The York Scout & Guide Gang Show follows in a long tradition of Gang Shows which stretches back 80 years to the very first Gang Show, which was performed at London's Scala Theatre in 1932. This show, put on to raise money for a swimming pool at the London Scout Council's campsite in Kent, was performed by a cast of 150 scouts from the Harrow, Holborn and Hornsey areas of London. It was written and produced by Ralph Reader, a man to whom we — and Gang Shows the world over — owe heartfelt thanks for creating the concept of 'Gang Show', which has given pleasure to so many over the last 80 years.
The first York District Gang Show was staged in 1938, just 6 years after that first show in London. It featured a selection of pieces written by Ralph Reader as well as a number of items not usually found in Gang Shows such as a camp fire sing song. The hit of the show, however, was a French ballet sequence performed by the cast of all male Boy Scouts, which delighted the audience and ensured they went home happy.
War broke out the following year and although the London Gang Show was cancelled, an elaborate Gang Show was staged in York in May 1939 at the Rialto Cinema in Fishergate. The show was produced by a local Scout Master, E L Lang, with the assistance of a ballet teacher called Miss Snowdon. It had no fewer than 28 acts and featured some Ralph Reader pieces that had previously been performed at the London Gang Show, skits on education and movies and an item entitled 'Fourteen Delicious Glamour Girls' — all the more intriguing given that it was performed by Senior Boy Scouts!
Although Gang Shows continued throughout the Second World War and in the years that followed, there was not another Show in York until 1960. This Show was called 'It's Great to be Young' — named after a song by Ralph Reader.
After a break of nine years, York District Scouts held their next show in 1969 at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, where you are sat today. Produced by Derek Oakley and with financial support from Rowntree Mackintosh Ltd, the Show had a cast of 76 members and featured 18 items — mostly written by Ralph Reader for his London Gang Shows. There were also pieces from the musical 'Oliver' by Lionel Bart and a parody of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' which focused on things that can — and often do — happen at Scout Camp.
It was another 10 years before the next York Gang Show. This time the show's director was Clive Hailstone who, as well as producing two shows for the 1st Clifton Sea Scout Group in 1976 and 1977, had been a studio winner in the television talent show 'Opportunity Knocks'. The 1979 show was particularly momentous as this was the first York Gang Show to feature Girl Guides in the cast.
From 1979 onwards, the York Gang Show was performed on a much more regular basis, with shows in 1981, 1985 and then yearly from 1987 through to 1995. During this time the show continued in true Gang Show tradition, however a few significant changes took place. In 1988, the contribution of the Guides was officially recognised when they were included in the Show's title for the first time and in 1994, Brownies were finally allowed to join the cast. In the 1991 Show there was perhaps the most significant change of all and one of the proudest moments in our history: the York Scout & Guide Gang Show gained official recognition from the Scout Association for the quality of its production and the members of the cast were, for the first time, able to wear the special Gang Show red neckers.
A 'red necker' show has been performed by the York 'Gang' every two years since 1997 (although we managed to squeeze in an extra show in 2000 to mark the millennium!) so do come and join us at our next show to celebrate an inspirational man called Ralph Reader, who had the talent and vision to start it all back in 1932.