What is Gang Show?
Don’t let the name mislead you, Gang Show has nothing to do with motor bikes! Gang Show is a theatrical production put on by members of the Scout and Guide Movements. The Show itself lasts around 2 hours and typically consists of 15-20 different items. These items involve a combination of singing, movement, dancing and acting.
Gang Show Origins
Gang Shows started in London in October 1932, when a Boy Scout Revue called “The Gang’s All Here” took the stage and ran for three nights at the Scala Theatre. The show was written and produced by someone calling himself “A Holborn Rover”. That Rover was Ralph Reader.
As a boy Ralph was a Scout as well as a member of the local church choir. He developed a love for singing and acting and began organising Scout concerts to raise funds for various war charities during the First World War was being fought. When World War 1 ended, Ralph went to America to further his stage career. By the time he was 24, he had become a name on Broadway, had worked with every musical comedy and revue star and was one of the top dance directors; in fact he was hailed as "the kid dance director". In 1928 Ralph returned to London to work with a large show. It was such a success that offers of other stage work soon flowed in. It was also about this time that he got involved in Scouting again - this time as a Rover with the Holborn Rover Crew and as a Scout Leader. His life now revolved around Theatre and Scouting.
In 1932 Ralph was asked to organise that now infamous Scout Concert to raise funds for a swimming pool at a campsite near London. Using old borrowed costumes and hired bits of scenery, 150 boys from three London Districts put on the first “Gang Show”, with all the numbers - songs and sketches- written by Ralph. The cast were very disappointed that they nearly outnumbered the audience!
Despite this, the Show was a great success. After the Show an excited Robert Baden Powell came backstage. He said “Ralph, this is good. These Shows must go on so you have another job on your hands.” The next year there were no spare seats and the catch phrase "Gang Show" had really stuck. The third Show was produced in 1934 and it was that year that "Crest of a Wave", the most famous of all Gang Show songs, was first performed.
During the Second World War, Ralph joined the RAF and was asked to form Gang Shows from within that service. These hardy units of about 12 performers travelled all over the world performing on every battlefront. When Ralph returned to London after the war, he took up where he had left off with Gang Show, writing a completely new Show every year. Ralph finally retired in 1974 when the curtain came down on his last London Gang Show.
By then Gang Shows had spread all over the world and the Gang Show momentum continued despite Ralph’s retirement. In fact, if anything, Gang Show became stronger. Many others began writing material to supplement the traditional Gang Show numbers and Ralph himself continued to write an occasional sketch or two.
Ralph died in 1982 but his songs and sketches will continue to live through all the members of Scouting and Guiding who still perform his material, whether they are Cubs, Scouts, Guides, Rangers, Venturers, Rovers or Leaders. For, as the saying goes, every night of every year, somewhere in the world, a Gang Show is playing.
Gang Shows in New Zealand
The first Gang Show to be performed in New Zealand was in 1956 in Christchurch. In the years that were to follow some 33 different Gangs sprang up around the country.
Sadly, most of these Shows are no longer being produced. Today only eight shows perform: North Shore, Auckland Central, Waikato, Manawatu, Hutt Valley, Christchurch, Otago and, a new show, Southland!
Gang Show in Wellington
The first Gang Show in the Wellington Province was held in 1958 in the Grand Opera House using the material written by Ralph Reader for the London Shows. A report in the Evening Post of the 1959 Show mentions there were 116 in the cast and at the Saturday performance there were no less than 10 curtain calls.
In total, five Provincial Shows were held the last one in 1964. The profits from these five Shows were donated to Brookfield Camp, which had been bequeathed to Scouting Wellington in 1958 by Mary Crowther and was going through its early period of development. In 1963 the present Campfire Circle was built and dedicated to Gordon McNair the Organiser of the first three Wellington Gang Shows.
Roger Linkhorn who was a cast member in the first Wellington Shows (and who has also been involved with the Hutt Valley Shows) also took part in a Gang Show on 2 December 1957 on board the ship “Rangitata” whilst returning home from the Jubilee Jamboree. The audience programme for that Show had the following amusing the statement: “In the interests of public safety and inconvenience, the giant all steel safety curtain will be lowered and raised every three minutes during the show” Other Shows quickly sprang up in, and around, Wellington including the following:
- Johnsonville Scout Group: 1960, 1961,1963 and 1970
- Kapiti District: 1961,1963,1965,1967,1969,1972,1974,1983,1985,1987,1989,1995, and 1997 (this makes it the longest running Show in the Wellington region)
- 1st Karori & Britannia Groups: 1963
- International Gang Show, Trentham Jamboree: 1966
- Upper Hutt District: 1968
- 1st Karori Group: 1969,1972,and 1976
- Johnsonville District Girl Guides: 1971
- Wellington West District: 1980, 1984, and 1987
- Mana District: 1987
- Wellington East District: 1988
Hutt Valley Gang Show
The Hutt Valley Gang Show is performed every two years at the Lower Hutt Little Theatre by a cast of around 75. It is organised and run by leaders from the Scout and Guide Movements who also have an interest in theatre.
The first Hutt Valley Gang Show appeared in 1979 in the Little Theatre in Lower Hutt. The Organisers were so pleased with the result that they planned another Show in 1981 in the Lower Hutt Town Hall, which could seat 900 people. Unfortunately that didn’t transpire and the Show went into recess for a number of years.
However, in 1985 a small team got together to launch the second Hutt Valley Show to stage in 1986. Having learned from the earlier experience, efforts were then made to stage a Show every two years – something that has happened ever since. The Hutt Valley is now the only surviving Gang Show in the Wellington region.
Originally the cast was made up only of members of the Scout Movement from the Hutt Valley. Later Guides and Rangers from Pencarrow District were invited to join, and in recent years the Show has involved members of the Scouting and Girl Guiding Movements from throughout the wider Wellington region.