The Brit' Awards
At the 2006 televised 'Brit' Awards' there was a distinct shortage of awards going to actual Brits. Sad to say, in the TV programme Restoration there was also no award for the Brit' Theatre, in Glasgow, which was a blow for all those of us who care about Stan Laurel's roots. It was at this theatre, situated in Trongate, Glasgow, that a sixteen year-old Arthur Stanley Jefferson made his music-hall debut as a stand-up comedian. Although Laurel wasn't to practise the art of stand-up for more than a few months, that evening's performance turned out to be a career changing moment.
So what of the theatre now? Well, after a personal visit there, I am delighted to report that the future is looking bright, and live acts will be seen again at this historic venue in the not too distant future. My visit was on Wednesday 11 February, 2003, along with a group of friends, comprising Ian Cameron, author of the biography of Scottish entertainer Jimmy Shand; Dr. Wallace Shaw, author of many books on philosophy, including Where Rivers Meet; Willie McIntyre - who for over twenty years has been the editor of the Laurel and Hardy fanzine Bowler Dessert; and yours truly 'A.J' Marriot - author of 'Laurel and Hardy - The British Tours.' I suppose one might say we were a 'write bunch' of enthusiasts.
Our delightful host was archaeologist Judith Bowers who, as the Director of the Restoration Trust, is the main driving force behind efforts to restore the Britannia Panopticon Theatre to its former glory. To be inside this magnificent building was a truly memorable experience, for it is almost literally a time capsule. It's last usage was as a cinema, but then it's doors closed in 1938 and, apart from a handful of events around 1945, it has remained untouched and unseen since then. Viewing the building from the street no-one could ever guess the size and diversity of the many rooms within its walls, and millions of people have walked passed it, totally unaware of the remarkable music-hall and social history that has been played within.
Judith treated us to a two-hour, almost non-stop narration of the history of the Britannia and this, along with the freedom to walk the corridors, floors, seating and stage area, contributed to a real physical and spiritual experience. Our thanks go to Judith for allowing us such privileged access. The theatre could not be in better hands, as she has every quality it will take to get the theatre re-opened. I must say, in passing, that I'm not sure which I enjoyed most - the attraction of the theatre or the attraction of Judith. As Stan Laurel would have said; "What a pip." And we must let Stan have the last word - after all, it was his relationship with this theatre that allowed him his first step into the world of comedy entertaining. Rule Britannia!FOOTNOTE:
To become a 'Friend of the Theatre' write to:
Britannia Panopticon Music Hall
Glasgow G1 5HD
or go to: BRITANNIA PANOPTICON Music Hall
(Article Copyright A.J Marriot. First printed in The Laurel and Hardy Magazine - 2003)