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The Fort Theatre History

The Theatre was the brainchild of Mr James Bissell who, in 1960 was a member of an amateur dramatic club, but was filled with the desire to begin an amateur theatre group in Bishopbriggs. His idea was that in time there would be a theatre built which would house an amateur club, completely run by amateurs but from time to time bringing professional performances to the town.


He contacted a friend of his, Mr Donald McBean, a producer of amateur dramatics and met him in a cafe, telling him of his dreams. There and then they drafted a constitution for The Players which is the basis of our constitution today. A meeting was held in Bishopbriggs High School on the 1st of April 1960, four people attending, and the Antonine Theatre was born. A steering committee was formed under the chairmanship of James Bissell. At that time the Balmuildy Hall (which was eventually named the New Memorial Hall) was in the process of being built and this had a stage. The first play performed by The Players was in the new hall 'When We Are Married', dated 25 - 26 January 1961. The cast included James Bissell, John Faith, Margaret Wilson, Nan Curdy and Margaret Graham, who could all be called 'Founder Members'. James Grimshaw, who now lives in Canada, was Stage Manager and is an Honorary Life Member of the Group.

Unfortunately, however the hall was found not to be suitable for dramatic productions. A hut was purchased for rehearsals and sited in Springfield Road. The Balance sheet for the first year shows an annual rent to the railway of £15 per annum, rates £15 and erection of hut £20.
The Group was at that time known as The Antonine Players and Junior Theatre Group. Three years later the Antonine Singers joined with The Players and so the group became known as The Antonine Theatre Group.

All this time, the need for a theatre was growing and several suggestions were made. Councillor D Forrester, who became the first President of The Group, arranged that a hut be made available to the group to be sited alongside the existing hut. This was brought in sections, but unfortunately between heavy rain falls and the gales of 1968 it literally collapsed.
The Group carried on their activities during this period and were very involved in the Burgess week of 1966 - a revue being held on the 1st of June 1966 and a Grand Variety Show compered by the late Jack Radcliffe being held on the 3rd of June 1966.

The idea of using Brackenbrae Farm came when Mr Bissell, himself a councillor on the Town Council, heard that plans were afoot to pull down Brackenbrae House. He pleaded the cause of the theatre to have the derelict granary for use as a Theatre. It was agreed that we could go ahead, and the Council were very helpful and generous at this time. Harrison the builder, who built the theatre as designed by Mr Tom Allan was paid by the Council with The Theatre Group repaying the loan. The Group’s assets were £400.
Provost D Bruce laid the foundation stone on June 1st 1969 and the first performance in the Fort Theatre was a joint show by drama and singers - 'The Hollow Crown' on the 25th to the 27th of November the same year.

Mr Albert Keighley was the second President from 1962 – 1974; Mr James Proctor was the third President from 1974 – 1976; and Mr James Bissell became President from 1976 onwards.
With the help of the Burgh Council, then District Council and Regional Councils we have made steady progress.  Again with the help of the Burgh Council, Phase 2 which included Club Room, Kitchen, Dressing Room and Bar, was finished in 1973.

So the dream had finally come to pass.  Over the ensuing years the Group have gone from strength to strength, the style changing somewhat. Management Committees throughout the years have been extremely hard working, and always at the helm was Mr James Bissell.
The Drama section have been a very successful group over the years and in the past have won ten trophies in the following festivals:- SCDA at the Mitchell Theatre, Cambeltown and Kilmarnock, at the Pollock Festival winning a First for Halloween and the following year awards for Set Design and Best Actors, East Kilbride (then a new festival) we were 2nd and also received the award for Best Actor.
Quite a number of young actors who started in the Fort Theatre have gone on to the professional theatre. Among those worth mentioning are Peter Capaldi (Local Hero), Martin Smith (Evita), Leslie Fitzsimmons (Take The High Road) and many more.

Sadly, Jimmy Bissell is no longer with us but without his determination and stubborness the Fort Theatre and The Antonine Theatre Group may never have evolved into what we have now. He will always be remembered at The Fort and we now have The James Bissell Suite situated within the Theatre