Ian Scott: Recalling the days when ‘boy meets girl’ at Doaks

Dancers in a dance hall in the 1950s
Dancers in a dance hall in the 1950s

A few years ago I wrote about my experiences in the late 1950s in Falkirk’s most famous dance hall, Doak’s, where more that half local married couples met for the first time!

It seemed to strike a chord with many folk of my vintage and so I am happy to revisit those heady days when the dance hall next to the bus station was the main place in the town for ‘‘boy meets girl’’.

I suppose a few people did go there because they enjoyed dancing but most of us went there in hot pursuit of a ‘‘lumber’’.

A night at Doak’s, which opened its doors first in 1933, was a rite of passage for late teens and twenties and to take part you had to conform.

This meant the charcoal grey suit with a white shirt and a red tie and hankie set.

That was a hankie made of three wee bits of triangular cloth on a bit of card and stuck in your breast pocket!

Suitably attired we arrived at the bottom of the stairs and then, sharp right into the cloakroom for the final preparations.

There would be a crowd of lads at the big mirror combing in the Brylcreem or that smelly lavender stuff that came in wee oval tins.

The girls were on the opposite side doing much the same thing I suppose.

The main hurdle was to get past the man on the stair. The generation before mine had to face a guy called ‘‘Big Albert’’ but by the late 50s it was a Canadian called Johnston, who was, I think, the son-in- law of Johnny Doak.

As I recall he wore a wine-coloured tuxedo and looked and sounded a bit like Al Capone.

“Hey Bub” he would say, “You been drinking?” The smell of booze meant instant ejection.

No alcohol on sale then and no ‘‘jitterbug jiving’’ either!

Once inside, the girls dressed in flouncy party frocks sat waiting as the men gathered a few yards away appraising the talent.

“Take your partners for a slow foxtrot” said the bandleader and forward we went towards our target.

There was an unwritten rule that a girl could not refuse you at least one dance so you usually got a partner.

Then began the battle! You had three minutes to chat them up before the first part of the dance finished.

By then you could tell if you were in with a chance. If you tried to ease her a bit nearer you it either worked (good sign) or you got the locked-arm syndrome (bad news).

When the dance ended you asked “would you like to stay up for the next one?” If the answer was ‘‘no’’ then you were back to square one but if it was ‘‘yes’’ then things were looking bright.

After a couple of dances you might both sit down for an orange juice and, well . . . you were lumbered!

Next problem. Where does she live? Please, not California or Slamannan.

At the end of the night came a stroll to the bus station and maybe a date for the pictures at the Regal or the Pavilion. And that’s how it was done!

How did I do you might ask? Well once I got over the knocking knees and the sweaty palms (mine I hasten to add) I did not too bad.

The old place, which is still there, has had various names like the Maniqui, Oil Can Harry’s and today it is a very popular nightclub called Storm.

But for generations it was and always will be, simply, Doak’s.