BRIAN Henderson has been fascinated by Glasgow’s rich theatre history all his life.

As the immediate past president of heritage society the Old Glasgow Club – he just stepped down in September – he has a passion for keeping the city’s past alive.

“So when I realised the Savoy’s 110th anniversary was due for celebration, it was a golden opportunity to mark this important milestone,” he explains.

“I was 15 years old when the old Savoy Theatre – later the Majestic Ballroom – was demolished in 1972. I joined the Old Glasgow Club four years later.

Glasgow Times:  A print of the Savoy Theatre in Glasgow that used to stand on the site where the Savoy centre now sits. The Savoy theatre opened in 1911. It then became the Savoy cinema in the 1920s. The cinema closed in the 1950s and the building became the Majestic

“I think it is so important to keep the past alive - this we try to do, of course, at the club.”

The old Savoy Theatre on Hope Street enjoyed its grand opening on December 18, 1911.

Designed by James Miller of Brice and Steel, architect of the 1901 Exhibition and the Royal Infirmary, its entrance was on Renfrew Street, explains Brian.

“The new house, to a handsome design, featured a modern treatment of renaissance, on the exterior; echoing Louis XIV style in white and gold, internally,” he explains. “A large and enthusiastic audience besieged the 2000-seater, high-class variety theatre on its opening night.

Glasgow Times: Majestic Ballroom. Pic: Herald and Times

“Highlights of this first performance included Miss Nella Webb, ‘clever American comedienne’, enjoying her visit to Glasgow; Professor Canova’s ‘Living Porcelain’; and John Lawson and Co’s ‘striking little drama The Mormon’s Wife.”

Sadly, the Savoy only lasted as a music hall for less than a year.

Brian says: “In 1912, shareholders voted for voluntary liquidation, followed by company reconstruction and a subsequent re-opening, and then closure.

“Fast forward four years and Christmas Eve 1915 sees the Glasgow Herald announce the sale of this “modern and well-equipped theatre”, ready for business, at a price of £25000.

“Five days later a London based syndicate is reported to be planning to re-open it as a picture house.”

The New Savoy Cinema opened on Friday, December 22, 1916 and the Evening Times reported that “Glasgow’s super cinema is now open.”

Brian adds: “The Evening Times reported the New Savoy had started well, with the ‘biggest and best Christmas programme in Glasgow ‘.

By 1924 , the cinema was part of Bicolour Picture Theatres Limited, though Gaumont British Theatres would later own it; J Arthur Rank had, in turn, absorbed Gaumont by 1942.

Glasgow Times: Savoy Centre, 1975

On May 26, 1934, the feature Sealed Lips, starring Constance Bennett as a Great War Russian spy, signalled the temporary closure of the cinema for refurbishment.

Brian adds: “Times change and an Evening Times report in August 1958 indicates that the city’s Dean of Guild Court has passed plans to convert the cinema to a dance-hall with a capacity for 1450, a lounge and retiring rooms. The New Savoy is controlled by Circuits Management Association Ltd, a unit of the J Arthur Rank Organisation, responsible also for the city’s Gaumont and Odeon cinemas.

“Almost 42 years of cinema history at the New Savoy ended on Saturday, September 27, 1958 and a double feature marked the occasion - Tread Softly Stranger stars Diana Dors, George Baker and Terence Morgan, and The Bride is Too Beautiful, a French film with English subtitles, with Brigitte Bardot. Rank re-opens the old cinema as The Majestic Ballroom, later that year.”

Glasgow Times: Savoy Centre, 1977

The final curtain falls on the historic site in 1972, says Brian.

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“The Majestic closed on January 1952, together with the nearby Gaumont on Sauchiehall Street,” he adds.

“It’s strange to think that while December 2021 marks the 110th anniversary of the Savoy Theatre’s opening, January 2022 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Majestic Dance Hall’s closure.”

He says: “So much of the city’s entertainment history lies on this site, where the Savoy Centre now marks the spot.”