ON THIS DAY: 1971: Sheffield's Crucible Theatre is opened - looking back at its life in pictures and video

Exactly 46 years ago today, it was curtain up for the very first time on Sheffield's Crucible Theatre.

For it was on November 9, 1971 that the fledging performance venue first stepped into the spotlight - and in the following years has gone on to become one of the world's best known theatres and sporting venues.

A queue for the snooker at the Crucible.

A queue for the snooker at the Crucible.

After five years of hard work and arguments, the brand new theatre opened just a stone's throw from the exisiting Lyceum Theatre.

Determined to make the opening season a resounding success artistic director Colin George was working at the old Playhouse, in Townhead Street, on one of two shows which would rotate there.

He direct Peer Gynt by the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen, while - a massive scoop - legendary theatre star Sir Tyrone Gutherie would put on Greek-tragedy House of Atreus.

“I remember the production manager coming to me with a serious look on his face one day,” said Colin in an interview in 2011. “I thought ‘Oh dear, something terrible’s happened, the wigs haven’t arrived’.

“In fact, he had come to tell me Sir Tyrone had died. It was terribly sad because he was a close friend by then but I also felt a sudden sense of despair that something could go so wrong just as things were starting to come right. It left us with a mountain to climb.”

It was a mountain they made light work of.

Leading actor Douglas Campbell stepped into Sir Tyrone’s shoes and the rotating run would eventually receive rave reviews from The Star and the nationals press alike.

More significantly, perhaps, a young protege of Gutherie - a fast-becoming-famous actor called Ian McKellen - phoned the newly-formed Sheffield Theatre Trust shortly after the untimely death. “He asked if there was anything he could do,” says Colin, who left The Crucible in 1974. “And I said we did have a role on opening night in Chekhov’s Swan Song, and he agreed. It was a terrific coup.”

McKellen was sandwiched that night - November 9, 1971 - between a performance by school children and a music hall comedy and steel band show. It might have seemed an obscure combination but it was one which nevertheless inspired The Star’s theatre critic to declare: “If the Crucible is not the crashing success it ought to be it won’t be through lack of support from the locals.”

“We went with the opening night we did because we wanted to show the Crucible was there for everyone,” said Colin. “I don’t remember too much from the opening night because I was so busy but I do remember the children I was working with telling me their parents had been surprised I was wearing denim. It was another age back then. They thought I should have been in tails.”

The theatre had been named the Crucible - despite an original proposal to name it after the legendary Adelphi pub which it replaced - because of its unique Sheffield connotations.

Soon, the theatre's reputation went from strength to strength attracting a list of stars which still reads like a who’s who of showbusiness.

Among them were Kenneth Branagh, Joanna Lumley, Timothy West, Jim Broadbent, and Ralph Fiennes.

Perhaps, however, nothing has opened the venue up to so many people as one single annual event: the World Snooker Championships

There’s no doubt, despite the hundreds of productions and famous faces which have graced the venue over the years, it is this sport on green baize which has really given the theatre - and Sheffield - a worldwide audience. And which kept the place financially viable during the dark days of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Back then, the Crucible had hit a rocky period with falling audience figures, artistic criticism and concern among Sheffielders that continual council subsidies amounted, as one Star headline put it, to little more than “culture on the rates”.

But, while new directions and directors, including experimental theatre, pantomimes and attracting bigger names, would turn things round, the snooker was a huge boon throughout.

The World Snooker Championship was first held at the venue in 1977 – when it was won by John Spencer, who beat Cliff Thorburn 25-21 – and it has been held at the Crucible ever since.

It had previously been held across the country, including in London, Birmingham and Manchester .

Moments like Dennis Taylor beating Steve Davis on the final black ball in the 1985 final or Ronnie O’Sullivan’s legendary 147 breaks kept fans coming back, even in periods when theatre fans were not doing likewise.

And it’s not the only sport that’s been held at the Crucible. The English Open Squash Championships was also hosted at the venue during the early 2000s. But, for sheer popularity, snooker remained king, and its value to the theatre was such that during its £15.3 million redevelopment in 2007-09, the world championships was the only thing held there. Except for those two weeks each year, it remained shut throughout.

That redevelopment, then, was the biggest in the venue’s 40 year history and included improved seating, bars, stage and entrance area as well as overhauls of backstage quarters and the box office. It’s success was such that the building is now Grade II listed.