Terry Pankhurst: Thanet Gang Show – a history and hopes for the future

Thanet Gang Show

Terry Pankhurst is a Thanet Gang Show Ambassador and Chairperson

Thanet Gang Show started 73 Years ago when it was put on by Ranger and Rover Scouts, although it is only 50 years ago that it was recognised as a Gang Show. It was then given the Red Scarf which is  worn by its members both on stage and front of house, so where did it all start?

William Henry Ralph Reader was born on the 25th May 1903, he was later to become a theatrical agent and producer. In 1932 he anonymously staged his first all scout production called “The Gangs All Here” at the Scala Theatre. In 1934 it became “The Gang Show”. Ralph Reader, as he became to be known, wrote and directed a dramatic pageant called “The Boy Scout” in 1936, with a cast of some 150 scouts. This  took place at the Royal Albert Hall.

In November 1937 the King asked the Gang Show to appear at the Royal Variety Performance, thus a “Bunch of Boy Scouts” (as the newspapers said) appeared on stage with the likes of Gracie Fields, George Formby and the “Cheeky Chappie” Max Miller. This  was the start of what would be The Gang Show.

The Gang Show was put on at The Golders Green Hippodrome each year until 1939 when during the war years Ralph Reader joined the RAF as an Intelligence Officer. He was later to be awarded the Military MBE and later a CBE for his work with Scouts and the theatre. Ralph stopped producing the Gang Show in 1974 but was still “involved” until his death in May 1982.

In 1946 Thanet put on its first Scout and Guide Show at Birchington Church House, produced by Eric “Tubby” Spicer and Jean Spicer. During the next 23 years Thanet Scout and Guide Show worked hard to become Thanet Gang Show. In 1969 Thanet was assessed by Gang Show Assessors and they were awarded their Red Gang Show Scarf which they have held since then.

In 1970 Ralph Reader sent a telegram and wished the Gang good luck (or break a leg) which was a boost. The show has gone from strength to strength over the years. A local journalist, Spencer Eade, was persuaded to attend the 24th Gang Show at the Winter Gardens. He was expecting a run of the mill show but stated and I quote “ As soon as the curtain rose I realised that I had been missing something, here was a production as slick as any West End theatre, there was none of your amateur theatricals about it”. (Kentish Express 11 April 1969).

Our first semi-permanent home for Thanet Gang Show was The Lido Theatre where we stayed for 14 years, Our 1989 -90 show was cancelled due to the sad passing of  long standing friend and producer  “Tubby” Spicer. In 1999 The Thanet Gang Show moved to its present home at the Theatre Royal but 2003 saw the show having to de-camp to the Winter Gardens due to an unforeseen flood at the Theatre Royal.

As with any show, putting it on the stage is not easy. First you must have a venue (with changing rooms), then you must have a cast and support staff, choreographers, people to move the scenery and props, wardrobe mistress, make up, someone to fit microphones, and there are people who work at the Theatre Royal who help us with sound, scenery and lighting. There are people who sell programmes and raffle tickets, so that, as with every year, we can support a local charity. As you can see, it is not just the people on stage.

For our chosen charity we hold  coffee mornings  or cake sales  and of course the raffle at each of the four shows.  Gang show is open to anyone in Scouts or Guides also we welcome Cubs and Brownies.

We would also like to hear from anyone who has been involve with Gang Show in the past, especially if they have items that we can copy and put in our archive be it photos, newspaper articles, programmes etc, so that future generations can see what Gang Show of Yesteryear got up to when they trod the boards. hey can contact Terry Pankhurst on 07927845505 (Gang Show Ambassador / Chair)

Thanet Gang Show 2022 arrived at the Theatre Royal on the 14th April. The show was one we had rehearsed way back in 2020 but because of Covid and lockdown we could not put it on until this  year. This show was to be a memorial to our producer, Mr M. Johns, who passed away last year, so the cast were set to give it  their all …. which they did and then some.

The curtain went up at 7:30pm on the 14th April  in  front of a packed house, including  Michael Tomlinson (Mayor)  and Shirley his Lady Mayoress, amongst  the audience, This year,  as with other years, we raised money for  a local charity, which was The Martha Trust  and at the final performance Chairman Terry Pankhurst  presented a cheque for £798 to Kerry Banks BEM, from the Trust,  on behalf of the Thanet Gang Show.

We are hoping that the Theatre Royal  will be open for business next year as  The Gang Show has had a long association with the venue and the staff were presented with a 21 year Gang Show Scarf  just before lockdown. We are hoping to carry on this association for many more years and it will be a great loss to Thanet Gang Show and to the entertainment industry if it doesn’t remain open.

It is a great theatre and should remain open, if it doesn’t, so many community shows such as ours will have to look to other venues.

The four shows that were put on by Cubs, Brownies, Scouts and Guides (with a little help from their friends, the Leaders, took place on the 14th, 15th and two shows on the 16th. April. On 15th April  we opened the performance up to the Emergency Services, so that Thanet Gang Show could say a huge thank you to all of them for the service they give to our communities. The shows were all  well attended and the cast put on such  polished performances.

Producer Denise Burring said  she was extremely proud of the cast and support staff for their efforts. We would like to see so many more Cubs and Brownies in the show, as well as  the Scouts, Explorers, Guides and Senior Sections Guides. If anyone is interested in Thanet Gang Show please check out our Facebook page for more details.

2 Comments

  1. Loved the article. Very interesting. Loved reading about the history of the Gang Show and the future plans. May they long continue their great work. Would love to get involved with 2023’s show.

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