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A right Royal story

1 Dec 08

It’s not quite his name in lights – accountants are often modest folk – but Graeme Smith has won a little spot of thespian fame by writing the history of the Theatre Royal in Glasgow

The theatre, Glasgow’s oldest, is the home to Scottish Ballet and Scottish Opera, but it had a much more populist past, serving as a cinema and a music hall as well as a straight theatre since it opened in 1867.

Smith, a CA, an honourary research fellow at Strathclyde University, and a former director of the Theatre Royal tells of a past glittering with national and international theatre and dance companies, circuses and Stephane Grappelli.

“I wrote the book to wave the flag for the Theatre Royal,” hey says, “it’s the longest running theatre in Scotland and it’s gone through all the changes of live entertainment, television, opera and all the rest of it.”

The Theatre Royal was the first home of Scottish Television – which until recently had its HQ on a neighbouring site – and was the place where the station’s founder, Lord Thomson,made his famous remark about TV being a licence to print money.

About 750,000 people watched STV’s first night show in August 1957 – about the equivalent of 15 months’ full houses in the theatre, Smith calculates.

Smith includes 400 pictures of the theatre, the city, people involved and programmes and playbills.

He traces its origins to the 18th century and tells the story of the bandmaster’s son and brewery book-keeper James Baylis, who opened the theatre on its present site. His second pantomime rejoiced in the title:

Let Glasgow Flourish, or, The Fairy of St Mungo.

Seats cost three shillings in the dress circle, a shilling in the pit stalls and six old pence in the grandly named amphitheatre – 15p, 5p and 2.5p.

The Theatre Royal: Entertaining a Nation costs £19.95 from Glasgow bookshops or online at

Page No: 15


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