IT WAS a quiet day in the Pavilion Theatre box office, several years ago, when a man walked in with a few rolls of paper, yellowing and a little tattered, stuffed in an old wallpaper box.

“He told us he’d found original plans for the building in a charity shop,” explains Jamie Gordon, general manager, with a grin.

“And if we’d give him a couple of free tickets, he’d hand them over to us…”

Jamie adds: “So we did. It was quite something – they really were the originals, and we have no idea how they ended up there. We were quite relieved to get them back.”

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The Pavilion Theatre, the “Grand Old Lady of Renfield Street”, turns 120 years old on February 29.

“Or 30 years old, really,” adds Jamie, smiling. “I like catching people out, because of the leap year.”

Designed by Bertie Crewe for Thomas Barrasford’s expanding chain of British music halls, the Pavilion opened its doors on February 29, 1904. In the first of a two-part special, the Glasgow Times goes behind the scenes to find out more about the history of this beloved city venue.

Glasgow Times: Billy Connolly in 1980Billy Connolly in 1980 (Image: Newsquest)

The Pavilion was designed in the French Renaissance style, and much of its original interior, such as the fine Rococo plasterwork on the circle, balcony and box fronts, handsome mahogany woodwork and a marble mosaic floor, still stands today.

The domed ceiling includes a sliding roof, installed in the days when people could smoke in their seats, and while it does still work today, current health and safety requirements mean it cannot be used.

The Pavilion established itself as a leading music hall and variety theatre, where some of the leading artistes of the time loved to perform. Marie Lloyd, Little Tich, Harry Lauder, Will Fyffe, Sarah Bernhardt and a then unknown Charlie Chaplin have all graced its stage.

Glasgow Times: Pavilion favourite Tommy MorganPavilion favourite Tommy Morgan (Image: Newsquest)

From the 1930s, a strong pantomime tradition was established, which continues to this day. Harry Gordon, Dave Willis, Jack Anthony, Jack Milroy and The Krankies have all appeared in panto at the Pavilion.

Some of Scotland’s biggest stars, including Billy Connolly and Lulu, Tommy Morgan and Stanley Baxter, have broken box office records at the venue, while famous plays such as The Steamie and The Sash have been produced in-house.

Glasgow Times: A poster of Lulu, who played the Pavilion in 1975A poster of Lulu, who played the Pavilion in 1975 (Image: Newsquest)

It is more than a little bit thrilling to look at the original plans, hand-drawn and signed by architect Bertie Crewe, while standing on the stage he designed. The original door at the back, which leads directly into the lane behind the theatre, is still there, unchanged except for the health and safety signage now in place.

“That door has been the bane of our existence,” jokes Jamie. “It was no problem 120 years ago to get scenery in and out, but as sets have got bigger and technology more advanced, it’s a bit trickier now.”

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Jamie started working at the Pavilion when he was 16 years old and his dad, Iain, was the manager.

“I was going to university to study accountancy, and my dad said – you need a job, come work in front of house,” he explains. “It was never my plan to be general manager, not at all. But after I graduated, the job of accountant here came up, and it was perfect timing.”

Jamie was theatre accountant and front of house manager for 18 years, until April 2023, when, after Trafalgar Entertainment bought the theatre and his dad stepped down, he became general manager.

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“It is an exciting time for the theatre,” he agrees. “Since Trafalgar took over, we have brought in performers who have never been here before, or who have not been here for a very long time, and they love the space.”

Jamie is realistic about the challenges of running a business in an area which has had a tough time in recent years. Several devastating fires, the impact of Covid and Brexit on retail, and the cost of living crisis have all hit Sauchiehall Street hard.

“Sauchiehall Street was Glasgow’s party street, and all that has been lost,” he says. “I do think more could be made of the area - there’s us, the Theatre Royal, the GFT, all within a few hundred metres of each other. London has Theatreland, so maybe Glasgow could have something similar?”

Jamie was on his honeymoon in 2018 when a fire broke out in the ceiling void between adjacent store Holland and Barrett and Victoria’s nightclub and threatened to engulf the theatre.

“I woke up to about 30 missed calls from my dad,” he recalls. “Obviously, I knew right away something was badly wrong.

“The fire service were incredible – they fought for days. They saved the theatre.”

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Amid the low points, however, there have been many highlights, says Jamie.

“I have lots of good memories – obviously, my family has been involved here for years, so there’s all that nostalgia. And I met my wife here,” he adds, grinning.

“Gillian started in 2008, in front of house, and worked here for 15 years – she now works in resource planning at Glasgow University.”

He pauses. “The people make this venue,” he says, simply. “There’s something about the Pavilion that’s very special. When it’s busy on a Friday or Saturday night, when the audiences are coming in, and there’s a buzz front of house ….it is unique.”