One thing I love about writing for Chandler’s Ford Today is how one subject leads to another.
For instance, my interview with local author, Richard Hardie, led to my wanting to discover more about The Gang Shows.
Richard wrote one of these with the great Sir Terry Pratchett.
Given the sad news of his death, my interview with Richard led to a tribute to one of the UK’s funniest writers. This was later linked to on Discworld Monthly, the online magazine.
Who better then to ask more about The Gang Shows and local involvement with these than Carolyn (Lyn) Darbyshire, MBE, former District Commissioner of the Chandler’s Ford District?
Lyn received the MBE from Prince Charles in June 2013, recognising her years of services to young people via the Scouting movement.
Allison: Thank you, Lyn, for agreeing to this interview. I was in the Girls’ Brigade for many years but we did not put on anything like the Gang Show.
We used to put on a mini show for each other during our annual weekly camp away (which was usually in Weymouth) so the Gang Show is a closed book to me and it would be lovely to find out more. And I must say a big “thank you” for supplying many of the images for this article.
Allison: So, Lyn, what did you like most about Scouting?
Lyn: It was the working together, the giving of your best, the caring for others that Scouting has always done so much to foster and encourage.
I started off as Akela (meaning pack leader and taken from the fictional character created by Rudyard Kipling in The Jungle Book) and went all the way through to District Commissioner.
The Scout Promise means a great deal to me. I had amazing fun throughout my time in Scouting. And I loved the Gang Shows as I have loved singing since I was about 10 or 11.
Lyn’s Involvement with The Gang Show
Allison: What was your personal history with the Gang Show?
Lyn: I began my involvement with the Gang Show in 1984. My love of stage shows ignited my love for the Gang Shows. I used to put on pantomimes at Basingstoke Hospital where I worked as Sister in charge. (I actually commissioned the new surgical unit there).
I took the lead in these pantomimes which were put on during the late 1970s/early 1980s. My love for shows came from my parents who were well known actors appearing in amateur dramatics throughout Wiltshire and Wales. I helped out backstage.
I was in every Chandler’s Ford and Eastleigh District Gang Show since 1984. (My husband, Peter, was chairman of the Gang Show and put things together behind the scenes to ensure there was a Gang Show).
Allison: I’ve heard about Sign here for kidnap drama, and Let’s gang up on pirates.
Allison: What was the work involved with the Gang Show? There would have been the script writing, making of props and costumes, rehearsals and the actual performances but could you say more about this?
Lyn: The Gang Show costumes included long dresses, soldier costumes amongst other things and were normally all made by teams of parents. This was all done backstage and amazing work was done.
As District Commissioner, I was part of the organising team. For the last few years of our Gang Show, this meant I was carrying out administration rather than being on stage.
We did have to hire some costumes from Romsey Plaza. The Gang Show were always able to borrow from there.
Allison: The white house next to the Plaza Theatre used to be the Symes’ family home many years ago and my late in-laws lived there for a while. It really is a small world…
The Importance of Support
Lyn: The Gang Shows were purely all about entertainment. We also needed support from sponsors (usually local businesses) and to name just one example, Transco gave a financial gift to the Gang Show for the Crest of a Wave show.
The Local District and The Gang Show
Allison: Can you tell us a little more about how the local Scouts groups became involved in this? When did they start performing them and so on?
Lyn: Chandler’s Ford held its first Gang Show in 1984. Chandler’s Ford and Eastleigh District Gang Show began in the early 1990s. Sadly, lack of support killed off the Chandler’s Ford and Eastleigh Gang Show.
Allison: Where did you stage the shows?
Lyn: The local Gang Show started off at the Eastleigh Town Hall (which is now The Point) but there was no proper changing facilities so the Gang Show moved to the Alderman Quilley School. From there the show moved again to Wildern School at Hedge End. The support of the latter two venues was very good.
There would be an average of 100 people on stage for each Gang Show. Without the background structure, there was no support and this was what led to the local Gang Show closing down.
The Joys of The Gang Show
Allison: What did you love about the Shows? Also what did you dislike?
Lyn: For me, the best thing was seeing the enjoyment the youngsters got out of the whole thing. The Gang Shows were great confidence builders.
We never liked auditions. Anyone wanting to be involved in the Gang Show volunteered and all were accepted. We would just cope with whatever problems came up as and when they arose. This also meant there were roles for those who wanted to be on stage or were happier behind the scenes.
Allison: How long did you rehearse for?
Lyn: The Gang Show rehearsals started in September with the show being performed in the following February. Rehearsals took place every Friday. It was a huge commitment for all, including the backstage people.
Favourite Gang Show Moments
Allison: What was your favourite Gang Show moment(s)? (Bad, good or both!)
Lyn: Special moments in the Gang Shows included the moment the curtains went back and around me was the camp fire with Brownies, Cubs, Scouts all singing songs. I also loved being one of the witches in one of the Gang Shows (written by Richard Hardie). It was huge fun.
I also loved being in the rows (of chairs put out towards the end of the show) for the singing (of Crest of a Wave) right at the end of every Gang Show. I won’t forget how all of the youngsters taking part sang their hearts out and felt a real pride in the Scouting shows. The finale of every Gang Show was always in uniform.
What is The Gang Show?
The Gang Shows were started by Ralph Reader, MBE (1903 – 1982) in 1931 after he was asked to come up with a variety show which would raise money to fund a swimming pool at Downe Scout Camp (which is now used by the Scout Association as a National Activity Centre).
This Show was called The Gang’s All Here and ran between 30th October and 1st November 1932 at the Scala Theatre in London. The Show did raise enough to fund the swimming pool and led to Baden Powell persuading Ralph Reader to write another show for the following year, which he did.
It wasn’t until 1934 that The Gang Show became the official title with Crest of A Wave being performed for the first time. This is probably the Show’s most famous song and was written by Ralph Reader.
Later, in 1937, the London Gang Show became the first amateur production to be the subject of a Royal Command Performance. The Show shared the stage with huge stars of the time – Gracie Fields, Max Miller and George Formby.
Ralph Reader wanted the Show to bring Scouts together as Baden Powell himself wanted to do when he started the Scouting movement.
During the War, many Scouts, now in the Armed Forces, especially the RAF, continued to entertain servicemen and women throughout the world. It was for this work leading this that Ralph Reader received the MBE.
You can hear Ralph Reader’s interview with Roy Plomley on ▶ BBC Radio 4 – Desert Island Discs (4 minutes).
What is in The Gang Show?
The Gang Show, which is a variety show of songs, comedy sketches and dances, helps young people develop skills in performing and backstage work.
The Show is made up entirely of volunteers and the production team for each show plan it, write it (including songs though many by Ralph Reader are included), and make the scenery, props and costumes. Tickets are available to the public.
The Gang Show can be to a chosen theme such as Timescape, which was the Gang Show performed in 2002 by Chandler’s Ford and Eastleigh District Scouts. This was written and produced by Richard Hardie and had a co-writer for one scene, Sir Terry Pratchett, who also acted in that scene.
Below are two images of two of Ralph Reader’s songs – The Boy Scout Hymn and Gee.
The Gang Show in Hampshire
Though the Chandler’s Ford and Eastleigh District Gang Show closed about ten years ago, there are still Gang Shows running in Hampshire.
On 18th October this year Hampshire Scouts will present a Gang Show in Winchester’s Guildhall, where county Scouts are uniting to put on the show.
7 Unusual Facts About The Gang Show
- That many who served in the RAF Gang Shows during the war went on to become famous entertainers. The list includes, amongst others, all three Goons (Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Sir Harry Secombe), Tony Hancock (of Hancock’s Half Hour which is regularly played on Radio 4 Extra), Dick Emery (who had his own TV show), and Sir Richard Attenborough.
- That Ralph Reader was awarded his MBE (Military Division) in 1943 for services to the RAF but went on to be awarded the CBE as well in 1957 for services to the Boy Scouts Association (as it was known then).
- That Ralph Reader was the subject of a This is Your Life, a very famous TV programme led by Eamonn Andrews, in November 1963.
- There is a stone bench in memory of Ralph Reader’s wartime entertainment work outside the church of St. Clement Danes in The Strand, London. This was put there by the Royal Air Force Gang Show Association. The importance of morale boosting for servicemen and women during the war was appreciated at the time and later, as this memorial shows.
- That in 2000 a blue plaque was placed on Ralph Reader’s birthplace at 12 Court Barton, Crewkerne.
- That in 2011 a second blue plaque was awarded and put on Ralph Reader’s childhood home in Heighton Road, Denton, Newhaven.
- That the final London Gang Show was held in 1974 at the Gaumont State Theatre, Kilburn.
Note: Don’t miss Allison’s next post on Friday 12th June 2015.
Visit Allison Symes’ website: Fairytales with Bite
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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- Meeting Carolyn Darbyshire MBE
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- Splendid St. George’s Day Parade 2014
- An Interview With Author Richard Hardie By Allison Symes
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