Arthouse & Grindhouse in Glasgow in the 1970s

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Back in the 1970s, Glasgow didn’t any real equivalent to NYC’s Deuce, but there was a little line of Classic chain theatres in Renfield Street, just down from the old Glasgow Apollo, as well as the Tatler Club on Sauchiehall St. and the Curzon on Charing Cross.

In 1973, the Classic Grand launched on Jamaica Street with the idea of establishing itself as a swanky new venue for filmgoers. It had been a cinema years before, but the building had been lying derelict for almost a decade, gutted by fire. Now it was refurbished, with a lot of money being ploughed into its transformation.

Classic Grand Opening

‘Inside, it’s luxury all the way, The Evening Times gushed, describing the bronze tinted mirror opposite the entrance, regal red striped drapes and 3 foot frieze of ‘deep amethyst vinyl’ together with upholstered seats (390 of them) with plenty of leg-room promised.

‘Classic pride themselves on appealing to everyone,’ Peter Strick, the Exec Director told the paper, going on to describe the varying kinds of movies that would be shown.

The opener was to be Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (u) before launching into a couple of X-certificates – although the plan was to also include a number of U and A certificates like Black Beauty for the younger generation to enjoy.

Within a couple of weeks of the Classic Grand opening, dodgy sounding titles such as Labyrinth of Sex (x) and You Can’t Run Away from Sex (x) began to dominate the programming, although slots were still found for a James Bond season.

The idea of anything family friendly gradually disappeared, and like the other Classics, it soon succumbed to regularly screening softcore pornos and became a ‘classic’ fleapit, albeit there would also be some more general types of film, the sort that could be seen across the city in the mid-1970s.

At this point, for example, the ABC chain were showing Dario Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet (x) and early Scorsese effort Boxcar Bertha, (x) which was teamed up with blaxploitation revenge thriller Slaughter (x). The Odeon went with Sexy Susan Knows How (x), while a few weeks later the same cinema played host to the subject of last week’s post, Across 110th Street (x). Elsewhere, a number of picture houses presented A Clockwork Orange (x) in the months before Kubrick withdrew it from British screens.

Glasgow Film Theatre May 1974

Just a little over a year later, another and very different kind of cinema, opened nearby. This was the Glasgow Film Theatre, the successor to Scotland’s first arthouse cinema, the Cosmo.

The first films screened in May 1974 included the work of many big-name auteurs. There was Fellini’s Roma (x), followed by Trauffaut’s The 400 Blows (a), Hitchcock’s Psycho (x), Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (aa), Bunuel’s Viridiana (x), and then another Fellini, La Dolce Vita (x).

If I had been enough old enough to be allowed in, though, I’d have chosen to see one of the great 1970s double bills, which was on at the East Kilbride’s Caledonian – Don’t Look Now (x) and The Wicker Man (x), although The Exorcist (x) would have been mighty tempting too. That was on across several screens in the city centre.

Classic Club Cinema Glasgow 1975

What was to be called the Classic Club Cinema opened in the summer of 1975, aiming from the off to show ‘uncensored films which deal frankly with human relationships’. The first two films screened were All American Girl and Lisa’s Felly, neither of which I have ever seen. Or have any real desire to seek out.

Occasionally, though, the Club and its two neighbouring Classics would also show a range of exploitation movies and even underground obscurities. There would be kung fu flicks, gialli, blaxploitation, spaghetti westerns, cult chillers like Pete Walker’s The Flesh and Blood Show (x), and the kind of movies that in America would find their way onto the drive-in circuit.

The bored, the cold, the unemployed, the dirty raincoat mac brigade, students and folk who just enjoyed non-mainstream celluloid would make their way into these picture houses. By the late 1970s, I’d go and see the odd cult film in this type of venue. There were late night horror screenings where the audience would shout out, talk incessantly and throw food at the screen if the the movie was a dud and, very often, you might find the kind of curiosity that you would equate more with the GFT. One of these was Derek Jarman’s Jubilee (x), which I saw at one of the Renfield Street Classics. Music related films and documentaries always seemed to find an audience there.

Classic Glasgow 1974

In Glasgow, as Jubilee debuted in the early summer of 1978, the extended run of Star Wars (u) was finally nearing an end and the two big films were Close Encounters of the Third Kind (aa) and Saturday Night Fever (x). The Bitch (x) was also creating a stir, and Joan Collins even made a personal appearance at the ABC2 although that held no appeal to yours truly.

With World Cup fever building in Scotland and Ally’s Tartan Army about to set out on their march, the GFT decided to get in on the act with a season of films about Argentina, including a critical study of the Peronist movement. Okay, maybe they weren’t really trying to get on the act commercially as I hardly think this season would’ve proved to be box-office gold.

There were many angry letter sent to the local press complaining about the ‘filth’ being shown at cinemas like the Classic Grand. Today, some might look back with distaste and be thankful that the Classics and Tatlers are no more – although it would take only seconds to find material online that is far more hardcore than anything ever shown publicly in the 1970s in Glasgow.

The most striking feature about the cinema listings of the ’70s is the surprisingly high percentage of X-certs (replaced in 1982 by the 18 rating) that were programmed in the grindhouses, big movie chains and even the independent Glasgow Film Theatre, although the mega-success of Star Wars would change this. Strangely enough, I suspect that the most controversial film advertised above would be the GFT’s screening of D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, a technically innovative silent era masterpiece made by a director whose previous work The Birth of a Nation displayed clearly racist beliefs.

I’ll be taking a look at some of the works mentioned in this post in the upcoming weeks, starting with Jubilee.


Lovelace, Inside Deep Throat and Young Flesh Required


Culturally for me, the past few days have consisted of watching two related films: the documentary Inside Deep Throat and the newly released Linda Lovelace biopic titled simply Lovelace. I’ve also been reading Young Flesh Required, a book that actually has nothing to do with porn unless you include Malcolm McLaren’s attempts to entice Russ Meyer into directing The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle – this being co-written by Alan G. Parker and Mick O’Shea and subtitled Growing Up with The Sex Pistols.

Around forty years ago the movie Linda Lovelace was a phenomenon, described as ‘the trendsetting film that brought pornography into pop culture’ while its eponymous star was hailed as ‘the Poster Girl for the Sexual Revolution’. The biggest Hollywood celebs of the day like Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty went to see it, Jackie Onassis even went to see it, swathes of Americans must have taken in a screening because it’s still claimed to be the most commercially successful independent film ever made but before too long a backlash from the religious right and radical feminists had sprung up and the movie tried across the USA on obscenity charges.

Inside Deep Throat charts these important cultural shifts in Nixon era America and is the more highly recommended of the two. Lovelace is very watchable but its somewhat tricksy screenplay can’t quite escape the whiff of a misery memoir adapted for a made for TV daytime movie.

Certainly its stars Amanda Seyfried and Peter Sarsgaard both deliver fine performances and there’s a very strong supporting cast too that includes an almost unrecognisable Sharon Stone, Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire’s Gyp Rossetti) and one of Hollywood’s fastest rising stars, Juno Temple, who is coincidentally the daughter of Julien Temple, who eventually replaced Meyer as director of the aforementioned Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle.

And maybe this nugget of trivia triggered my subconscious to make connections, as I read Young Flesh Required, between the moral hypocrisy of Glaswegian councillors back in 1976 towards the prospect of the Anarchy in the U.K. tour visiting their city and their greater tolerance towards the films being shown at porn picture houses in the city at the time.

Glasgow never had a Times Square or even a Soho back in the 1970s but there did exist a thriving little network of seedy cinemas, the best known of these in 1976 being the Tatler Club on Sauchiehall Street, the Curzon on Charing Cross and Jamaica Street’s Classic Grand – which is only a few minutes walk down from the old Glasgow Apollo, where the Pistols, Heartbreakers, Damned and Clash were scheduled to play.

Occasionally politicians (and religious spokespeople) would hit out against these pornos but I don’t remember any of them ever being as vocal as they were about the supposed misbehaviour of The Sex Pistols, which at this point, before the arrival of Sid Vicious into their ranks, was relatively tame.

OK, encouraged by a hack, some potted plants were thrown around a hotel in Leeds earning the headline PUNK ROCK GROUP WRECK HOTEL but that’s probably as bad as things got on the delinquent-o-meter and remember this was an era where actually wrecking hotels was considered de rigueur among many rock acts – there were good reasons why Led Zeppelin’s favourite LA hotel the Continental Hyatt House was nicknamed the Riot House, so it’s safe to assume that the main problem with the Pistoleros was their ‘bad language’ on LWT’s Today Show.

Back then, swearing on television was considered by many to be utterly abhorrent while nowadays, for example, a man born in Johnstone, Gordon Ramsay could make anything Steve Jones said to Bill Grundy sound tame by comparison – fast forward thirty years from Grundy and the Queen was awarding Ramsay with an OBE at an investiture ceremony held at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and today Jonesy puffing away openly on a ciggy inside a TV studio might strike many as more outrageous than his choice of language.

The times have a-fucking changed; and to further prove this point, here’s a couple of ads placed on the same page of a local newspaper on the 2nd of December, 1976, the day after the Pistols gained instant notoriety throughout the land and by which time the possibility of the band being banned in Glasgow was already under discussion in the Scottish press.

Anarchy Tour adTatler Club ad

And here’s another ad for the for a pair of films shown the following summer around the time that Pretty Vacant became the second single by The Sex Pistols to make the top ten of the British singles chart.


Perhaps The Younger the Better is a film that examines when the ideal age is to learn a foreign language and School Girls For Sale, like Young Flesh Required, could conceivably have been given a misleading title but I doubt it and I’m not going to do any research into either film for obvious reasons.

I’m told too that the films being shown in these cinemas were all pretty much softcore but nevertheless, surely their content merited closer attention than the presence at the Apollo of Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Glen Matlock and Paul Cook (I won’t go into Malcolm McLaren’s Naked Boy T-shirt here).

The single Glasgow Anarchy date was, of, course not allowed to take place; the screenings went ahead, seven days per week.

Anybody crusading against porn flicks being shown in Glasgow or any other British towns or cities would achieve an entirely hollow victory over the next decade or so; the demise of the porno picture houses, though, owed nothing to the success of campaigns against them but was down to a purely commercial reason – the videocassette boom, which went from being the preserve of the rich in 1976 to becoming commonplace in households throughout the country during the ’80s.

The Classic somehow managed to limp into the early 1990s as the Cannon Grand but by the time of The Sex Pistols’ first ever Glasgow show at the SECC as part of their Filthy Lucre Tour in the summer of 1996 every one of the pornos had gone.

Nowadays the Classic Grand has been refurbished and operates as a Rock club, while in the latest in a stream of incarnations, the Tatler is now Club 520, which features graffiti from local artists on its walls and apparently is very popular with students, who mostly wouldn’t have been born back in its Tatler Club days when it advertised itself as an ‘uncensored movie club’.

A Wee Footnote: Young Flesh Required again repeats Johnny Rotten’s claim that it was Glasgow’s Lord Provost who came out with the ‘I feel we have enough problems in Glasgow without importing yobbos’ line but in reality it was Robert Gray, the Chairman of Glasgow District Council’s Licensing Committee who said this. Anyway, I prefer Johnny’s version so feel free to ignore this.