Familiar Jaunt Through Glasgow's Theatrical History
It used to be said that Glasgow was the date that English variety artistes liked the least. Their acts could be incredibly popular elsewhere, but when they faced the mainly working-class audiences at the Empire Theatre, they often fell flat on their faces both literally as well as artistically.
Such stories have become part of theatrical lore, and this program happily rehearsed them through archive clips from interviews with Des O'Connor and Morecambe and Wise, plus recollections from Nicholas Parsons and Roy Hudd.
Perhaps more importantly, Glasgow was a favored venue for local comedians. In the Forties and early Fifties Johnny Morgan played season after season at the Pavilion Theatre; in later years Stanley Baxter kept returning for pantomime. Other artistes such as Andy Stewart and Kenneth McKellar drew fantastic crowds, proving once again that Scotland has its own tastes completely different from their English counterparts.
Although short on social history, the program made some trenchant points about Glaswegian theatrical tastes. People went to the theater at nights as part of a program of popular entertainment encompassing the pub and the soccer match. Brought up in a storytelling culture, audiences expected their artistes to do the same; if they were successful, they were adored for life; if they failed, audiences would be vehement in their disapproval. Theater was a popular art-form, one that depended on the closeness, both emotional as well as physical, between actors and audiences.
Although variety might be dead now, its legacy lives on in pantomime, which continues to be a lucrative form of entertainment, attracting playgoers of all socio-economic backgrounds whose reactions can be just as overt as those of their ancestors.
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