Scottish Music Hall & Variety Theatre Society

The glorious days of Scottish Music Hall and Variety Theatre

Issue 79, December 2007 - The Annual Edinburgh Lunch

Annual Edinburgh Lunch

By Bill Green - Outings Correspondent.

Fifty two members and friends joined together on Sunday 4 November for the Annual Edinburgh lunch in the King James Hotel in Edinburgh.

A lovely lunch was enjoyed by one and all but the main highlight of the day was the honouring and presentation to a lovely, lovely lady who has for many years been a most stalwart member of the Society. The lady in question was our very own Betty Clarkson. Betty’s show business career is long and varied, from being a very young dancer with the Danny Lipton Trio, then teaming up with her husband George in their very successful Dance Duo Act of Clarkson and Leslie and then touring the famous Moss Empire Theatre circuit. Betty’s career continued dancing both in the UK and abroad, where she appeared in the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore, entertained our troops and appeared with her husband George in the Musical Film "Oliver". After retiring from the stage, Betty worked as a Secretary to Des O’Connor and then joined the BBC Costume Dept where she worked at Television Centre and was also out on location with "Dad’s Army". Betty is also a very dedicated member of the Lady Rattlings and never misses the Annual Lady Rattlings Ball in London.

There was a feeling of total admiration and absolute joy within the Society when Hon. President Mr Johnny Beattie presented to Betty on behalf of the Society, a beautiful piece of Wemyss Pottery with a suitably inscribed silver plate. It was all a well kept secret and was a wonderful surprise to betty which was very obvious to everyone from her reaction.

After the presentation, Johnny Beattie and Ron Coburn alias the Two M.B.E’s cracked and joked with each other and the audience which entertained everyone for the rest of the afternoon. Our sincere thanks go to Bob and Derek and everyone involved in making this such a pleasurable day. Also the Society extend their thanks to Moira Hepburn for her wonderful choice of music superbly played on the piano and to Neil and the Restaurant Staff at the King James Hotel for their courtesy and helpfulness. A big kiss and thank you goes to Betty Clarkson for receiving the presentation and for being such a lovely, lovely and gracious lady. Well Done Betty!! Another wonderful day out for the Society, one which was enjoyed by everyone.

Issue 78, Autumn 2007 - The Annual Bus Run

THE ANNUAL BUS RUN

By Bill Green - Outings Correspondent

Saturday 18 August saw 28 members of the Society jaunt off to Perth for this years bus run. The Fair City was unfortunately under the weather on this occasion due to rain, but that in no way dampened down the enjoyment of everyone who attended.

The bus dropped us off at the new Perth Royal Concert Hall opened by HM the Queen and Prince Philip in 2005. What a magnificent building it turned out to be, very modern and so adaptable. We were given a full conducted tour of the building by Jackie Keir and due to new technology and hydraulics it can be turned from a first-class Concert Hall to a Ballroom and Theatre. The Concert Hall is capable of hosting a range of different types of shows from Dance, Rock, Pop, Variety and Cabaret with an extra facility in the ceiling to alter acoustics depending on the type of show taking place. A truly magnificent venue and much admired and appreciated by all our members who attended. Many thanks again go The Perth Royal Concert in organising this fantastic tour.

We were now left with some time to wander around Perth, but due to the rain we were a bit limited in what we could enjoy. It had to be mainly the shops for the ladies and "dare I say", the Pub for the lads, where quite a few of us enjoyed a good laugh and the swapping of stories. The afternoon Pub visits culminated in Roy Halket finding in one hostelry what we reckoned was the smallest Public Toilet if not in Perth, perhaps in Scotland. This caused quite a laugh!

Everyone met up again for 5pm at Perth Theatre where we all enjoyed a wonderful traditional High Tea complete with scones, cakes and a good chat. Many thanks to the staff of Perth Theatre Restaurant for looking after us so well. Yet again, another smashing day out for the Society despite the rain, of which no one of course can do anything about.

Issue 75, December 2006 - The Annual Edinburgh Lunch

Annual Edinburgh Lunch

By Bill Green - Outings Correspondent.

Sunday 12 November 2006 saw 46 members from the Society attend the Annual Edinburgh Lunch at the Thistle Hotel.

The main item of the agenda on this occasion was a Birthday Celebration for our Hon. President Johnny Beattie. We were treated to a magnificent lunch with a fantastic musical accompaniment from Moira Hepburn with a fine selection of music from her large repertoire, a veritable treat that went well with a lovely meal!

After lunch, Ronnie Coburn and Betty Melville regaled us with amusing stories from past theatre, this time mostly in the Edinburgh area. Joining in with Ron and Betty, Johnny added to the fun by giving all the members a great afternoon of fun and laughter. Later on a lovely birthday cake complete with candles was presented to Johnny , who then cut it to very well deserved applause throughout the room.

Ron Coburn on behalf of the Society then presented Johnny with a beautiful inscribed gold pocket watch to commemorate his 80th birthday along with a birthday card signed by all the members present. Johnny was both delighted and very touched with this gift and thanked the committee and members of the society most sincerely for the Presentation, the Cake and indeed the whole occasion. The afternoon came to a close with everyone then singing a rousing chorus of " For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow". A jolly good ending to a jolly good day for indeed a Jolly Good Fellow!

Again Johnny, our Sincerest Congratulations to you on your Birthday from all your "Chinas" in the Scottish Music Hall and Variety Theatre Society. Another great day out! Thoroughly enjoyed by all who attended. Many thanks also go to the Thistle Hotel, Edinburgh for very kindly looking after us and for making the day such a success.

Hon President: Mr Johnny Beattie with his Gold Pocket Watch, an 80th Birthday present from the Society

Laurel and Hardy Talk - The British Tours, 28 August , 2006.

Laurel and Hardy Talk - The British Tours

By Bill Green - Outings Correspondent

On Monday 28th August 30 of our members including some guests from the "Sons of the Desert" met at Renfield St Stephen Church Complex in Glasgow for an evening devoted to those wonderful all time greats, Laurel and Hardy.

Chairman Derek Green welcomed everyone to the talk and Ross Owen Grand Sheik of the Fra Diavolo Tent of the "Sons of the Desert" commenced the evening with a history of Stan and Ollie and how they were brought together to form one of, if not the greatest comedy double act in the history of film entertainment.

Stan as most of you will already know made his stage debut in the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall which is thankfully still in the Trongate in Glasgow, and is well worth a visit. Ross then went on to explain that he had recently discovered that Oliver Hardy’s parents were of Scottish and English descent.

After some history about Stan and Ollie working with the Hal Roach film studios, Ross showed rare footage of the Boys 1932 visit to the UK which included a visit to the Edinburgh Playhouse, plus rare footage of their British Theatre Tours of 1947, 1952 and 1953/54, when they played various theatres throughout Britain including the Empire Theatres in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Everyone then enjoyed a really nice buffet which Secretary Bob Bain had organised, and delicious wee feast was had by one and all. While everyone was enjoying their buffet, Ross showed a classic Laurel and hardy film called "Twice Two", where each of them played each others wife’s as well as themselves - absolutely brilliant!.

At the end of the evening, Hon President Mr Johnny Beattie was presented with an Hon. Membership to the Fra Diavolo Tent of the "Sons of the Desert" by Grand Sheik Ross. Johnny who incidentally was wearing his Laurel and Hardy tie was also presented with a "Fez" which is a very treasured possession of "The Sons". Johnny was delighted with his membership and "Fez" and was very happy to have his picture taken with Ross. The enjoyable evening came to an end all too soon. Derek gave a very warm votes of thanks to Ross, Fiona and Sean for the excellent evening. Also many thanks again to Bob and Derek for organising a wonderful evening and again sincerest thanks to "The Sons of the Desert" for the excellent presentation. Very much appreciated by one and all.

Permission has been granted by Dean McKeown from the "Sons of the Desert" for this photograph of Laurel and Hardy with Harry Lauder to be used on this page.

Annual Bus Run - August, 2006

 

Annual Bus Run

By Bill Green - Outings Correspondent

On Saturday August 5th, members of the Society had a wonderful day out in St Andrews. After a lovely journey up there we arrived at the Byre Theatre, a terrific example of a modern new theatre. We were divided into two groups, given coffee by the staff, then taken on conducted tours of the whole theatre, auditorium, backstage, dressing rooms, wardrobe dept and even the lighting gantry which was situated high above the auditorium which was perfectly safe to view from and very interesting.

After the theatre tour everyone then had some time to spend at their leisure in St Andrews, some of members went to the afternoon matinee of "Twits" by Roald Dahl. The play proved very enjoyable and was appreciated by all who attended. Others walked round the town itself and took in the delights from shopping to street carnival, open topped bus tours, historical re-enactments and even a pint or two! - it was a warm day!

Later in the afternoon we were joined by Ronnie Coburn, his wife Midi and Margaret Mather, who all travelled down from Dundee. The day was concluded with an excellent high tea in the Theatre café. After tea we said our farewells to Ronnie, Midi and Margaret we thanked the staff of the Byre Theatre for their care and attention to us throughout the day then we all set off back to Glasgow.

Again it had been a successful day out and everyone enjoyed themselves very much, especially our new members who all without exception remarked on the journey home how much they had enjoyed the friendliness and good humour, and they would certainly be attending more events in the future. Another smashing day out for the Society! Many thanks go to Secretary Bob Bain for organising it all and also a big thank you to the Byre Theatre for looking after us.

February 2006

A GRAND NIGHT AT THE GRAND

By David Hutchison

On Saturday 18th February 2006, four members of the Society made a private visit to Blackpool. The occasion was the inauguration of the National Theatre of Variety. A sub-committee had visited various venues throughout the country, but the unanimous winner was the magnificent Grand Theatre in Blackpool.

Although all theatres have their own unique features and beauty, the outstanding elegance of the Grand simply takes your breath away. Designed by Frank Matcham in 1894, no wonder it is called Matcham's Masterpiece!

The curtain rose at 7.30 to the clown Joseph Grimaldi (played by Tony Lidington) standing alone and silent. He then began his prologue reminding us why we were there. This is only the start of variety's fight back to be accepted as mainstream entertainment again. Grimaldi's monologue was interrupted repeatedly by applause, cheers and calls of" bravo". The battle cry was now in full flow. It was time for non-believers to leave the building or risk being thrown to the lions. We sat back to enjoy a traditional variety show which overran by an hour, finishing at midnight, and before you ask, Ken Dodd was not on the bill!

The show was ably compered by Tony Jo, a former member of the comedy group The Grumbleweeds - nevertheless a very talented artiste in his own right. We were then entertained by, among others, Jimmy Cricket, Bernie Clifton, Syd Little, Leanne Fury, Jim Casey and Eli Woods. My particular favourite was Miss Jean Fergusson, better known as Marina in Last of the Summer Wine. She brought the house down with her impersonation of Hylda Baker. There were also quite a few speciality acts, which were a feature of every variety bill. Youth also played its part, with an excellent dancing display from the Barbara Jackson Dance School, and the Blackpool Circus School reassured us that circus was in safe hands with these youngsters.

At the end of the show, Mr. Paul lIes, Manager of the Grand Theatre, very kindly invited us to the after show reception in the theatre. With the champagne flowing, we then mingled and chatted with the various artistes. Everyone was so friendly - there were no prim-donnas here, just one big happy family. On behalf of the group, I would like to thank Mr. lIes and his staff for making us feel very much part of that family. As we left the theatre at 2a.m.  It was a wonderful ending to a wonderful evening.

After the war, Blackpool boasted no fewer than nine theatres, all doing good business between May and October, mainly twice nightly. Sadly, along with the Grand, only the Opera House and North Pier still operate as theatres. The Central Pier is now a family pub, and the South Pier Theatre, along with the Palace, the Queens and the Hippodrome, have all succumbed to the bulldozer. Even the A.B.C. Theatre, which replaced the Hippodrome, is now a nightclub. The one theatre I haven't mentioned is the Winter Gardens Pavilion, which is now only half a theatre. Let me explain! When you enter, everything looks normal, but when you look a little closer, you discover all the seats in the circle, balcony and boxes have been removed. These areas are partially curtained off to hide the masses of empty space.

The floor of the stalls has been levelled to accommodate conferences, exhibitions, etc. But the biggest change is the stage. Behind the safety curtain, the stage has been demolished to make way for a restaurant. Ironically, the Pavilion still stages the occasional show which requires a temporary stage to be erected in front of the safety curtain. If variety does make a comeback, perhaps one day the theatre might be restored to its former glory.

As long as the building remains standing, one can but dream!

Group Photograph from left to right are Committee Members - Colin Calder, Nancy MacKay, Sheena Cairns and David Hutchison.

Summer 2005 - Purves Puppets

Annual Society Bus Outing

by Bill Green - Outings Correspondent

Saturday 13th August 2005 was the date for the annual bus outing.  This year we visited the picturesque and lovely little town of Biggar in Lanarkshire famous for it's Museum's and primarily for us, the headquarters and home of the World Famous Purves Puppets Theatre and Puppets

Purves Puppets have performed all over Britain and Europe and as well as being very popular there, they are extremely popular in the Far East, and people from many countries visit Biggar to see them in their very own Custom Built Victorian Theatre, which was built up and decorated over many hours of very hard work by the owner and Chief Puppeteer, Mr Ian Purves and his Family.  The puppets which are mostly half human size are painstakingly made by Ian and his Staff, also likewise the lovely costumes and scenery for each separate show - like small pantomimes.  The Theatre itself seats 100 people and as well as having a proper stage, wings and backstage area, the Auditorium has a beautiful ceiling laid out with the Signs of the Zodiac and the constellation of many stars in the sky as they are in the heavens, all brought to life by the small lights of fibre optics which change colour constantly.  This is finished off by a most beautiful Mural on the back wall of the Theatre painted by Ian himself depicting scenes from not the Seven Dwarves but Snow White and the Seven Brothers, a much more adult version, all finished with semi-precious stones set into the costumes of the characters and bridals etc of the horses.  The Theatre itself is fabulous and well worth a visit plus of course the very clever manipulation of the puppets by the extremely skilled Purves Family of puppeteers.

The show that we saw was " Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster", one of a series that are performed over the season.  The show was visually excellent, very funny and greatly appreciated by not only the kids but the adults also, after all no matter your age - we are all still "Kids at Heart" - thankfully.  As part of the Theatre there is also a well stocked shop where you can purchase sweets, souvenirs and very importantly "Puppets", also a very nice tea room where all kinds of beverages, scones, biscuits and cakes can be enjoyed in the most pleasant of surroundings. 

Just prior to the show commencing, our very own Mary Lee Milroy was presented with a card and a badge from the Birthday Rabbit.  Mary, who celebrated that birthday that day was absolutely delighted and it showed.  After the performance, the Society members were treated to a backstage tour and Ian and his team explained and showed us the intricacies of Puppetry, we then broke into two groups on the stage and a go ourselves - not easy, but like everything in show business, perfection comes with practice and experience - but good fun!  On leaving the car park the members were delighted to see the puppets and Ian and his Family waving them off on their journey.  A really nice touch and ending to a very pleasant afternoon.  Many thanks to Ian and his team at Purves Puppets.

To finish off an enjoyable day the Society went to the Crown Hotel for High Tea which consisted of "Steak Pie and Totties" or "Fish and Chips" and of course a liquid refreshment.  During our time there, Mary Lee Milroy was presented with a Birthday Bouquet and card from the Society.  Mary was sincerely touched by the gesture and remarked that "This is the best 25th Birthday that I have ever had".  Interestingly enough, the Florist who delivered the flowers was so delighted to be giving them to Mary that she was on the verge of tears, and had her photo taken with her.  In conversation it turned out that the Florist had been a big "Fan" of  Dear old Jack and Mary for many years.  We all laughed with the Florist when she told us that she had a wee dog called "Josie" and that she was getting another dog soon, which she was going to call, "Francie".  So in the near future Francie and Josie will be alive and well and walking the streets of Biggar.

The bus then returned to Glasgow via the lovely Clyde Valley Tourist Route, bringing a great day out to a very enjoyable ending.  Another wonderful day out enjoyed by all who attended from the Society.

Society members enjoy some time puppeteering

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