy and Ellen Johnson would gaze up in pride.

“There was a huge picture on the exterior wall, of a couple magically dancing as if on a cloud,” explains Jimmy.

“And whether we were walking past or going by on the bus, whoever was with us would always ­remind us – ‘your uncle James painted that…’”

Many Glaswegians will recall the image, which sat on the right of the famous ballroom’s doorway at Eglinton Toll. It was on posters, too, which decorated the entrance foyer.

The painting of the poster on the Plazas exterior, c 1950s.

The painting of the poster on the Plaza's exterior, c 1950s.

The Johnson children grew up believing that their uncle, James Smith, a young city art school student who was sadly killed in the war at the age of 19, had painted the image.

But when Jimmy got in touch with Times Past to see if we could find a photograph of his uncle’s handiwork, we discovered there was more to the tale than met the eye.

The Plaza was one of Glasgow’s grandest and most popular ballrooms. It opened in 1922 and was famous for its multi-coloured lights, sprung floor and central fountain.

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Tuesday nights were the venue’s busiest, because it was ‘open night’, in which young men and women could come solo.

Generally, there could be 1000 dancers doing their thing at the South Side venue on Tuesdays – the usual capacity of the hall was around 900.

The scope of dancing at the Plaza had been widened in recent years thanks to television. Patrons had renewed their interest in formation dancing through the success of the BBC’s Television Dancing Club and latterly, Come Dancing – the BBC’s forerunner to Strictly.

Lesley with her parents.

Lesley with her parents.

Every June, when the Plaza ran its four-dance contest, the Plaza Trophy, teams of formation dancers took part in their own competition.

We tracked down Lesley Wood, who was given one of the original Plaza posters on her 21st birthday by Adam Sharp, the then manager of the ballroom.

Lesley Wood with the restored poster

Lesley Wood with the restored poster

“My parents, David and Irene Wood, were professional ballroom dancers – they trained the Scottish formation team who appeared on Come Dancing,” says Lesley, who runs The Dance Factory in Glasgow.

“They appeared on the very first series of Come Dancing, in fact.”

Lesley, who is also a former British baton-twirling champion, used to practise in the Plaza when the place was empty in between ballroom sessions.

“Adam Sharp was kind enough to let me do it – the high ceilings were perfect,” smiles Lesley.

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“I was delighted when he gave me the poster, it’s a lovely thing to have. We didn’t do anything with it for many years, but recently, my husband has painstakingly restored it and it looks fantastic.”

Lesley’s husband, Ken MacGregor, explains: “It’s huge – about 10 feet by six feet, and printed in five sheets each folded to foolscap size.

“We’ve carted it around, folded up, for many years, and it was quite fragile, so it took a long time to repair.

“I believe there are only two of the original posters left, and ­photographer Harry Benson has the other one in New York.”

David and Irene Wood

David and Irene Wood

Ken and Lesley admitted to being mystified by Jimmy and Ellen’s story about their uncle having painted the poster.

“The poster is signed by EP Kinsella, a reasonably well-known artist of the early 1900s, who was from Liverpool,” explains Ken.

“He made cartoons and animated film shorts, and was an illustrator. I don’t think the work would even have been done in Glasgow.”

Kinsella designed posters for the Lyceum Theatre in the Strand, and one of his postcards is in the V&A in London. In 1920, he was hired to create costume designs and posters for Rudyard Kipling.”

Equally intrigued by this extra information, Jimmy and Ellen did some more family research – and came to an amusing conclusion.

“We think the posters, with the original artwork done by Kinsella, would have been printed, and updated every so often as prices changed, for example,” says Jimmy.

“That image became synonymous with the Plaza, and was kept for a long time.

“Some time, perhaps around 1936, the owners decided to have this image outside on the exterior of the building – but because of the Glasgow weather, of course, it couldn’t be a poster.”

The Plaza poster.

The Plaza poster.

Jimmy, who is now 71, smiles: “So, it had to be painted on to the brickwork – and that is feasibly what my uncle James, chosen from the local art school, could have done.

“This is the story my family has, which was passed down through the generations.”

He laughs: “So he may not have been the original artist, but it is true, my uncle James DID paint the famous image on the wall of the Plaza ballroom…”

What are your memories of the wonderful Plaza ballroom? Do you recall the stunning artwork outside or on posters in the foyer? Did you watch the formation dance teams, or take part yourself?

Here at Times Past, we would love to hear your stories and see your photos of those days.

Get in touch to share your memories by emailing ann.fotheringham@glasgowtimes.co.uk or write to Ann Fotheringham, Glasgow Times, 125 Fullarton Drive, Glasgow G32 8FG