HE may have been biased – perhaps, in fairness, he was – but a Glasgow journalist named Bill Kinnaird was once singularly unimpressed by New York’s Roseland Ballroom, a renowned Manhattan venue that stood on West 52nd Street, and where such legends as Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller had played.

“I had expected to have a pleasant time in some attractive palais,” Kinnaird wrote 65 years ago, in April 1957, “and, instead, found I had spent a cheerier night in a Miners’ Welfare. And I remember thinking at the time, ‘This place isn’t a patch on Glasgow’s Locarno’.”

The Evening Times writer described the Locarno, on Sauchiehall Street, as a cross-section of Glasgow in miniature. “It is technical tact as diffuse lighting turns a pallid factory girl into a tanned goddess; it is welcome to seamen of many nationalities (but mainly American) when their ship comes in; and it’s relaxation for the university-blazered youth being a devil and skipping his studies.”

Moreover, the usherettes were dressed in short skirts and fishnet stockings; and there was even a room where male customers could have a free shave, and his suit pressed. The Locarno had a staff of 89; and the programme included everything from lunch-hour record programmes to midnight dance sessions, and Thursday-evening talent contests at which hopefuls would impersonate Elvis Presley and Johnnie Ray (the latter had two singles in that week’s top 20, incidentally; at number one was Tab Hunter’s Young Love).

Many romances had their beginnings in places like the Locarno. Billy Connolly has written about having “great nights” there and at Barrowland. In the latter, he never seemed to have any problem in getting girls to dance with him. It must have been, he wrote, “my three-button shirt and Cuban heels”.

Anecdotes still abound about the Locarno. The late Glasgow Herald writer, William Hunter, once recalled that the actor Merle Oberon had, after judging a beauty contest there, borrowed tuppence from him for a phone call. She never paid it back. “It was not,” Hunter wrote, “how to enchant a Paisley man,”

It’s difficult to overstate the popularity of Glasgow’s dancehalls, back in the period when, to borrow a much later phrase used (in 1989) by another Herald writer, Jack Webster, the city ruled as the world headquarters of ballroom dancing. And this, he added for emphasis, was “good old-fashioned, bow-legged, fish-and-chips Glasgow; none of your Yuppified, Merchant City rubbish here. These were the people who worked in the shipyards, sweated in the garment factories, enjoyed a tram-ride to Auchenshuggle, counted high tea at Danny Brown’s as a special treat – and danced at any one of 11 ballrooms, from the Albert, Locarno or Plaza to Barrowlands, Dennistoun Palais or Green’s Playhouse”.

This was the beguiling era of Freddy Randall (“Europe’s sensational trumpet star”) and his Band; of Lawrie Gold (the “king of Dixieland”) and his Orchestra; of classes in the Calypso (“this new and fascinating dance”) at the Berkeley Ballroom; of Scottish country dancing at the Astoria on Sauchiehall Street; of the Basil Kirchin Band Show at Green’s Playhouse.

Despite dancing’s long-standing place among Glaswegians’ affections, there had, however, lately been fears that the rise of television and of super-cinemas would take people away from dancehalls. By the summer of 1957, though, the halls were still thriving – and not just the big city-centre ones, either. Out at Partick Cross, people were flocking nightly to dance on the newly-laid Canadian maple-wood floor at the F and F Ballroom. Well-known dance teachers Doris and Colin Skidmore had been engaged as MCs for its successful old-time sessions on Mondays. The Palais at Dennistoun, the “refined and luxurious” Plaza at Eglinton Toll and the Cameo Ballroom at Shawlands Cross, were all pulling the customers in.

Admission prices were generally lower during the week than they were for Saturday night. It cost three shillings to get into the Plaza on a Thursday night, and six if you wanted to dance there between 7.30pm and 11pm on the Saturday; three-and-six to dance to Freddy Randall’s band on a Wednesday night at Green’s Playhouse, and seven shillings for admission between 7.30pm and 11pm on Saturdays.

When Mecca Ltd, owners of the Locarno since 1935, sought to apply for permission for a Sunday-night dance club in September 1962, however, it was knocked back by city magistrates after objections from the Presbytery of Glasgow, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese and the trade union involved.

Bill Kinnaird’s article on the Locarno was part of an Evening Times series on the dancehalls. The Albert Ballroom, on Bath Street, was run by the Warren brothers – councillor Alex, and John – and had been flourishing for more than half a century, having been opened by their father, also a councillor, in 1905. The venue was destroyed by fire in February 1964.

Kinnaird spoke to Sam McIver, whose family ran Barrowland. His office was decorated with a TV set and original caricatures by David Low, the celebrated political cartoonist. “This,” he said with some pride, “is a working-class hall catering for ‘hard’ dancing.” Its only special night was “registered” dancing on Tuesdays, when the girls had the chance to ask the boys to dance.

At the cavernous Playhouse, on Renfield Street, the most popular visiting act was the colourful Dr Crock’s Crockpots. Asked what type of patron the venue attracted, the manager put it neatly: “They go to the other halls as youngsters; we get them when they have finished their apprenticeship.”

The Plaza, for its part, was profiled by one Arthur Montford. Tuesday nights there, he wrote, were unlike Tuesday nights at other dancehalls; here, thanks to an “’open night’ … the night when lads and lasses come along ‘solo’,” the place was packed. If you waited until 8.30pm to get in, you were too late; inside, the place was heaving with 1,000 dancers. The venue was famous for its Plaza Cocktails, the fountain in the middle of the floor, and its distinctive old-time posters on the boards outside. The Plaza was also a popular choice for 21st-birthday parties – sometimes, as many as 13 in one evening.

Montford also visited the Dennistoun Palais, where the manager, Gordon Chalmers, enthused: “You can say what you like about Continental beauties, but Glasgow girls top the lot. And the pick of them come dancing here at the Palais.” Leeds-born dance leader Lauri Blandford said: “The young folk don’t perhaps pay over much attention to the strict steps of dancing, but they’re enthusiastic, all right.”

What sort of music do they like? “I give them everything,” said Blandford. “Slow, fast, Dixieland, and of course rock ‘n’ roll too. Our dancers make their own requests for particular numbers, and we let them have them. Why shouldn’t we?”

The Glasgow Corporation-run St Andrew’s Halls (which would burn down in October 1962) had its own approach to dancing. It was a success, too. “Young people,” said a corporation official, “seem to like the way we run things. We have two bands, Bill Neil and his Swingtette and Jay Wright and his band; we have two dancehalls, and we have two MCs – Bill Sinclair and Jimmy McFaul”.