Fabulous days recalled at a theatre whose shows made those at the

London Palladium look tatty by comparison.

IF the end of the Empire in Glasgow was sad, the demolition of the

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Alhambra, one of the finest theatres in the world, was catastrophic. In

both cases there was indecent haste to replace them with office blocks

which remained empty for years.

What made it worse was that here was a place of entertainment that had

the hallmark of quality and style. The adjective ''fabulous'' became an

official part of the title of the Five Past Eight shows staged there and

no one would argue with that. Everything about it was appealing; it was

the best in every department: the management of Bert Lumsden, the

costumes, the scenery, the special effects, the musicians, the singers,

the dancers, and, of course, the stars. Certainly no other theatre in

Britain could match the Alhambra productions as staged by producer Dick

Hurran. Shows at the London Palladium looked tatty by comparison.

The Five Past Eights had been a natural progression from the old days

of Half Past Eights, as well as the lavish Howard and Wyndham pantos in

Glasgow and at the King's, Edinburgh. Douglas Byng and Harry Gordon (the

Laird o' Inversnecky) are a couple of names that spring to mind from the

earlier era. And, as I input these words, I have in front of me a

fabulous reminder of the later period: a framed montage by Reg Allen,

the Howard and Wyndham designer, with an illustration of the Alhambra,

surrounded by many of the top entertainers -- Rikki Fulton, Jack Milroy,

Jimmy Logan, Jack Radcliffe, Kenneth McKellar, John Mulvaney, Una

McLean, Yana, Eve Boswell, Stanley Baxter, Ronnie Corbett, Max Bygraves,

Shirley Bassey, Bruce Forsyth, Norman Wisdom, Harry Secombe, Lena

Martell, Moira Anderson...

Hurran got all the encouragement and money he needed from the late

Stewart Cruickshank, head of Howard and Wyndham. The glamorous years had

started in the fifties when Michael Mills was producer before Hurran

came on the scene. Each year the fabulous factor become more and more

part of the show. On opening night there would be stunning effects, like

the Geraldo Orchestra rising from the front of the stalls on a

hydraulically-operated platform, then moving back across stage to rise

even higher.

The young Lionel Blair, together with the statuesque Joanna Rigby or

the effervescent Margaret Miles were in superb form leading the big

dancing troupes and becoming involved with the comedy. For two years in

the sixties, Margaret Kelly (Miss Bluebell) brought the Bluebell Girls

over from Paris. Hurran would tour the world searching out the top

speciality acts.

Each year's show had to surpass the one before. The theatre had been

more than a match for the early novelty of television but the greed of

some top English comedians came into play. Towards the end, Hurran told

me he had a weekly budget of #11,000. But to get Ken Dodd he had to pay

him #9000. Earlier, another English comedian, on #6500 a week, said he

thought the standard of chorus girl had fallen. Hurran told him to drop

the #500 from his cheque (taken up by tax, anyway) and he would get the

best chorus line in Britain. That was different.

The Alhambra just managed to see it through the sixties and the death

of Stewart Cruickshank (known affectionately as Cruickie) before the

Howard and Wyndham book-keepers sounded the death knell. Jimmy Logan

blames Hurran for squandering money importing English comedians. I do

not think that was the whole reason. It was an era of glamorous nights

and that era had reached an end for a variety of reasons. It went out on

a high note, but the party was over...