NOVEMBER 3, 1969 was a dreadful night for Glasgow’s fire service.

Exhausted crews – who had fought for hours to bring a blaze at the STV studios under control – were devastated to discover they had lost one of their own.

Our newspaper’s headline the next day summed it up.

“Blaze out after 20 hours – only the guts of my men kept it bay,” it said. “Firemen this afternoon won a 20-hour battle against smoke and flames at STV’s Glasgow studios.

“A weary fire officer said: ‘The fire is now out.’”

Glasgow Times: Glasgow was the first city to use foam to fight fires. Pic: Newsquest

Sadly, crews had to stay on scene to search for the body of their fallen colleague, Archie McLay.

Almost exactly 52 years to the day, a fire broke out in the Scottish Television studios inside the Theatre Royal on Hope Street in Cowcaddens.

The alarm was raised at 4.30pm, and crews from Central Fire Station raced to the scene. When the fire took hold 370 employees were evacuated from the building but 15 stayed behind to make sure TV broadcasts were not interrupted. It was the first day STV had trialled colour television and smoke began pouring into one of the studios during a live broadcast. Although it had started in the theatre sub-basement, by the time the firemen arrived the whole building was full of thick black smoke. At one point, the crews thought it had been extinguished, but it reignited.

Glasgow Times: A fireman, overcome by the smoke and heat of fire in the basement of the STV studios is being helped into the street by two colleagues Pic: Newsquest

Our report on November 4 said: “One fireman described the conditions at the fire as ‘atrocious’ with heat and smoke.

“Firemaster George P Cooper – on duty almost without a break since early yesterday evening – spoke of his men’s heroic efforts.

“’It is only the guts and determination of Glasgow’s firemen that kept this fire under control.’”

Firemaster Cooper also took a swipe at politicians who had recently increased wages for London firefighters.

“If it is guts and determination that get wage increases,” he told the reporters, “then it should be Glasgow firemen who got a £4 10s wage increase this morning and not London.”

Firemaster Cooper was one of three officers who collapsed from lack of oxygen that night – returning to help as soon as he had recovered.

A sub officer who was there, and who pulled the three men to safety, came up with the idea for an alarm that would sound when a firefighter was knocked unconscious or overcome by fumes.

John Jamieson’s design - the Strathclyde – was used by the brigade and earned John the British Empire Medal in 1981. A version of it remains in use today.

The fireman who lost his life was Archie McLay, who at just 35 was one of the city’s youngest station officers.

When his colleagues realised he was missing, they went back into the theatre, fighting their way through foam 6ft deep to search for him.

Reports at the time describe them bringing out his body, many with tears running down their faces.

Archie, from Govanhill, who had two young daughters, was missing for 20 hours.

He had fallen through an opening in the basement into a sub-basement below, where it is thought he lost consciousness because of a head injury, and he drowned in the water filling the basement.

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Archie’s death is commemorated by a stone plaque outside the theatre – one of 12 stops on the Firefighters’ Heritage Trail in Glasgow.

Glasgow Times: Foam from attempts to fight the fire fills Hope Street. Pic: Newsquest

Fire crews used high expansion foam to fill the basement and extinguish the blaze. Glasgow was the first city in the UK to adopt the technique, which was usually used in mine fires, for regular firefighting.

Foam was pumped into the studios at such a rate that fresh supplies had to be brought in from Paisley.

After the fire. STV built new studios around the corner from the Theatre Royal, which then became the home of Scottish Opera.