Although known as figure skating clubs the Falkirk clubs were for general skating. They catered for the beginners as well as the instruction of those who strived for the technical excellence of figure skating. The Olympian Miss Gladys Jaggers was granted life-membership in October 1938 and soon became heavily involved in the running of this aspect of the ice rink. Dave Davies, NSA silver medallist was appointed as the first chief instructor at Falkirk Ice Rink. Competition was encouraged by the donation of trophies by various individuals and organisations.
Exhibitions of skating by leading performers such as Miss Daphne Buck soon became a feature of the Falkirk Ice Rink. So too did displays of ice dancing and sketches; the latter often with a comedic slant. Christmas 1938 saw the first of many Hogmanay revels. On that occasion Miss Iris Long gave an exhibition of skating on stilts; Ian Currie, Scottish amateur champion, an exercise in free skating; and Ormie Salvesen and Miss Ivory, the well-known Scots pair of skaters, showed how doubles enlivened the performance. There was also a comic hockey match and several other items.
As well as hiring professionals for displays Falkirk Ice Rink Ltd made the best of the enthusiasm of its amateur members. Shows were individually designed to cater for their skills and the massed performances brought a completely different aspect of skating to the fore. In March 1939 an ice ball was staged with over 600 skaters and almost 4,000 spectators filled the rink. This, the first annual Scottish Ice Ball, was a brilliant spectacle and included a popular fancy dress competition.
Alternating colourful shows with competitions worked well. In April 1939 the Scottish Amateur Figure Skating Championships were held at the Falkirk Ice Rink when Ian Currie retained the Scottish Challenge Cup. The following month saw the first annual children’s carnival with children in fancy dress skating on the ice. The microphone system was central to all of these events allowing announcements to be made to orchestrate and enliven the meetings. In the midst of that year’s August heat wave came the news of a big ice show to be staged at Falkirk Ice Rink during the opening week, commencing on Monday 4 September, entitled “Ice Follies of 1939.”
Throughout the Second World War skating experts exhibited their talents to large audiences at Falkirk. In February 1940, for example, fifteen-years-old Daphne Walker, third in the British, European, and World Championships, gave an exhibition. The following month it was the turn of Denis Silverthorne, NSA Gold Medallist and Junior Amateur Champion of Great Britain, together with his sister Winnie Silverthorne – skating was often a family concern. In April 1940 Eva Nyrlova appeared. She was from Czechoslovakia and echoed the national spread of the war. Also an NSA Gold Medallist she had come fifth in the World Championships.
After all that activity the ice surface was closed for the summer of 1940 to reduce fuel consumption and this allowed dancing to be introduced. After much anticipation, skating was reintroduced on 21 September 1940. However, the experience over the summer months had taught the management the value of the site as a dance venue. For the coming winter season part of the extensive ice pad was retained as a dance floor with music provided by Joe Gibson and his London Band for both dancers and skaters.
The daughters of the manager, RJ Buck, led the way in showing how home-grown skating talent could be developed and over the next decades many of the patrons of the Falkirk Ice Rink took up professional careers.
For most, however, it was a matter of spills and falls in the company of their friends and ice skating remained popular for as long as the rink was open. The background music evolved from gramophone records to big bands to the Top Twenty.
Sports on ice were of a varied nature. Just about everything was tried from badminton in 1940 to jumping. In 1961 the BBC’s flagship Saturday afternoon sports programme “Grandstand” was screened live from Falkirk Ice Rink. Ice hockey provided the mainstay of the sporting programme.
G.B. Bailey, 2022
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