The first show, with the title of The Gang’s All Here, was staged at the Scala Theatre, off Tottenham Court Road London, from the 30th October – 1st November 1932.
To quote the programme, the book, music, lyrics, and production were by A Holborn Rover. The show produced a lot of goodwill and a profit of £150. So The Gang had to return in 1933 and such was the confidence of the organising committee, The Scala Theatre was booked for a week. The 1933 show was titled, not surprisingly, The Gang Comes Back ! and played to full houses.
As it appeared The Gang had come to stay, it was decided in 1934 that future production be titled The Gang Show.
The 1934 Show was notable in two respects; We’re Riding Along on the Crest of a Wave was sung for the first time and every seat was sold before the opening performance. As a result the theatre was booked for a fortnight in 1935 and the same thing happened; not a ticket left when the Show began. Members of The Gang are either at work or school during the day, they meet all their own expenses and are active members of the Movement with the consequent responsibilities. That is why the run of the show is limited to two weeks. It was in 1935, too that the theatre critics of the national newspapers prevailed on Ralph Reader to drop his anonymity and A Holborn Rover disappeared from the scene ! In 1937 The Gang featured in a full length film, The Gang Show, produced by Herbert Wilcox and directed by Alfred Goulding.
The Gang were the first amateurs ever to appear in a Royal Command Performance. They had this great honour in 1937 and again in 1957 and 1964. Members of the Royal family have graciously supported The Gang Show since 1933 when Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of York, (Later to become King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) attended a performance. Her Majesty the Queen honoured the Show by her presence in 1954, 1962, and 1972 for the 40th Anniversary Show when her Majesty was accompanied by H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh and Earl Mountbatten of Burma.
The Gang changed their uniforms in 1939 but many of its members continued the good work in the Royal Air Force. By 1944 there were 24 R.A.F. Gang Shows entertaining the services in different parts of the world. For his leadership of this splendid war-service Ralph received the M.B.E.
The Gang Show – scout version – returned to London in 1950 at the King’s Theatre, Hammersmith; the demand for tickets made it necessary to use a larger theatre than the pre-war Scala. For the same reason the show was transferred to the Golders Green Hippodrome in 1952. When that theatre ceased to be available in 1968 The Gang moved to the Odeon Theatre Golders Green. After 5 successful years there another change became necessary with the result that its final home was the Gaumont State Theatre, Kilburn. In it’s final year of 1974 during a two week period the show played to more than twice the people it played to before the war.
In the birthday honours list of 1957 Ralph received the C.B.E. for his services to Scouting, and in 1974 hes presented with the Bronze Wolf by the World Scout Council. During the Jubilee Jamboree in 1957, The Gang Show was staged for a week in Birmingham Hippodrome and played twice nightly to the Scouts of the World. The Box Office set up a record for the theatre which until this day has never been equalled.
Until 1967 The Gang Show was an all male show. In the following year they were joined by girls and the change was warmly welcomed by audiences, and especially by the cast. It should be mentioned that the first provincial gang show to have girls was in Edinburgh so pipping London by 10 months. Thanks to Ralph’s generosity, Scouts throughout the World are allowed to use his songs and sketches in their own Gang Shows which it is estimated, have raised something in the region of 2 million pounds for local funds. In addition to the many thousands who saw the shows in the theatre each year, the television production of the show was seen by millions.
The shows were not presented just in London but in 1934 spread to Stoke, Newcastle, Darlington, Belfast, Chicago, and many other towns and cities. The first Scottish show was presented by the Scouts of Glasgow in the Alhambra Theatre in 1936, they were soon joined by many others in the 1950s, 60s & 70s some of these are appearing before you tonight in this our Centenary Tribute to Gang Show.
All of the Gang Show’s achievements are due to one man – RALPH – . He was the creator and was the creator and was also the Author, Composer, and inspirer in chief of Gang Show’s everywhere throughout the world. His contribution to Scouting was inimitable and was only surpassed by the Chief Baden-Powell himself. He gave lavishly of his time, energy, and great talent, often to the detriment of his own professional theatrical life. The Scout Movement cannot be too grateful for the many benefits which have accrued as a result. But above all, we should remember with gratitude the fun and happiness he has given, and continues to give, to the countless proud wearers of of the coveted Red Scarf.
(A.W. Hurll (Fred) was the stage Director of the very first Gang Show in 1932 and was always at Ralph’s side through thick and thin. For many years he was the general Secretary of the Scout Association and great personal friend of Baden-Powell. A few of the personnel involved in this production new him well)
Supplied By Gordon T. Blackburn Archivist to the London Gang Show Fellowship.