The first McDonald’s in Scotland wasn’t in Glasgow or Edinburgh, but in Dundee. The country’s two largest cities did not even get the second restaurant – that, bizarrely, went to the Fife town of Kirkcaldy.
Even then, it wasn’t until 1988 that they finally saw the US burger chain make its way to the country’s primary cities, eventually barging its way in to take on the Wimpy and the local burger bars that had popped up around the place.
In Glasgow, there were plenty. But few have taken on such a life of their own as Buck’s.
It’s 35 years this year since the Buck Rogers Burger station opened. For those of a certain age, who managed to get along to it during its brief run in Glasgow, it has attained mythical status – a Narnia-esque trip into the culinary future where your pound notes were exchanged for a sci-fi currency and spandex clad dancers delivered food to your table.
I’ve mentioned the place before, on podcasts and blogs elsewhere, yet it remains this odd, almost fictional place.
Part of that, of course, was down to the lack of documentary evidence it actually existed, although all that changed a couple of years back when STV managed to find some footage from inside the building, providing a rare glimpse of the place in action.
A glimpse inside the Burger Station from STV’s archive
An outstanding Facebook group, of former staff and patrons, has filled in much of the gaps, although there remains a surprising lack of official photographs retained by the main Scottish newspapers. Trawling through the archives of the Mitchell Library, there’s not a huge amount there either. For years, Buck’s existed purely as muttered remembrances and vague recollections on message boards and odd forums on the fringes o the internet.
The restaurant was officially opened by Glasgow’s then provost, Michael Kelly, in November 1982, above the legendary Tam Shepherd’s joke shop on Queen Street. Famous Glasgow architects Gillespie, Kidd and Coia – responsible for the BOAC building and the modernist St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross – designed the interior of the building, remodeling the old tenement block to accommodate the restaurant.
It was a bid to launch a franchise, based around the TV show, even though it had been off the air for two years in the USA. The owners had struck a deal with Universal to licence the show, getting some memorabilia to go along with the video screens, dwarves and robot dancers scattered about the place.
Although they had the rights to the TV show, by the time the restaurant opened it had also been and gone from STV’s screens. To fill the gap, the owners shot new footage, hiring Russell Hunter to work on the films, shot variously in a studio in the storeroom of the burger bar, and reportedly on a plane hired at Glasgow Airport.
And then there was Twiki.
The restaurant’s mock-up of Buck’s robot sidekick, with a costume almost, but not entirely, unlike the one from the show, was populated by an actor of restricted growth from the Milton, who would wander the floor – engaging with patrons and occasionally startling the kids.
“I worked there as a Robot and earned £2 per hour!! The waiting staff got £1.60 an hour. It was a fantastic place to work in and I loved going into work at the weekend.
“I also made a lot of friends there, had two dance partners in Lynn and Caroline who joined me at different times to form my dance act Alpha and Omega!”
Sadly, although perhaps not unexpectedly, the venture proved to be a money loser. Despite a rebranding effort it struggled and, like so many buildings in Glasgow, was mysteriously damaged by a fire just when things looked bad.
Odd how often that happens…
Despite claims it would reopen, it became the Triangle restaurant and, eventually Archaos nightclub.
Bucks was no more. Tam Shepherd’s is still there though, if you need any novelty trick dog poo.
I went to Buck Rogers Burger Station for my fifth birthday – shortly before, it seems, the place shut up shop for good, despite repeated promises it would reopen after repairs needed following the fire next door. We’d been to see a live stage version of Paddington Bear (shut up, stop laughing you) at one of the local theatres, before going for a burger.
My memories of the place are vivid, given how young I was. Going up the stairs to the restaurant, with the black and yellow hazard tape along them to make them look futuristic. The restaurant itself, with the computer panels against the wall and the screens showing bits of the show – mainly the Starfighter launches and battles, and lots of buttons you could press. And Twiki, of course, wandering about the place.
I’ve also a recollection of it being the first time I’d had a milkshake, and it being rank rotten, ending up swapping with my mum for her coke, and being thrown by the chips – which were more French fries than the regular Linwood chip shop hunks of potato I was used to.
Looking at the pictures now, of course, it’s all very haunmade and Blake’s 7 – silver painted corrugated card for sci-fi walls and costumes that bore no resemblance to the show they were supposed to be from.
But at the time, as a five year old who remembered Twiki and the spaceships off the telly, it was a mysterious, magical, futuristic place that I never got to go back to.
At least, not until I found the Megatron. But that’s another post…