Southwark Gang Show

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The History of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

 

In the Autumn of 1949 Bill King, the then District Commissioner of the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Scout District, asked “Tommy” Thompson to consider putting on a stage show for Scout funds. Tommy not only worked at Scout HQ but had been a great friend of Ralph Reader for many years and also looked after Gang Show matters for The Scout Association. Earlier in 1949 Ralph had presented a musical play called “We’ll Live Forever” – his first production for the Movement since the end of the 2nd World War.

 

When Tommy was approached by Bill King about a local show he recruited the help of Ron Meyer to assist in the production of “We’ll Live Forever” which took place in January 1950 at the Central Swimming Baths in Grange Road and ran for three nights. The cost of the programme was three pence.

 

This performance was so successful Tommy & Ron were asked to stage another production the following year. As Ralph had written and presented a new play of which Ron took part in, they decided to produce this for Bermondsey. So in 1951 “Great Oaks” was staged at the Rotherhithe Assembly Rooms.

 

During 1951 the District’s new HQ in Jamacia Road was opened. Formerly a convent, as part of it’s renovation, a stage was constructed at one end of the hall which could be dismantled when not in use, leaving a small platform. It was only natural, therefore, that because of a demand from both cast and audience alike, the Districts next production should be a Gang Show staged at Scout House, called “It’s a Great Game”. The title of the first act finale number. The show took place at the end of March 1952. Amazingly there were 45 members in the cast that year (now it’s a squeeze with 30 to 32). Along with this in the right hand wing space the Lighting board and 2 electricians were based during the show.

 

The tradition of an annual District show was born and in March 1953 our fourth show was presented as “It’s a Wonderful Life”. From then on this title is used for all our shows. Tommy & Ron continued to run these shows. In 1963 it was decided to have a break from Gang Shows and repeat the very first show “We’ll Live Forever”. This routine of every 5 to 6 years the show would perform a play up until Ron’s retirement in 1999. Our stage was given the name of “The Postage Stamp” by Ralph.

 

In 1969 girls joined the cast in the show, and the District had widened to become Bermondsey & Southwark. In 1970 we celebrated our 21st show with a cast of 41 boys and girls. During 1971/72 the show suffered a sad loss on the death of its co-producer Tommy Thompson.

 

In 1974 we celebrated our 25th Anniversary with an outstanding number of 51 in the cast. The stage could not handle that amount of cast so in the finale a front line was formed in the front row of the audience.

 

In 1989 we celebrated our 40th Anniversary, and in 1990 another change to the District name to “Thameside”. In 1999 we celebrated our 50th Show and the retirement of Ron Meyer our producer.

 

The year 2000 saw our current Producers Darren Lodge & Richard Taylor take over the daunting task of producing this show. Both Darren & Richard are long serving ex-cast members and have a great reputation to uphold.

 

2009 saw our 60th Anniversary show come and now 12 years on Darren & Richard continue to strive to bring you a show that upholds the spirit of Gang Show.

 

 

 

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