Leader of the gang
PUBLISHED: 01:32 07 April 2012 | UPDATED: 04:13 10 February 2013
For those born on or before 1963, the name Ralph Reader probably rings a bell. Ralph founded the phenomenally successful Gang Shows that were a staple of the TV schedules for decades. What many do not know is that it all began in Sussex. Simon Irwin
EARLIER this year, the London Gang Show Fellowship unveiled a blue plaque on a humble cottage in Newhaven to celebrate Ralph Reader, a man who was very famous indeed in the 1960s and 70s.
For Ralph created the Gang Shows that spread worldwide from their London beginnings. The Show was born in 1932 at The Scala in London and later became a regular on both the BBC and ITV.
Ralph did not just create the Scout Gang Shows, he also founded the RAF Gang Shows which entertained service personnel from Normandy to Burma and helped many performers who became huge names in post war entertainment, including Peter Sellers, Tony Hancock, Dick Emery and Harry Worth.
The London Scout Gang Show returned in 1950 and ran until 1974 and the format continues to this day in the UK and around the world.
Ralph was born into a poor family in Crewkerne in Somerset on May 25, 1903. His mother and father were Salvationists. He was orphaned at nine and left school at 11, when World War One began. He went to live with his Uncle Fred at Rose Cottage in Denton, near Newhaven and it was there he joined the Scouts.
His first job was delivering fruit and vegetables to houses in Seaford. Every week his employer, his Uncle Freds father-in-law, who Ralph called Grandad, went to Brighton to buy supplies for his greengrocers and it was there he first saw some of the big music hall stars of the day at the Hippodrome.
In his autobiography Ralph Reader Remembers, he says: The Brighton Hippodrome became my wonderland and little did I dream that one day I would not only be starring there but would produce and write my own shows and stay in the best hotels a far cry from those early days when, after seeing a show, Grandad and I went back and slept in the stable with the horse.
At 14 he became a telegraph messenger and at 15 changed his job and became an office boy at a cement works which was being used as a bomb disposal factory. It was at that time that he began to run the local Scout Troop, now called Ralph Readers Own, and put on Scout Concerts for war charities.
After seven months in Northern Ireland when he was 17, he travelled to America to pursue his dreams and before he was 24 had become a name on Broadway, worked with practically every musical comedy and revue star, performed with Al Jolson and became a leading dance director.
He was associated with 22 American musicals and returned to England to produce 34 shows in the West End, worked with Nol Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, Ivor Novello and every British music hall and musical comedy star of the day, appeared in four Royal Command Performances and produced more than 140 pageants at the Royal Albert Hall.
And, of course, he also produced The Gang Show which is what he is best remembered for. It got the name when he asked one of the youngsters whether everybody was ready for rehearsal and was answered Aye, aye sir, the gangs all here.
Ralph moved his family from Denton to Norbury in 1928 when he started rehearsals for a show called Virginia. The rest, as they say is history.
His son Bob Corp-Reader said his father spoke fondly of his time in Sussex.
His introduction to theatre was going along to the Brighton Hippodrome.
He achieved so much but will always be remembered for one thing, the Gang Shows.
Ralph Reader died on 18 May 1982.