Riding along on the Crest of a Wave
And the sun is in the sky
All our eyes on the distant horizon
Look out for passers by
We'll do the hailing
While other ships are round us sailing
We're riding along on the Crest of a Wave
And the world is ours
What is the Gang Show?
The Gang Show is a professional standard variety show produced by Scouts and Guides throughout the world, everyone involved is a member of the Guide and Scout Movement - all areas of the modern theatre are covered from lighting, scenery, costume, music and orchestra, audio, special effects, and ticket sellers. Since the first show, back in 1931, the show has raised over £5 million for the Movement. It is said that somewhere in the world a Gang Show is being produced every day of the year.
How did the Gang Show start?
The creator, writer and producer of the "Gang Show" was Ralph Reader, CBE MBE, who was born in Somerset, England, and who for many years was a leading actor and theatrical producer in New York and London.
After returning to London in 1928, Reader met the Holborn Rover Scouts and became Scoutmaster. He created a production for them and was determined that it would be a real production :
".. [with] no trek-cart displays or drilling or any of the routine items
which seemed always to be included in my Scout "concerts".
After seeing the show, Admiral Philpotts, who was then the County Commissioner for London, stopped him outside the lift at Scout Headquarters and told me how much he'd enjoyed the Holborn Rovers show. Philpotts then asked Reader to write and produce a show in order to raise funds for a swimming pool for the Downe Campsite in Kent.
Over lunch that day with Fred Hurll (who later became Chief Executive Commissioner of the Scout Association) and another friend, "Tinny" Fellowes, they planned the programme for a full-scale revue, to be shown at at the Scala Theatre (between Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, London). Reader knew that he wanted a hundred-and-fifty boys and men in the company and that, to satisfy his pride in the Movement (and his own self-respect) that it would have to be well up to West End standards - and it was.
That show, which ran from 30 October - 1 November 1932, was called "The Gang's All Here" and after only a short time, they had raised enough money for the swimming pool, £150 profit.
Recognising the worth of this form of training, Baden-Powell encouraged Reader to continue and he was asked to write another show for the following year. Within the next month he started on the next production, called "The Gang Comes Back". Each year the "house full" boards went gone up, and sometimes the demand for seats was so terrific that as much as £100,000 had to be returned. Thus the London Gang Show tradition was established.
The Gang Show has its own dedicated scout troop which meets in Holborn, just around the corner from Tottenham Court Road.
Riding Along on the Crest of a Wave
The idea of a high quality fund-raising show was carried throughout the UK and then the world as more and more Scout associations took the ideas back with them from visits to London and as news spread across the globe. Although every Gang Show is different, most take at least one element from the first few Gang Shows.
"Riding Along on the Crest of a Wave" became the signature song after it was used in the 1936 show. Originally a Sea Scout song it has been sung in every country of the world where Scouting exists and was the theme song in one of the prisoner-of-war camps during the Second World War. It was sung at the beginning and end of every R.A.F. Gang Show on every battle front throughout WWII.
The Gang Show goes on...
A full length feature film called "The Gang Show" was made in 1937 (produced by Herbert Wilcox and directed by Alfred Goulding) and the show became the first and only amateur act to appear in a Command Performance (1937, 1957 and 1964). The Queen (as Patron of the Girl Guide Association) honoured the Gang Show with her presence in 1954, 1962 and 1972.
Many famous faces have appeared in the Gang Show, including Sir Harry Secombe, Sir Richard Attenborough, Peter Sellers, Darryl Stewart, Max Bygraves, Spike Milligan, Norrie Paramour, Dick Emery and Tony Hancock; who, along with many others have contributed to building the Gang Show tradition.
The Scouts of the cast warmly welcomed Guides into the show in 1968, six years before Reader decided to call it a day and give up the reins of the show. The London Gang Show ended in 1974 but the London Gang Show Fellowship was formed.
The Fellowship bestows the award of a Red Necker Gang Show to those shows judged to be of the highest standard (for example the Reading, Oxford and the South-East Berkshire Gang Shows in England are all Red Necker Shows) - this means that the show's cast are granted a red neckerchief to wear in place of their county one with gold lettering on the back which simply reads "G.S.". These neckers tend to be treasured and honoured.
Sadly, Reader died just before his 79th birthday in May 1982 after a short illness. The Ralph Reader Memorial Fund was established after his death. Its aim is to offer financial assistance to any member of the Scout and Guide movements, in particular, young people who want to enter the theatrical profession or take part in a special activity, such as the World Jamboree.
It has been a long time since I was involved with WAGGGS or even thought about Gang Shows. If I have omitted anything or there are corrections to be made, please feel free to msg me and I will happily change it.