What is a Gang Show?
A Gang Show is an amateur theatrical variety show where the cast is made up of members of the Scout and Guide Movements, mainly consisting of song, dance and short comedy sketches. The cast spend many hours rehearsing for the show and members of the backstage team spend more time on costume design, stage building and sourcing props etc required for the show. The shows are normally put on in commercial theatres over a period of several days, which gives the public a chance to come and watch the show.
It was once said that “Every night of every year, somewhere in the world a Gang Show is playing”.
Sir Harry Secombe, Sir Richard Attenborough, Peter Sellers, Darryl Stewart, Max Bygraves, Spike Milligan, Norrie Paramour, Dick Emery, Tony Hancock and many other stage and film stars were involved in Gang Shows early in their careers and have contributed in building the Gang Show tradition.
The History of the Gang Show
The Gang Show was created by a person called Ralph Reader, who was born in Crewkerne, Somerset, England in 1903. In 1931 Ralph, a Rover Scout Leader was a leading actor and theatrical producer in the USA and London. He was asked if he could write a Scout based amateur production to raise funds for a swimming pool at the Downe Scout Camp, rehearsals started in May of 1932, with the curtain going up on October 31 1932 at London’s Scala Theatre under the title “The Gangs All Here”, and ran till the November 1 the same year. The show was not a sell out but raised enough money to build the swimming pool. Baden Powell was so impressed with the show that he persuaded Ralph to produce a further show in 1933, which was called “The Gang Comes Back”, this show ran for one week.
To identify members of the”Gang” a Red Scarf with the lettering GS was designed to be worn by members who had taken part in a Gang Show, these days the red scarf with gold lettering on the back is awarded to UK Gang Shows, by The Scout Association, that have reached a certain standard of show
During the war years Ralph was asked to produce similar shows for the RAF to raise morale. In one article Ralph recalls “One night in West Africa about twenty-five years ago, when I was in the Royal Air Force, I was sitting in my tent. A burly young pilot walked in. He stood there, in his light-blue R.A.F. uniform, grinning from ear to ear. Around his neck was his Red Scarf. All he said was, “What time does rehearsal start, Skip?”
From that small beginning, the Gang Show has become one of the traditions of Scouting and has given 3 Royal Command performances, first in 1937 and then again in 1957 and 1964 – the only amateur act to ever receive this honour.
During the 1950’s the concept of Gang Show spread throughout the world – Ireland, Hong Kong, America , New Zealand and Australia to name a few. They were all based on the London Gang Show in both concept and material.
Ralph Reader died on the 13th May 1982, but the Gang Show still lives on