IT brought Paisley to Broadway and has had Hollywood heavyweights Sean Penn, Robbie Coltrane and Kevin Bacon playing its much-loved characters.

Now, some of the original slab boys and girls who worked with renowned Scottish writer and artist John Byrne as teenagers in Stoddard’s carpet factory have revealed what it was like to inspire a masterpiece.

Glasgow Times: Some of the original Slab Boys and GirlsSome of the original Slab Boys and Girls (Image: Paisley Museum)

Byrne’s semi-autobiographical The Slab Boys Trilogy follows a group of young, working-class Scots in the slab room of a fictional carpet manufacturer in Paisley.

The company was inspired by Stoddard’s in Elderslie, where Byrne worked as both a slab boy and later as a designer following his graduation from art school. (The slab room is a small, paint mixing room where young apprentices grind colours together for the designers.)

The first play is set in 1957, the year Byrne joined Stoddard’s. He described his time in the factory like being in a “technicolour hell hole.”

Jim Rafferty worked at Stoddard’s with Byrne and, he says, “the result of that was the Slab Boys.”

Glasgow Times: John Byrne and Robbie Coltrane in 1988John Byrne and Robbie Coltrane in 1988 (Image: Newsquest)

He added: “The play has been such a worldwide success and the thing about it is its universality – you can recognise yourself or someone you know in it – and that’s what John tapped in to.”

Jim and some of his former colleagues recently met at Paisley’s Secret Collection – the UK’s only museum store set on a high street - to discuss their experiences.

A number of objects, including carpets designed by Stoddard’s, a design of the play’s original set and a painting, Paisley Sunset, by Byrne, will be put on display when the town’s museum reopens next year after a £45 million refurbishment.

Glasgow Times: A model of the set will be on display in the new museumA model of the set will be on display in the new museum (Image: Paisley Museum)

Charity OneRen will operate the museum on behalf of Renfrewshire Council.

Fellow slab boy Bill Brown said: “John was a one-off. He took characters and exaggerated them a bit and produced an amazing work of comedy. He’s a credit to Paisley.”

Glasgow Times: Slab boys' pots will also be on displaySlab boys' pots will also be on display (Image: Paisley Museum)

Slab girl Jean Scaglione said: “We were all full of ideas, heads bursting with jokes and it just so happened that we all got together and it became something else, something special.”

Byrne was raised in Ferguslie Park, not far from the factory. The Slab Boys premiered in Edinburgh on April 6, 1978, was staged in Broadway in 1983 with a star-studded cast, and a film version was released in 1997, starring Anna Massey, Tom Watson and Julie Wilson Nimmo.

In recognition of the part played by the group – who refer to themselves as the Slabbies or the Stoddardistas – an anonymous donation was made to support the work as part of the museum’s fundraising appeal.

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Slab boy Alex Holmes said: “There may have been drudgery in some of the work, mixing the paints, but it was a laugh-a-minute and brilliant to see John’s talent develop.”

He recalled a time when he and John and the gang from Stoddard’s tried to take a barrel of scrumpy cider home from the Saracen Head pub on the Gallowgate.

“We all took turns rolling it down the Gallowgate, Argyle Street and Clyde Street, and got it on a double decker bus back to Johnstone,” he added.

“We eventually rolled it up to my house there and had a weekend long party. John and a few others took the Monday off and had to explain to the bosses when we went in the next day. We were lucky we weren’t fired.”