FIFTY-three years ago, a small, ginger-haired boy with a James Cagney swagger entered the gates of his high school for the first time and demanded of a fellow pupil; “Who is the hardest guy in this school?”

After a big, burly nominee was pointed out, the angel with the dirty face marched straight up to the unaware youth and “skelped him hard on the jaw.”

The red-headed bruiser in fact grew up to be manager of the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow. And on reading this, many who know Iain Gordon will assume this to be a start-as-you-mean-to-go-on strategy that would define his career.

Gordon, who his run the Renfield Street theatre since 1978, has long been regarded as one of the most combative people ever to have worked in the arts. We’re not talking metaphorical fights. His punches thrown are part of Scottish entertainment history. His arguments, fall-outs with producers, actors, directors, PR companies and writers (present writer included) are legendary.

“I have had to battle with people in this world,” he says of Planet Showbiz, grinning. “If you don’t they will rip you off. But I don’t bear grudges. The next day I let it go. It’s all in the moment for me.”

Iain Gordon’s business tactics may have been aggressive (over the years he has had serious words with the likes of Brendan O’Carroll and Jim Davidson) but no one can deny his commitment to the only commercial theatre in Scotland to run at a profit and be non-grant funded.

It’s success is entirely down to him. Since moving across the road from the Apollo Theatre in 1978 where he was an electrician, (“I got married the same year ,and took the Pavilion job because I’d have more time to spend with my wife; that never worked out”) Gordon has graduated from being a spark who could run a sound system to running a theatre that was literally falling down and staffed by more than a few falling down drunks.

He’s often in the building from seven am until midnight and during these hours he has painted the walls, cleaned carpets, rewired electrics, fixed plumbing, ran a lighting desk, a PA system, replaced scenery, and found costumes.

As he progressed to producing and directing he has hired (and fired) actors, staged dozens of his own productions and now writes his own scripts. (He could play drums if required, having been a Sixties band performer).

Such polymathic talent to emerge from a man who never reached ‘O’ Level year at school, and indeed, has never seen a theatre play outside of the Pavilion?

“I like to be involved,” he says. “When I would watch directors such as John Murtagh I learned from them. I learned a huge amount from watching hypnotist Robert Halpern create a show. And of course, Brendan O’Carroll is a genius talent.”

He adds; “But I have to admit, our own comedies wouldn’t work elsewhere. We cater for a Glasgow audience. There’s nothing arty-farty about what we do here. We do in-your-face delivery which harks back to the days of variety. I never give an actor a mike until opening night because I want to see them hit the back wall.”

Gordon is speaking in his office at the top of the 104-year-old theatre. It has no door, booted in by firemen after nearby Victoria’s nightclub burnt down back in March. Since then, the theatre boss has been at war with Glasgow Council demanding to access his own theatre.

That war is over, and he’s now happy to be back, having spent £1.5m on refurbishments, the paintwork glistening, the seats and carpets cleaned. But he reveals Pavilion came close to going the way of the nightclub. Gordon shows photos of cinder and ash clusters on his carpets which found their way in through the roof skylight. Thanks to fire retardant materials, the Pavilion is still here. “But the dust and debris caused our internal downpipes to be blocked and the flat roof filled up with three feet of water, which found its way down the walls.”

Iain Gordon has many talents but his greatest seems to be in keeping the theatre doors open. Over the years, the Pavilion has suffered a range of calamities. Business was critical in the early Eighties until he brought in bands and hypnotist Robert Halpern – and millions to the box office. When Halpern vanished forever the theatre boss found a replacement in Peter Powers. When his ‘fluence on the punters began to wean, Gordon found Brendan O’Carroll, who packed the place to the rafters. And when Mrs Brown pulled off her Pavilion pinny and took off to the Hydro, Gordon began to write his own comedy adventure shows, such as Real Hoosewives of Glesga. The tills have never stopped ringing.

So why the temper tantrums? You’ve had fun at the Pavilion, including the night spent with the female mud wrestlers after hours in the mud pit. Where does the pique emulate from? Growing up with a shock of red hair,doesn’t entirely excuse the rancour which has on occasion necessitated the arrival of law enforcement officers?

“I was an a****** growing up in Johnstone,” he admits. “I was part of the gang culture. Then we moved to Beith, which I thought would be a quiet town in Ayrshire, but in terms of fighting it was worse. Fighting was a necessity. We’d go on bus journeys to Dalry and Kilbirnie to fight.

“And yes, the polis were involved. But you seldom got locked up. Most often, a big sergeant would just give you a skelp.”

What of family life? Did he have reason to feel animus? Seems Gordon loves his mammy to bits, but on the subject of his father he’s non-committal. All he will says is he has two sisters, and reveals he spent “a lot of time” looking after the youngest.

The schoolboy anger was more about sport, he says, having been the school sports champ three years in a row.

“I didn’t really get so angry until I came in here,” he maintains. “It was always a fight to keep this place going. Was I right? I probably went over the top.” A little bit of an inferiority complex, again having to prove himself? “Probably.”

Iain Gordon is happy to be back in his world, a theatre he practically lives in; (any free time he allows himself is spent in his motor home in the North of Scotland.)

And these days, he smiles as he says he’s working hard to control the temper – not out of a developing love for the artistic community. “It causes my blood pressure to soar,” he laughs.

But what of that big high school fight back in the day? Did the hard man back down? “Did he f***,” he says, grinning. “He said to me; ‘You’re claimed. Four O’clock, you’re dead.’ And at four we had our fight. And he beat the absolute s**** of me. But to me that was job done. Afterwards, he shook my hand and said “Well done, wee man. At least you had the guts to stand up to me.’ I never had another fight in school after that.”

Iain Gordon adds, smiling; “I learned from that. You can’t back down in life. You have to be seen to be capable.”

* Celtic The Musical: September 5-29.