When Ralph Reader formulated what was to become a Gang Show in 1932 something he did not want it to be labeled was a concert. In those days, the typical form of entertainment produced by amateurs was a concert – a series of acts introduced by a compare who covered while the scenes were changed. Ralph had just been to America where he was involved in producing fast moving revues and musicals.
What a Gang Show has become first of all is a fast moving revue – a series of big musical numbers interspersed by small musical numbers and sketches, the whole thing moving swiftly from scene to scene without a break. This is achieved by having mid-stage tabs brought across or cloths dropped in and out to allow items to take place front of tabs and therefore to allow the show to happen seamlessly. The second thing which makes a Gang Show is of course the fact that it is performed by Scouts with the emphasis on showing off the talent of the younger members of The Movement. Many shows, of course, also involve members of the Guide Movement, but Gang Show is essentially a Scout entertainment.
As Districts, Areas / Counties and Groups became inspired around the country to follow the London Gang Show and perform their own shows, they were allowed in turn to use the term Gang Show because they were fulfilling these basic principles. One other important factor which made a show a Gang Show in the early days was that all the material used in a Gang Show was written by Ralph himself. As time has gone on, shows have gradually dropped Ralph’s material in favour of more modern material. Some of Ralph’s material, if well presented and/or brought up to date (within the guidelines suggested by Ralph), can still come across well to a modern audience.
However, it is now left up to each show to decide how much of Ralph’s material they should include. It is believed that Ralph, as a pioneer in musical theatre, would not have wanted Gang Shows to stand still and would have himself withdrawn a lot of his own material as being out of date. However to ensure that his name is kept alive, each Gang Show is requested to included in their programme Based on idea by the late Ralph Reader C.B.E.. These then are the basic elements which make a Gang Show and any show which follows these can use that title. In order to increase the degree of professionalism in Gang Shows, Ralph introduced the award of the red scarf. Those shows which have met this standard of professionalism have been awarded their own red scarf. The requirements for this are laid out in the Scout Association’s Factsheet, Gang Show Standards.
Finally, the term Gang Show, like the song Crest Of A Wave, was not invented right away. It was while Ralph was rehearsing one of the early shows that he asked if everyone was present. A cheeky Scout replied, Aye, Skip. The Gang’s all here, and that’s how the posters went up.