Falkirk dance hall was at the heart of romance

Doaks has been Oil Can Harry's, the Maniqui and Storm but for a whole generation it was and always will be simply, Doaks.
Doaks has been Oil Can Harry's, the Maniqui and Storm but for a whole generation it was and always will be simply, Doaks.

There’s a saying in Falkirk that half local marriages had their origins on the dance floor at Doaks.

It was certainly the main place in the town for ‘boy meets girl’ in my youth and shows like ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ have brought back memories of the days when some couples – how we hated them – used to glide across the floor doing a series of intricate steps to show how clever they were.

I suppose quite 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 Doaks 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 Brylcream 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 final 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 1950s it was a big Canadian called Johnston, who was, I think, the son-in-law of Johnny Doak.

He wore a wine-coloured tuxedo, had a toothbrush moustache and black slicked-back hair and looked and sounded like Al Capone. “Hey Bub” he would say, “You been drinking?” The smell of alcohol meant instant ejection.

Once inside, the girls arrayed in what looked to me like 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 band leader 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’, 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 next door bus station and a date for the pictures at the Regal or the Pavilion the following night.

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 has been Oil Can Harry’s, the Maniqui and Storm but for a whole generation it was and always will be simply Doaks.

Ask Ian

Wilma Marshall asks what happened to the ‘wings’ outside Alexanders in Camelon.

Good question. A year or so ago I was asked the same thing by a lady whose late husband had designed these huge metal wings which decorated the front of the building. An exhibition of his industrial design work was planned for Aberdeen. I spoke to the company but got pretty short shrift. I was told that nobody there would know and anyway they were too busy to deal with the enquiry! In a skip would be my guess.