THE late comedian, Roy Hudd, put it best when he described the golden days of variety entertainment.

In the introduction to his book, Roy Hudd’s Cavalcade of Variety Acts, which he co-authored with Philip Hindin, he said he had insisted that it cover the years 1945-1960.

“I think these are the years most people remember. It was a golden period”, he wrote. “The mix of reliable old, brilliant new, up and comers, down and outers, has-been, never was-ers and some of the most eccentric acts ever seen provided the weekly entertainment in nearly every city and town in the British isles”.

The Herald: Roy Hudd holding his OBE for services to entertainment, at Buckingham Palace in 2004Roy Hudd holding his OBE for services to entertainment, at Buckingham Palace in 2004 (Image: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)Many of these acts came from Scotland, such as The Three Aberdonians, a trio of contortionists who are the first entry in the book. And over the decades, thousands of them journeyed north to try their luck in such theatres as the Tivoli in Aberdeen, the Glasgow Empire, the Palace in Dundee, and dozens more inbetween.

Many of them have been recalled in regular additions to the website of the Scottish Music Hall and Variety Theatre Society, using a collection of memorabilia assembled by Bob Bain, a leading archivist of the variety years, who died aged 81, almost four years ago. The material has been donated by Bob’s widow, Eleanor, and has been digitised by his friend and colleague Derek Green, the society’s chairman, Derek Green. New material is often added to the website.

The Herald: The 'Cupid Wore Skirts' press conference at the Metropole Theatre, August 1965. Jimmy Logan decorates the set helped by John Grieve, Marillyn Gray and Lennox MilneThe 'Cupid Wore Skirts' press conference at the Metropole Theatre, August 1965. Jimmy Logan decorates the set helped by John Grieve, Marillyn Gray and Lennox Milne (Image: Newsquest)The Cosy Corner, in Dunoon, was, says the website, located in the corner of the resort’s Castle Gardens. It was mainly a wooden structure, with a metal roof. The seating was all on one level. Harry Gordon, Dave Willis, Tommy Morgan, [Grace] Clark and [Colin] Murray, and Alec Finlay were among the many noted Scots variety stars who entertained residents and visitors alike.

The amazing souvenirs of variety theatre now viewable online

Interviewed in 2018 for Scottish Field, Dunoon-born Sylvester McCoy, who played TV’s Doctor Who in the Eighties, said: “After church on Sundays we used to go to the Cosy Corner for a Knickerbocker glory. It was a theatre made of wood and later on it burnt down and the swimming pool replaced it. One of my popular pastimes was sitting in the Cosy Corner staring at Elspeth Calder. I fancied her rotten and we were in the same class. I got six of the best of Gilbert’s belt for staring at her”.

In 1992 John Smith, the leader of the Labour Party, speaking on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of his old school, Dunoon Grammar, said: “I remember my military phase as Sergeant Smith in charge of the Stewart platoon of the Army Cadet Corps and we won the prize for drilling in the year in which I happened to be sergeant. One of the consequences of that was that you had to take the whole platoon down to the Cosy Corner and buy them ice cream”.

In 1915 the then proprietor of the Cosy Corner was fined £2 for breaking war-time regulations for failing to obscure lights in his premises so as to make them invisible from the shore. Three other businessmen in Dunoon received fines for the same offence.

The Herald: Music hall performers Harry Gordon, Dave Willis, Sir Harry Lauder and G H Elliot laugh as they watch a Dave Willis film at the Regal cinemaMusic hall performers Harry Gordon, Dave Willis, Sir Harry Lauder and G H Elliot laugh as they watch a Dave Willis film at the Regal cinema (Image: Newsquest)

Aberdeen’s Tivoli Theatre opened in 1872 and following a redevelopment by the celebrated theatre architect Frank Matcham it reopened in 1910 as the Tivoli of Varieties, going on to attract such famous names as Charlie Chaplin, W.G.Fields and Stan Laurel. It closed in 1997 but has since been fully restored by the Tivoli Theatre Company Ltd.

The late Herald writer, Jack Webster, once wrote that when he worked for another newspaper he had spent several years trying to track down Charlie Chaplin, "even though I knew he so disliked newspapermen he said he would never entertain another one of the breed.

"His reasons were fairly sound. Having made his name in the heyday of Hollywood, he was finally hounded out of America after the infamous McCarthy witch-hunt of the 1950s, when any public figure with a leftish view was branded a communist. Chaplin blamed the press for some of his troubles and moved to Vevey in Switzerland.

In 1970 Webster heard on the grapevine that Chaplin and his wife Oona were in a hotel in Banchory in 1970. He approached Oona, but there was no promise of an interview.

But in the morning he approached Chaplin in the foyer, engaged him in conversation, and asked him to sign his autobiography.

Chaplin signed autographs for Webster's children. Jack then reminded him that Chaplin had played the Tivoli in 1906 as part of Fred Karno’s troupe, much as Stan Laurel had been. Webster asked if he would like to stop by the old place, which by now was a bingo hall.

The celebrated Glasgow theatre that attracted countless legends

"Yes, I'd rather like that", Chaplin replied. His original visit there, he added, had been "before Stan and I went off to America.” He and Oona got into their chauffeur-drive car and followed Webster to the Tivoli. "By now", Jack wrote, "the familiar features of Charlie Chaplin had softened into an acceptance of the fact that this was no witch-hunt in America, just a friendly Scot who wanted to write about a childhood hero.

“... Chaplin stepped out of his limousine and surveyed the old Tivoli, still displaying the signs of parterre stalls and fauteuils, recalling his days with Fred Karno.

"Word spread like wildfire that the great Charlie Chaplin was here. As if by magic,  crowd materialised from nowhere.

"Could this really be the great clown of Hollywood? He signed autographs, patted young heads and spread a hand of thanks to an adoring crowd. The congestion began to alarm Oona so we ushered him back into his limousine and waved him goodbye for ever".

The Herald: Charlie Chaplin posing for The Bulletin in his private suite of rooms at the Ritz Hotel, 1921Charlie Chaplin posing for The Bulletin in his private suite of rooms at the Ritz Hotel, 1921 (Image: Newsquest)Bob Bain’s Tivoli memorabilia on the society’s website includes programmes for a Clark and Murray summer show from 1962, a panto, Babes in the Wood, and Happy-Go-Lucky, “a new style resident variety show” starring Tommy Hood, “The Lanky Laughter Loon”.

Many theatres that were built in the late Victorian or Edwardian era fascinate today, not least in their design, facades, warren of corridors and approach to decor. "It's all their back-corridors that you come across that are fascinating", says Derek Green.

"Years ago, when they were trying to do the Tivoli up, Bob and I went up there. They were holding an open day and we were taking material from the Society to show on boards there.

"Bob and I decided to take a wee tour ourselves. We went up the back and round the stairs and came across the old Tivoli dressing-rooms. There was a maze of corridors. But of course none of that had been touched. All the old furniture was still up there.

"It was a real step back in time, a time-warp. We went down this other staircase into what had been the stalls bar, and it was flooded. It was full of water. They hadn't yet got round to tackling things like that, and I thought, this is absolutely amazing.

The Herald: The Tivoli, Aberdeen, in 1942The Tivoli, Aberdeen, in 1942 (Image: Derek Ironside/Newsline Scotland)"There was an old office with an old safe and everything still in it - the safe was obviously where the theatre staff put the takings, back when the place was going strong". 

Other theatres touched on in the Society's website include the Paisley Theatre, the Beach Pavilion in Saltcoats, the Inverness Empire, Gourock's Cragburn Pavilion, and the Empire in Greenock.

The Herald: The musical Hair was staged at Jimmy Logan's Metropole in 1970The musical Hair was staged at Jimmy Logan's Metropole in 1970 (Image: Newsquest)They also include the Metropole, in Glasgow, which was opened as the Scotia, in Stockwell Street, in 1862, and which was destroyed by fire in 1961. The New Metropole was opened in 1962 as a replacement at St George's Cross, in what had formerly been the Empress Theatre and the Falcon Theatre. Two years later Jimmy Logan bought it, and renamed it Jimmy Logan's Metropole.

As Logan relates the story in his memoirs, It's A Funny Life, he had much initial success with his venture, with variety shows and winter shows, but by the late Sixties and early Seventies the outlook was looking increasingly bleak. Logan tried all sorts of methods to keep his theatre open.

Jimmy Logan: Obituary

He had a brainwave by staging a season of Hair, "the hottest and most controversial musical to hit London in years", in 1970. One Glasgow journalist exclaimed "Oh ya beauty" when Logan revealed the news at a press conference. The company manager for the musical in London was a young Cameron Mackintosh.

Fitting finale for the trouper: Full house as Glasgow and its granny turns out to pay last respects to giant of Scottish variety

Hair, with its onstage nudity, was a success at the New Metropole for 10 months - one teenage usherette was so caught up in the excitement that she disrobed and joined the naked cast on stage - but the writing was still on the wall and was, as Logan sadly noted, "merely a stay of execution". He later embarked on other ideas to save his theatre, but to his frustration they came to naught. The New Metropole was closed in 1972, and lay derelict for years before being demolished in 1980.