After the show in 1986 we were all well aware that a show in 1988 would be our Golden Jubilee Show. It was apparent to many of us that the history of our show was rather obscure and that the story of how we had developed over the years was surrounded by a large degree of fiction but was light on fact. In the summer of 1987, after doing nothing about it for a year, I decided to attempt to gather together all the information I could about our shows and attempt to write a brief history.
The response to my request for information was magnificent but also posed me with a problem, what to include, what to exclude. After a couple of false starts I decided that a brief factual account would best suit our needs and so I set out to produce a small booklet, of which this is a transcript, and I hope you find of interest. Many names are mentioned, but it is more than likely that I’ve missed names which should have been included, if this is the case I can only apologise for as I write somewhere in the book, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to many people, who very often have received little or no recognition for all they have done on behalf of Crewe Gang Show.
On the 21st April 1988 South West Cheshire Scouts stepped out on to the stage of the Lyceum Theatre Crewe and presented their Golden Jubilee Gang Show to the public.
For ten performances the cast gave their all to an audience filling the theatre and at the end of each evening sent them on their way happy and delighted after seeing a first class three hour show, full of colour, excellent music, singing and laughter from a cast of 160 local members of the Scout movement.
A far cry from those humble beginnings in 1938 when for two nights in the Town Hall, long since demolished, the Scouts of Crewe put on their first public show, referred to then as a Scout Concert.
During the intervening years we’ve come a long way. We’ve grown, we’ve prospered and we’ve received the highest possible praise and recognition from Ralph Reader, Mr. Gang Show himself. We have also had our problems and difficulties over the years but thanks to many people who have worked hard and long, often without due recognition, we have always managed to surmount our problems and carry on with the show and one can only hope that the show will continue for many years to come.
THE EARLY YEARS
How did it all begin? Well I suppose it all began with a Holborn Rover. In 1932 ‘The Gang’s All Here”, an all Scout revue, written and produced by ‘A Holborn Rover’ was presented for three nights at the Scala Theatre, London. This show provided a completely new form of entertainment and was immediately successful and from it sprang the Gang Shows which are now produced in many towns and cities all over the world.
‘A HoIborn Rover’ was Ralph Reader who went on to become a top ranking professional producer of revues and pageants in both this Country and North America. We of course all know Ralph best for his London Gang Show for which he wrote hundreds of songs and sketches all of which are available for any Scout Show to use free of charge.
Locally it had been the custom for many years at the South West Cheshire Scouts Annual General Meeting, which was usually held in the Town Hall, to provide entertainment after the official business of the evening by two or three Scout Groups and, according to records and information which I’ve been able to obtain, these offerings were always well received and proved to be very popular with the large gathering which apparently always attended these
In 1937 I can well remember being taken, with other members of our Scout Group, to the Odeon Cinema Crewe where, together with Scouts from all over the District we saw a special showing of the Gang Show Film.
Undoubtedly the activities of the Holborn Rover, the Annual General Meeting entertainments, the Gang Show Film and the fact that Scouts in Stoke on Trent had produced a show called ‘Screamline’, all contributed to the feeling amongst many local Scout Leaders, notably Jimmy Sthal, Geoff Vernon and Norman Bayley that we should have our own show. The question of producing a show was raised at a District Executive Meeting in 1937 but initially got very short shift as the minutes of that meeting show:
‘The matter of a concert was discussed and it was moved that the matter be referred to the three sections and for them to report at the next meeting’ Nothing subsequently appears in the minutes about a concert but we do know from Geoff Vernon? who was present at the next meeting, that discussions about a concert produced an extremely stormy meeting with the treasurer forecasting disaster and refusing point blank to have anything to do with it and many other members being totally and utterly opposed to “the proposed folly”. However, with the intervention of Mr Stanley Jackson, a local optician and member of the Executive, who guaranteed £100 to cover any losses, the way was paved for the concert to go ahead and so Jimmy Stahl, Geoff Vernon and Norman Bayley assisted by Geoff Fox and Doris Muckley took on the task of producing that first show called “Flying High”.
“Flying High”, with a cast of 150, was presented in the Town Hall, Crewe on Tuesday and Wednesday the 22nd and 23rd February 1938. As a young scout I can well remember the rehearsals which were held in various church halls around the town and the dressing room accommodation in the Town Hall. For most of the cast the ‘Blue Room’, in the Mechanics Institute Social Club, which shared the same building as the Town Hall, and was adjacent to the main hail, was our dressing room and entrance to the stage was made via a long dark and gloomy corridor, Audience accommodation was not much better, the seating, for I believe 300, was on hard bentwood chairs placed in rows across the polished dance floor. The stage was small and cramped with very little room to manoeuvre in the wings. Nevertheless the show went on, all be it to a very sparse audience on the opening night, and it looked very much as though the treasurer’s dire prediction was about to be fulfilled. However, the word must have spread around the town for the next night there was a queue round the Town Hall waiting for the doors to open, and the cast played to a full and enthusiastic audience.
So the show was a success both in terms of finance and support which of course inspired the production team to plan for a show in 1939 with, I’m pleased to report, the full approval of the Executive Committee,
In this 1938 show it is important to acknowledge the debt that we owed to the Stoke on Trent Scout Association and Screamline for the tremendous help and assistance which they so freely gave, particularly the late Marshall Amor. They also provided a pair of guest artists, ‘Leek and Lettuce’, namely Leslie Jones and George Bath, who with their exploding organ almost literally brought the house down. What the explosion did bring down was years of soot and dirt from the roof over the stage so much so that it was seriously suggested that the finale should be renamed ‘The Minstrel Show’.
‘Gang Ahoy’, the 1939 show, was held once again in the Town Hall but on this occasion a gamble was taken and the hall was booked for three nights, the 7th, 8th and 9th February and the seats were priced at 2/-; 1/3; and 9d. (l0p, 6p and 4p in todays money). Fortunately the public response was excellent and the three performances were well supported and so once again the show proved to be both successful and financially viable.
It is worth remembering at this point that the 1938 and 1939 shows were performed by Scouts from the Crewe Area which was the number one district of the South West Cheshire Scout Association. Number two and three districts covered Nantwich and Sandbach and the outlying areas respectively and, it was only Crewe District that became involved in the show.
Looking back through the programme for this show it is interesting to see amongst the cast names two members who subsequently each became Chief Superintendents in charge of the Crewe Police Division.
The programme for the show, which was on sale to the public, had an interesting feature, it was a competition, spot the deliberate spelling mistakes, with a prize for the winner of 7/6d. (37p).
The show itself brings back special memories for me because due to the illness of a member of the cast I was drafted in as ‘Penelope’ in a double act with Geoff Vernon, ‘Prudence and Penelope’. Can you imagine it, red and white check dresses, long blonde wigs and a song and patter act. It took years to live down.
For rehearsals we used the usual church halls but in addition small groups rehearsed in Vernon’s Showrooms on Nantwich Road amongst the pianos and other furniture.
It was during this show that Jimmy Stahl committed the ‘clanger’ that he was never allowed to forget. he appeared on stage as an imposing Indian chief, in full regalia, plus his wrist watch NOW you know why the production team ban all jewellery during the show’s run at the theatre
At the conclusion of the show plans were already being made for a 1940 production but this was not to be for with the start of the war in September 1939 many leaders and older members of the cast were soon wearing different uniforms in the service of their King and Country.
THE POST WAR YEARS
The late 1940’s were rather grim years. The war was over, the servicemen had returned to their home towns and villages but we still had rather bleak conditions to endure whilst all the necessary changes were made from a war economy to a peaceful existence. Food was still rationed, most consumer goods were in short supply and could only be bought if you had the necessary special coupons.
However, at the Executive Meeting held on 25th June 1948 a letter was received from the Scouters’ Council which requested that the Committee give permission to Jimmy Stahl, Ken Hockenhull, Geoff Vernon, Norman Bayley, George Bee and Joe Shaw to produce a Gang Show for Autumn of 1948. With very little discussion, permission was granted and so as the ‘Boy Scout Association’ celebrated its 40th Anniversary, South West Cheshire Scouts, the whole district this time, went on stage with ‘Joyride 1948’ in the Town Hall, Crewe.
The show ran for three nights, 23rd, 24th and 25th November and was extremely well received by an audience which packed the hail to capacity. It is of interest to note that on the occasion of this show there appeared for the first time the names of several people who were subsequently to play prominent roles in the future development of the show. Aubrey Brazier, Ray Davenport both of whom went on to produce later shows. Arthur George, Alan’s big brother, who was the key comedy figure of many of the shows in the 40’s and 50’s, and who eventually became Jim Stahl’s production assistant before his work took him out of the District. Cliff Grice was Musical Director a position which he continued to perform for us for the next twenty years. Frank Dudley directed make up and did so for over the next 35 years.
Ken Hockenhull became our Show Business Manager and remained so until his untimely death in 1980. Then there appears the name of one John Pennington, yes the same John Pennington who is and has been a member of our production team. The huge success of the 1948 show left the production team with many problems to solve.
Where to hold the next show? How many nights shall we stage the show if we are to accommodate all who wish to see us? There was also a great degree of criticism of the facilities at the Town Hall where because of dances, which were held on two or three nights a week, it meant that three nights was the maximum that we could hire the hall. The production team was also concerned that the lack of facilities at the Town Hall was limiting many of their more ambitious proposals.
Jim Stahl, supported by Geoff Vernon and Norman Bayley, was keen to move the show into a ‘proper theatre’ and, after much discussion and debate; he succeeded in persuading the Executive Committee to hire the ‘New Theatre Crewe’ from the Terrence Byron Company for one whole week.
Ken Hockenhull conducted the negotiations with the Terrence Byron Company successfully and on Monday 12th December ‘Joyride 1949’ was presented, for one whole week, to an audience drawn from all over South Cheshire.
The move to the theatre, like all major changes, was not without some risk and there were many within the District who thought that the production team had bitten off more than they could chew but, thanks to excellent efforts by all the cast and the superhuman feats by the production team, the show was a resounding success providing both excellent entertainment and a financial profit of over £300.
Once again success brought with it problems. Whilst the cast were clammering for a show in 1950 and the Treasurer was beaming broadly at the new money flowing into his accounts, the production team realized that the effort required to stage a show of high standard each year was just not possible and it was agreed that the next show would be held in 1951 thus establishing our two year show pattern. Shows were produced in 1951 and 1953 the ‘51 show being called ‘Festival Joyride’ after the Festival of Britain which had. Been held in London earlier that year, ‘53 saw us revert to its established name ‘Joyride’.
The production team for both shows remained substantially the same. Betty Ellis was by now our regular Choreographer but in the course of rehearsals for the ‘53 show Betty left and Marion Watson took over at very short notice. It was during the same show that Cyril Shaw came into the team as Stage Manager One other well-known name which appears for the first time during this period is Alan George, Arthur’s little brother, who of course we all know today for his splendid on stage comedy and as a member of the production team. (Alan sadly passed away in 2013).
A stalwart member of these early shows was Joe Shaw. He carried out many essential tasks, fixed rehearsal rooms, helped Jim Stahl at rehearsals with organisation and discipline and was in turn both Treasurer and Ticket Secretary. In addition Joe still found time to participate in the shows, particularly in the choral numbers which Norman Bayley used to arrange.
Joe’s infectious enthusiasm and personality was lost to us all with his sudden death shortly after the 1962 show.
It was following the 1953 show that the Executive Committee established, what many thought was long overdue, a permanent Gang Show Sub Committee which would meet on a regular basis reviewing and planning for future shows. By now of course the show was well established and profits in the region of £400 were a regular feature. At this time the profits from the show went to District Scouting on the following basis:
A fixed amount to each Scout Group in the District.
An amount per head to each Scout Group in ratio to the number of boys from that group who had been in the cast.
The balance to District funds.
This system persisted until 1974 when the District Executive Committee, in their wisdom, and in spite of an outcry of profound opposition from the Scout Groups, decided that future profits should be paid into District funds and used, or saved, for future large scale District projects. The move, which at the time was very unpopular, was undoubtedly sound and far sighted for eventually money from the shows helped in no small way, towards the purchase of our District Headquarters and Scout and Guide Shop in Bedford Street and our own District Camp Site at Blakenhall.
THE TROUBLED YEARS
The late 1950’s and the late 1960’s were very difficult years for the show as we ran into serious problems, none of which were of our own making. The problems revolved around the New Theatre, which up to 1955 had been owned and run by Terrence Byron Company, who had for over 30 years staged weekly variety shows but as television grew more popular in the 1950’s the theatre, like hundreds of others throughout the Country, was no longer a viable proposition and so it was closed and put up for sale. This resulted in our proposed show for 1955 being cancelled and the prospects for future shows were very bleak indeed,
Crewe Borough Council however stepped into the breach and in 1955 purchased the theatre and formed the Crewe Theatre Trust which was to run the theatre on behalf of the Council with financial support from the Arts Council.
In 1956 we were back in business with our show, this time using the title, ‘Gang Show’.
Again a highly successful show was produced. The theatre was booked solid for the whole week and hundreds of people braved the hard wooden benches in the ‘Gods’ in order to see us.
For the first time we find that Ray Saint was the rehearsal pianist. It was not to be his last show for Ray went on to serve us faithfully and diligently over many years and eventually became our Musical Director before finally hanging up his baton after the 1980 show.
Another name that appears for the first time was Graham Swallow. Graham appeared in the show as a member of the cast up to 1972 when he first joined the production team since which time he has gone on to become the guiding light and the crusading enthusiast behind the highly successful shows that we now enjoy. Also in the cast we find one Russell Armstrong, now a prominent local business man, who is one of our esteemed Vice Presidents.
Problems with the theatre dogged us in our efforts to put on a show in 1958 and 1959. It became apparent that the ‘professionals’, who were in the theatre at that time, resented giving up ‘their theatre’ to. A ‘bunch of amateurs’. Fortunately we were not be denied and due to the persistence of Ken Hockenhull we managed to book the theatre for November 1960 and so, after a break of four years, we were back on stage once again.
It was during this show that Margery Broadhurst joined our team as Assistant Wardrobe Mistress to Mary Stahl. Mary had carried out this job since our first show in 1938 after no doubt being pushed into it by Jim Stahl her husband. Margery eventually took over from Mary and continued to deal with wardrobe side of the show, which grew out of all recognition over the next twenty years.
In the cast names we find for the first time Nick Crossley, now our District Chairman, Tony Stockton, an important member of our Production Team and Dave Hollinshead now our Stage Manager.
1962 saw us once again in conflict with the Management of the Lyceum Theatre, as it was now called. The management’s attitude this time seemed to be that a bunch of Scouts prancing around on the stage would interfere with the regular Bingo sessions, which were obviously regarded as being more important than a live show.
Ken Hockenhull, with valuable assistance from Geoff Vernon once again turned up trumps and we were back in business. For this show there were significant changes. Jim Stahl stepped down from his production role and when one remembers that he had led the production team since that first show, it shows what a tremendous debt we owed to Jim, for without his drive and enthusiasm, it is doubtful whether we would ever have had a local Gang Show
Jim didn’t fade away he stayed as new Producer Aubery Brazier’ s Assistant.
It was at Aubery’s instigation that the first ‘Gang Show Song Book’ was produced for the cast. This was a great improvement as in previous shows duplicated sheets had been handed out to the cast and as could be expected after they had been folded a few times, left in pockets and gone through the washer they were pretty useless. Aubery also introduced the Registrar to all rehearsals which gave the production team greater control over the cast. He also introduced the idea of ‘sandwich boards’ which were displayed at all rehearsals giving times and places of future rehearsals
It was in 1964 on the occasion of our Jubilee Gang Show, which was again produced by Aubery Brazier, that we reached a great landmark in the history of our show for we were now admitted to full Gang Show status and the cast were entitled to wear the red necker with the special Gang Show emblem. This permission, as many of you know, is not given lightly, it is only shows which are considered to have attained a suitably high standard who are granted this privilege. Naturally all who were associated with the show were highly delighted for we all felt that at long last we had received the recognition which many felt was long overdue.
Gang News made its first appearance during the rehearsals for the show. The idea of a weekly news sheet for the cast had been considered previously but nothing happened until Cyril Shaw, our Stage Manager at that time, visited Newcastle on Tyne Show and brought back a few copies of their Show News Sheet and gave them to me to read. Suitably impressed the matter was discussed with Aubery and it was agreed that we should give it a try. Gang News quickly became an established means of getting our message across to the Gang and since then this has become an established part of our rehearsal routine.
Both Aubery’s shows were successful and once again the gang played to a theatre full to capacity with a highly appreciative audience. These shows added greatly to our prestige which had been building steadily over the years. Unfortunately for us, shortly after the show, British Rail saw fit to transfer Aubery to Derby which meant that we lost his services. This was a great blow and left us searching for a replacement.
We also at this time suffered a further blow when we lost the services of Cliff Grice, our Musical Director, who decided to call it a day. It was easy to understand Cliff deciding to give up for he had been associated with every show. In the two pre-war shows, he had been the lead violinist in the orchestra and since then our Musical Director. We certainly owed him a great debt of gratitude for all his work and support over all these years.
Throughout 1965 the Gang Show Sub Committee met regularly trying to recruit a producer for the 1966 show. Many names were suggested, people were approached but most of them realising the enormity of the task declined to take on the job.
1966 arrived and reluctantly the Committee was forced to cancel the proposed show. However, later in 1966 the Committee learnt that Ray Davenport was interested in producing a Show and, after much debate, Ray was appointed Producer and asked to present a show in 1967. We were also fortunate in securing, through the efforts of Norman Bayley, Ian Wareham as our Musical Director.
We were back once again and Gang Show 1967 was duly presented at the Lyceum Theatre for seven performances. The show was very successful but I think it is fair to say that neither Ray nor Ian had realised the enormity of the undertaking to which they had committed themselves when they agreed to take the job on.
This was the Show when many of the Producer’s problems, throuqh no fault of his own, occurred during the week of the show in the Theatre. Normally when you get to the Theatre it’s too late to start worrying about the show but on this occasion the ‘flu bug’ struck and members of the cast, young and old alike, went down like ninepins. There were times during the early part of the week when back stage looked more like a Casualty clearing station than anything else. Production numbers had to be altered, understudies were drafted in but in spite of everything, the show, in the best tradition of the theatre, went on with an audience almost totally unaware of the difficulties backstage.
By 1969 we were yet again having difficulties with the theatre. Protracted correspondence failed to solve the problem and consequently the proposed 1969 show had to be abandoned. We managed however to obtain the theatre for 1970 and Ray Davenport was again invited to produce a show. Serious problems arose obtaining music which we required and when the time came to assemble the cast, whilst Ray had a full programme planned he had not been able to solve the music problem. A hastily convened Gang Show Sub Committee Meeting agreed that under the circumstances the show could not go ahead and so the 1970 show bit the dust.
THE SEVENTIES AND EIGHTIES
Throughout 1971 the Gang Show Committee met regularly, spurred on by Ken Hockenhull who was most anxious that the show should not die. A theatre date for 1972 was agreed with the theatre management in Spring 1971 but we now ran into problems of obtaining a Producer.
Discussions went on over many weeks, all to no avaiL It seemed impossible to find anyone who was prepared to tackle the job. At a Meeting held in May 1971 it was suggested that instead of searching for a single Producer that the show should be produced by a team of producers which would be led by a nonexecutive member of the team, It was after protracted debate, and much arm twisting, that I agreed in June to recruit and lead a team to produce a show in l972
Ian Wareham agreed to continue as Musical Director. We had a new Stage Manager, Mike Smith and a new Choreographer, Marjorie Harrison, The production team was made up as follows – Norman Bayley, Ray Davenport, Graham Swallow, Alan George, John Haynes, Wilf Edwards and myself as Team Leader, And so this team set to work to produce a show and as subsequent events have proved we moved out of our period of difficulty, for the 1972 production format pointed the way ahead and it is safe to say that we have now successfully built on, modified and developed the production methods until now we have a team which I feel cannot be bettered anywhere in the United Kingdom.
The 1972 show was successfully produced and met with the approval of our capacity audience. We did however have our problems but thanks to a grand team effort we pulled through. Not every member of the Production Team liked or enjoyed working as a team and this led to a few minor clashes of personality which of course had to be resolved, not always to the complete satisfaction of all concerned. It also quickly became apparent that in recruiting the team I had made the mistake of having too large a group to produce the show and I resolved that this situation would be corrected before our next show.
During the rehearsals for the show a problem was created when our Musical Director, Ian Wareham resigned, This, as I’m sure you can well imagine, threw us into some confusion but Norman Bayley came to the rescue. He agreed to take over as ‘Music Master’. He refused to accept the title of Musical Director but then again that was typical of Norman, and recruited Joan Woodhart to play an electronic organ and so we went into the theatre for the first time without a full orchestra.
The quartet of Joan, Ray Saint, Peter Noden and Derek Clewes provided excellent musical accompaniment, in fact many of the veterans of the cast insisted it was the best musical backing the show had received but there were others were bemoaned the fact that we didn’t have the traditional theatre orchestra.
We retained this musical arrangement until the 1986 show when, under the direction of Martin Hassall, we once again had a full orchestra in the theatre pit. Learning from our mistakes the production team was drastically reduced in size for our 1974 and 1976 shows and consisted of Graham, Alan, Norman, once again as Music Master, Wilf as Consultant and myself. This was a great improvement and led to a much more harmonious atmosphere. Production Assistants for the cubs were introduced and Tony Stockton and Chris Titley joined the team.
The 1974 Show was notable for the fact that we could no longer boast ‘All our Girls are Boys’ for into the cast came, for the first time, a line of girls. This move didn’t find favour with everyone and the production team had to accept a strong degree of criticism and downright hostility; one leader even withdrawing from the cast.
It was at this time that Yvonne and Gail Nevitt took over the choreography and I feel it is perfectly fair to say that the dancing and dance routines have improved steadily under their direction.
It was following the 1976 show that we suffered a double tragedy when both Norman. Bayley and Margery Broadhurst died. The loss left us with a huge gap to fill. Norman had been involved with the show and its music since its inception in 1938 but fortunately for us the indefatigable Ray Saint stepped up and took on the role of Musical Director for the 1978 and 1980 shows. Muriel, Norman’s widow, assisted by Jean Fewtrell took on the job of Wardrobe Mistresses. It was during the ‘get in’ at the theatre for the 1978 show that we had serious difficulties which led to us consider the viability of having the theatre for only one week. As had been the practice in previous years we were allowed into the theatre from midnight on the Saturday when our Stage Manager and his team moved in to set up the stage, hanging cloths, sets and lighting etc., Probably due to the fact that we had more sets, more scenery, more lights than ever before, the stage team found it impossible to have the stage ready for our dress rehearsal at 2pm on the Sunday. It was nearly 7 pm before we were able to get the cast on stage and get our dress rehearsal under way
At 11 pm, surrounded by, or should I say beleaguered by, anxious, concerned and in some cases hostile parents, and having only rehearsed the first half of the show, we were forced to abandon the dress rehearsal and send the cast home.
A worried production team remained in the theatre until the early hours of the morning trying desperately to salvage a show that was in grave danger of not opening on the Monday night. We did open on Monday night thanks to the valiant efforts of the stage staff many of whom took a day off work in order to make certain that all was ready in time for curtain up. In spite of all the problems at the dress rehearsal the show ran smoothly and passed off with only the odd minor hitch.
The show was a success but we were all aware how close to disaster we had been and consequently resolved that before another show there would have to be some major changes. Major changes there were. After much discussion the Gang Show Sub Committee recommended that for future shows we would hire the theatre for two weeks and run the show for ten performances starting on the Thursday of the first week. It was felt that by adopting this format we would not only solve the problems encountered by the stage staff but we would also give the cast three nights when they could rehearse on the theatre stage prior to opening night.
The move to hiring the theatre for a fortnight proved highly successful and we have continued to follow this pattern since the 1980 show. It was during the run up to the 1980 show that Ken Hockenhull died. Ken, our District Association Chairman and Show Business Manager had been actively involved with the show since 1948 and his loss came as a great shock to us all.
The gap left by Ken was filled by Eddie Marshall our District Treasurer, who since 1962 together with his wife Joyce, had been our ticket secretary. The job of handling tick sales was one which had over the years and it was the custom for all the booking to be done on one night about a month before the show.
What used to happen was that Eddie and the business team used to meet on a Saturday afternoon at about 2 p.m. and start to sort out all the multicoloured booking forms which had been received. The forms were multicoloured because in those days we used to operate a rather complicated system of priority bookings, which in spite of the problems it caused, was the way the job was done.
The team would work steadily, sustained by gallons of coffee and sandwiches, all through the night and usually at about 10 am on Sunday morning the task would be completed it usually took the team several days to recover from this marathon sessions
I’m pleased to say that we have a different system in operation today, and I like to think it is just as efficient and is certainly more easy to operate. Nevertheless problems still arise and I suppose whatever system is devised this will always be the case. With the sudden death of Eddie just after the 1982 show, Joyce carried on for the 1984 show but relinquished the job in 1986 when Margaret Crossley took over but she in turn has had to hand over to Beverley Bennett for the present show.
The 1980 show was the one which I think all who were associated with, will never forget for at long last we were successful in persuading the man himself, Ralph Reader, to see the show.
Ralph stayed over the weekend with us and thoroughly enjoyed our hospitality. His praise for our show was quite spontaneous and he wrote in a subsequent letter, and I quote: ‘With no hesitation, I say again, it was one of the finest Gang Shows I have ever seen”. Praise indeed, from the Master himself. I leave you to judge how delighted we all. were.
Sadly, although Ralph expressed a desire to be invited to our future shows, this was not to be for he was too ill to attend in 1982 and passed away before our 1984 show, Ralph’s passing was mourned worldwide for he was the creator and architect of that worldwide fraternity of Gang Shows.
The shows in the eighties have been marked by steady development and progress and an increase in all round professionalism. Scenery and sets for each show are designed by Dave Robinson and constructed by a team of carpenters and painters led initially by Dave Hollinshead, who has now moved on and is our Stage Manager, and latterly by Brian Garner. Costumes have become more sophisticated and teams of sewers led by Jean Fewtrell, Caroline Swallow and Brenda Howell now produce a greater volume of costumes which are worn on stage and although many costumes are still hired, our reliance on borrowing has decreased with each show.
The shows are now better lit, much more thought is given to planning the stage lighting and where necessary professional advice is always sought. The sound system, the cause of frustration over many years, has been steadily improved, again by seeking expert assistance and advice.
Stage properties, a mammoth undertaking have, during this period been provided by Derek Swallow who for every show has the daunting task of finding hundreds of items as diverse as a Ship’s bell, bentwood chairs or a bird in a cage. Somehow or other, no matter what is required, Derek has always managed to conjure up the required items.
In 1986 we were, once again, able to have a full orchestra in the theatre pit after a break of nineteen years. The orchestra was gathered and led by our Musical Director Martin Hassall who took over this role in 1984.
During the eighties the Production Team has been strengthened. Graham Swallow is now firmly ensconced in the role of Producer, leading an enthusiastic team of Alan George, Tony Stockton, Johnny Pennington, Bill Elliott and Ian Platt and in the background, every ready with helpful advice, our consultant producer Wilf Edwards. Wilf a member of the cast in the 1938 show is one of the very few from 1938 who are still, 50 years later, actively involved with the show.
1988 our Golden Jubilee Gang Show, 50 years of steady progress and achievement with many memorable mile stones along the way. In all I estimate that between two and three thousand lads, and lassies, have appeared in Shows over the past 50 years, where are they now? Sadly many have passed on, many of the pre-war gang are now in their seventies, many are now living in far flung parts of the world but a great many more still live locally. Wherever they are I’m sure that they have not forgotten that they were once part of Crewe Gang Show for as I know all too well to take part in one of the Shows is an experience that you never forget no matter how humble a role you played you were part of the “Gang” a member of that greet and exclusive fraternity – The Gang Show.
What does the future hold in store, will the show eventually make its centenary?
Whatever happens I hope and trust that future generations of Scouts will have the privilege of being part of this great Scouting activity and that they too will be able to reflect, as I often do, on the lyrics Ralph Reader wrote in the 1930’s:—
‘These are the times we shall dream about. And we’ll call them the good old days
At the turn of the Century, Ian Sowerby had become District Chairman, and had stated quite early in his stewardship that one of his early priorities was to get Crewe Gang Show back into the Lyceum Theatre as soon as possible. Ian turned to Graham Swallow to recommend the names of people with gang show experience who might form a new Production Team. His suggestion was Paul Boskett (MBE), who had appeared for several years in the comedy team, and was then a Group Scout Leader at the 15th South West Cheshire. Paul eagerly accepted the challenge, and quickly went about forming a new production team. He brought back Tracy Bennett and Steve Coles to work on choreography, Crewe Gang Show Stalwart, Alan Dimelow to work specifically with the cubs, and produce several items for the main gang, and ex cast member and local Scout Leader, Craig Chaplow, who had expressed his enthusiasm to help bring the Gang Show back.
For the inaugural Boskett show in 2002, the aim was to take the production in a different direction, with specific instruction from the district that, from now on, only active members of Scouting in South West Cheshire were to be allowed to perform on the stage, this, and the 5-year break since the last show, prompted the management team to book the theatre for only a week run. This proved wise, as despite the success of the show, attendance figures, following national regional theatre booking trends, were low and proved disappointing to the district.
Paul managed to persuade most of the vastly experienced stage crew back into service, and appointed his great friend Rob Glassonbury as musical director. Unfortunately, during the rehearsal period, we lost the services of Alan Bowyers, one of the show’s most loyal rehearsal pianists, who after a very short illness sadly passed away. 2002 Proved a baptism of fire for many people, who had to learn the ropes very quickly to put on a show of this magnitude.
However, the gang were back in the Lyceum, and Paul and his team went on the produce highly successful shows again in 2004, 2006 and 2008, during this period, Band mates of Paul Boskett – Rob Glassonbury, Dave Francis and Richard Tadman all took turns at the role of musical director, each supporting the other in ‘the pit’ show week, in 2004 Helen Collett joined the production team, playing as rehearsal pianist mainly for the cubs and contributing in the orchestra the weeks of the show. In 2006, Hannah Edwards appeared as rehearsal pianist for the first time, when she offered to help as her brother was in the cast, more about her later!
The 2008 show was, for everyone in South West Cheshire, a very special occasion. 70 years since our first show, in the Old Town Hall in Crewe (long since demolished). We had certainly travelled a long way, and Crewe Gang Show had now moved into one of the 10 longest running Gang Show’s in the world!
To celebrate the 70th Anniversary, Pete Taylor set up a team to track down any original members of the 1938 cast, and amazingly traced 10 of them. He successfully persuaded several of them to attend a photoshoot with 2008 cast members. These pictures took pride of place in our show programme, and, the night Crewe Gang Show hosted the 1938 to watch the ’08 production proved a very nostalgic occasion indeed.
Paul’s production team of Alan, Craig, Steve and Tracy, being joined by another long serving cast member and supporter of the show, Bob Edmeades (Comedy producer) in 2006, remained much the same throughout this period. In 2008, Paul took on a national role at work, forming the first every national youth parliament in Westminster, whilst delighted for Paul, this was a great shock and disappointment to all of those associated with the show.
2010 to 2016
Without Paul, the show found itself rudderless again, but in 2010, ex cast member, and returnee to the local area, Gav Jones made a valiant attempt to get a gang show off the ground, unfortunately for Gav, despite his preparation in writing the show, it never got off the ground, a lack of prospective cast meant that the theatre never got booked, and the district executive committee again had to re-group, and think of a new plan going forward.
In 2011, then DC Ian Sowerby approached Arthur Rigby, well known in the Crewe and Nantwich area for his work with theatre and musical groups. Arthur indicated he would be interested in stepping into the role of producer, and presenting a show in 2012. Arthur put together an entirely new team to front the show, heading up the director/stage manager role was to be Jim Davidson, again a former cast member, supported by his partner Clare Thompson as choreographer. Arthur’s reached out for more support, brought in Anne Sleigh, (local musical director for many amateur operatic companies) and Simon Piasecki, again more of whom later. Just a couple of weeks before opening night, irreconcilable differences between some of the team left the show with a significant problem. Urgent calls were put out too many old faces to allow the show to continue, Craig Chaplow came in to support the remaining team. Simon drafted his wife, Shelley (Piasecka) to stage manage the show. Again, the four-year gap didn’t help, and ticket sales reached an all-time low of 1200 (from a peak of over 4500 in the 90’s) Never the less, the cast enjoyed the experience, and many remain in the cast today.
Sadly in the two years between the 2012 and 2014 show we were saddened to hear of the passing of two of Crewe Gang Show true greats, Paul Boskett MBE and Alan George, without both, the show would not be what it has become now. ‘Chief’ had an ability to make people laugh just by walking into a room, walked the boards from the 1950’s right they way through to appearing on a VT in the 2014 show, and Paul’s ability to multi task and therefore, on stage as Peter Pan one minute, to save Crewe Gang Show from extinction in 2002 have created deep holes in the Crewe Gang Show family. So to those two, and so many others we haven’t been able to name that have passed away in the last 80 years, all who have helped make this show what it is today, we say a very sincere thank you
Several familiar faces re appeared for the 2014 show, initially to be fronted by yet another ex- 1990’s cast member, Fiona O’Connor. Alas for Fiona, health issues struck meaning she was to leave the production, and after the Christmas break, it was back to Alan, Tracy, Simon, Shelley to lead the main gang, who were joined by Michael Brazier, Victoria Wood (Cubs) and, Local leader Grace Cronin who worked with Donna Whalley, and given the honour of assembling a Beaver Scout cast for the very first time in a Crewe Gang Show. The aim was to give the youngest section in the movement a taste of being on a professional stage for the first time. This very successful addition has raised a mighty cheer every time they have appeared on stage since, and has driven a subsequent unprecedented demand for Cub places, proving a ‘taste’ of Gang Show is exactly what this provides for our youngest gang.
Gerald Newbrook and his props team again provided a wonderful array of bits and pieces, whilst the backstage team was headed by Garry Merrill, Shelley again agreed to stage manage the production, ably assisted by Adam (AJ) Thompson, who made his move from cast to back stage, and, more recently joined the professional team, employed as a sound/lighting technician by the Lyceum Theatre. Ticket sales showed a 30+% improvement, taking us to the 1600 mark, with a clear target of 2000 a couple of years later….
A special highlight from the show came a few months after when a Crewe town council initiative to host an event at the theatre, meant that several of our scouts got to speak on stage and introduce video footage of the Crewe Gang Show World War One Centennial Tribute, written and produced by Simon Piasecki.
In 2015 Another 80/90’s cast member, and local entrepreneur/philanthropist Andy Newton proposed linking cast from his era with the current gang, his ambitious plans included organising a highly successful reunion, with Gang Show legend, Gail Stubbs and her big band to headline, and a special appearance from the gang show current cast Pin up Girls in the interval.
Andy, with Graham Swallow, Dave Hollinshead and Chris Titley worked tirelessly to organise a new initiative for 2016, A guest night, with invitations to any former cast members to get together on the Friday night of the 2016 show. This proved highly successful, with all 150 reserved seats selling out. the VIP enclosure, with provision of drinks and food pre-show allowed for much reminiscing, and after the show, the 150 guests mingled with the current cast, creating, in true gang show spirit, 30-minute queues at the bar!
A team were appointed to produce the 2016 Show, a mixture of youthful exuberance and mature experience in all departments of the show was collected, Rehearsals were held at St Thomas Moore School and Wilson house HQ in Ford Lane Crewe.
The Show saw many familiar faces on the production team, being mostly assembled from the 2014 show. However, roles were re-distributed, Alan and Simon directed artistically, with Simon writing most of the material for his items, they worked closely with our ever present and wonderful choreographers Steve and Tracy, Hannah Edwards, 12 years since her first appearance at rehearsals did a fantastic job in her debut Musical Directorship for us. Jo Cura, again from the 90’s cast, joined Alan to produce the cub item, Liz Wood, as vocal coach, and Kelly Ann-Davies joined to help direct the main gang. Stage crew and Props were headed up by usual suspects Gerald and Garry respectively, and Gary helped convince long time GS stage crew member, Kevin Greatbanks to Stage manage the 2016 show. This show also saw Maria McFarlane, Sandra Kinnear and Karen Woodall form a tight knit team to help manage the sometimes-unenviable task of costuming the show. Craig Chaplow took on role of show producer to help firm up the management team and instigated the newly formed marketing team, he had a clear mandate to get the show on a sound financial footing as we looked towards our 80th year. Craig was helped by too many to list, but special thanks must go to Ally Green and John (Digger) Bennett for their passion, belief and commitment to this side of the show.
The show was very special for the Cubs, as 2016 was also the 100th anniversary of the formation of Wolf Cubs, as they were then called. This was celebrated, and Alan cleverly wrote an article to demonstrate the cub’s abilities in the show.
The show was an immense success and all who played any part in it production are to be congratulated, Audience comments after each show were most encouraging, which has no doubt put the team in a good from of mind going forward. The new partnership program with local institutes and businesses, marketing team activities and sales of nearly 2400 seats put the show into a position, after nearly 80 years, to open its own bank account and run with a profit to secure the start-up costs, for future shows.
So, to 2018….
80 years on the show rehearsals are in full swing, the team behind it are, in the main, as in 2016 show; with two noticeable exceptions, Alan Dimelow has moved out of the area, he is sadly missed, and a new MD, a Sandbach Scout Leader, professional musician and ex Edinburgh GS cast member Graham Proctor to join the team. Graham has already revolutionised processes and taken enthusiasm for the show to new levels. (Hannah is still with the team, and has just become a mother. She, in fact recommended Graham). The 2018 show has been designed to reflect on the last 80 years, with some faithfully reproduced content, and other items with more tenuous links to previous show items. Of course, as part of the great movement of Scouting, some material, as always is new and bespoke for the show. 80 years ago, if you had told people they would now sign up as cast members on something called the internet, and you could choose exactly what seat they wanted to book 24 hours a day, and pay with a piece of plastic, I am not sure they would believe you. But the spirit, for Crewe Gang Show at least, we believe is the same and as strong as it was all those years ago.