The origins of Scout and Guide Gang Shows lies many years ago before the Second World War, when a man called Ralph Reader decided that the Scouts needed a new type of entertainment. Mr Reader was a choreographer and Scout Leader, he was in fact one of the most respected and in demand choreographers in all of London’s West End, yet despite these demands he made a bold decision- to mix his two passions of choreography and Scouting. So it was that in 1932 Mr Reader wrote, produced and directed the first ever Gang Show in London town.

mr reader

It was not long after this first performance though that everything came to a halt with the outbreak of World War 2. This world shattering event obviously meant a complete halt to all gang show proceedings, a crushing blow to the scouts involved and Mr Reader himself. In 1939 rehearsals and preparations for the gang show were brought to a halt whilst in full swing and Mr Reader’s life seemed to swing in a different direction as he was posted to the RAF in counter intelligence. He served his country with distinction in France where he posed as an entertainment officer with in RAF camps. Here he organised shows for the troops with many ex-scouts who had signed up whilst also working secretly to weed out dissent and monitor subversive propaganda. In the end Reader had created 24 RAF gang shows that toured around all the theatres of war (and the theatres of war…) from Burma to Iceland. Over 3.5 million service people are estimated to have enjoyed these shows, which all adds up to a uncountable impact on troop morale. Well done Mr Reader!

happytroops

Many of the performers in these shows where men who were deemed unsuitable for combat duties, and went on to become stars. As a small example, non other than Peter Sellers, Tony Hancock and Dick Emery got their break in the RAF gang shows under the direction of Mr Reader. It really is quite incredible!

sellers

At the end of the war Mr Reader returned home and by the 1950’s was hard at work resurrecting the Scout Gang Shows. The London Gang Show became a huge event and was emulated by Scout Troops around the world, from Hong Kong to Belfast, Australia to Chicago.

gang show

On May 18th, 1982 Mr Reader passed away. He left a Scouting legacy second only to that of Baden Powell. His legend had long been secured in the west end, but it is in the scouting world that he is truly cherished. We can all only say thank you to this great man, for the gang shows which bring us such joy.

So let’s get this show on the road!