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       Warrington History - The Continuing Story of Gang Show

In 1951, Jack Appleton became
the District Commissioner for Warrington Scouts and, in the same year, produced the first ever Warrington District Scout Gang Show. It was years before that (probably around 1928) that Jack started to produce Scout shows and pantomimes with the 1st Newton Scouts.

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The remarkable thing is that, when he started, he was only around 18 or 19 years of age.
In 1947 Jack produced the Newton Gang Show at Birley Street Hall, then a year later he produced the Newton Gang Show in Crosfield's Centenary Theatre during "Scout Week" in April of that year. He had a great love of Scouting and the stage, and continued to produce Warrington Gang Show until 1965.

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After the first three shows there was a gap of seven years and the Gang returned in 1961. In this production team Jack was assisted by Jock Campbell, Peter Lawton, Henry (Slick) Lawton and Arthur Davies.

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Arthur was, until his death, one of the most enduring names that appeared in so many Gang Show programmes. He could turn his hand to almost any job that needed doing- cast member, producer, treasurer, director. He was there for many years keeping a guiding hand on the show and ensuring that it progressed year by year. He and Jack Appleton were probably the main cornerstones on which today's show rests.

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When Gang Shows were first produced and the London Gang Show was going strong, the material was one hundred per cent Ralph Reader. At the time there was a wealth of work to choose from and Warrington Show made the most of it: - There's a Song in My Heart (1952), Birds of a Feather (1953), Strolling (1961), which became well known in wider circles when sung by Flanagan and Allan, It's Gonna be Warm (1964)...., the list goes on and on. Some numbers were staged as faithful copies of the London Gang Show but many leant themselves to other interpretations and Warrington was lucky in having producers ready and willing to rework some of these numbers.

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There were sketches:- Wedding Morn, Knights of the Road Table, Roman Scandals, The Colonel Takes a Bath, Over the Sea... With time, some of these have become rather dated and it is difficult to rework sketches, but there are some good pickings to be had there yet.

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Towards the end of the London run, the rules were changed so that only 75% of the material had to be items written by Ralph Reader. This rule was very strictly adhered to and directors and producers of all recognised Gang Shows had to send in copies of their programmes as soon as they were finalised and the content had to be approved by Headquarters.

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What is meant by a "recognised show"? No Gang Shows are automatically "Red Scarf (Necker)" shows. Each production team has to demonstrate that its show is good enough to earn official recognition when inspected by one of the Movement's Assessors.

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Warrington earned its "Red Scarf" with the 1967 show. By this time, the show was produced by Trevor Shore. There then followed a succession of directors and their production teams:- Tony Guy, Cyril Lambert, Eddie Johnson, Tony Warburton, Arthur Davies, Albert Atkinson, Alan Davies, and our present Director, Graham Phillips, who took over in 1985.

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Ralph Reader was fond of using Scout Bands in the London Show and wrote a couple of numbers around them. Warrington had a fine Scout Band and Slick Lawton, Bandmaster, was a member of The Gang. So, the 31st Warrington (Workingmen's Mission) Scout Band started to take part in the show and added colour and character over a number of years.

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With the demise of the London Gang Show, the rules on content were relaxed yet again to only 50% of the show having to be Reader material. Nowadays, these rules have been relaxed completely although there is still a wealth of material available. This relaxation has given producers more liberty to put their ideas into shows but, at the same time, has given bigger challenges to production teams.

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This challenge has been met with no mean success in Warrington, helped, no doubt, by additions to the Production Team. Persuading Eddie Burton to play the organ for the show must have been one of the most far-reaching acts of Director, Eddie Johnson.

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It eventually led to Robbie Burton (Eddie's wife) joining the team and she has written a number of successful sketches and items that display a subtlety the older sketches did not!

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The addition of non-Reader material led to music of a more popular nature being used. "Beatlemania" was quite a novelty when it was included in 1976, but nowadays these types of numbers are part of the accepted style. Since 1976 a succession of items have followed - Girls, Girls, Girls (1978), Happy Daze (1979), Eurovision and After, Diamond is Forever, Cliff, Holiday Rock, and Mel's Drive-in. Many other Gangs have asked to use these ideas and go on to develop them further. And who could forget the up-dating of Reader songs with the Reader Megamix which Eddie Burton developed with much help from Ken Bennett.

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During 1969 girls were first brought into the cast. Though this was generally welcomed, it was not to everyone's taste, but was it such a bad thing? Girls did add a certain glamour, an extra dimension to dance numbers and sketches, and even with girls in the show it didn't detract from the traditional male numbers.

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Some of the favourite numbers over the years, since 1968, have been the Cub numbers. The London Shows did not use Cubs and so material here had to be more or less home-grown. Some ideas came from watching other Gang Shows during the many visits that were made to other shows.

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Yet again, Warrington producers rose to the challenge:- Jack and the Beanstalk (1970), The Circus Comes to Town (1973), Snow White and the Seventy Dwarfs (1974), Tales from Sherwood, Mowgli's Adventures, Space Invaders, The Scarlet Cloak (a Robbie special), Sounds of the Jungle... Cubs have also taken part in the Finale over the last few years and, even though they rehearse separately, have become an integrated part of The Gang.

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For 34 years Crosfield's Centenary Theatre had played host to Warrington Gang Show. Two members of Crosfield's staff had helped stage the show for many years - Clarence Dean who was Stage Director for all the years in the theatre, and Ernie Massey, lighting technician. Eventually the theatre fell into disrepair and it was felt by Crosfields not to be cost effective to put everything right.

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So, in 1991, Warrington Gang Show held its last performance at the Centenary Theatre. For two or three months there was a time of reflection while several venues were considered; a variety of schools where the stages weren't large enough, even a Big Top in Bank Park. However, the management team at the Parr Hall were so generous with their support and time and so welcoming that, even though it is really a concert hall, Warrington Gang Show moved to this town centre venue.

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This move was probably one of the most difficult situations through which Graham has had to guide the production team and cast.

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The stage team are a group of unsung heroes.
Apart from the last night of show week, they are hidden from public view but, without them, there would be a very bare and uninspiring show and very little stage magic.As the years have gone by and audiences and producers have expected more and more sophisticated effects, so the teams have risen to the challenge. Some backcloths are now painted by the stage team - an L S Lowry street scene, New York, a polar landscape with penguins, a Map of America with flashing place-names.

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Impossible pieces are made- a chariot to roll on stage, a rocking horse, an Italian castle with balcony, an undersea scene... again the list goes on.
These are the people who have to turn the wildest fantasies of producers into workable solutions. Then there's the costume team who build ostrich costumes, make wonderful dresses and skirts to fit so many different sizes and heights, dress 80 people in matching costumes, again trying to understand producers' needs, and all this on a very tight budget.
Last but not least, the various cast members who have been on stage in the last forty shows; hundreds of youngsters who have all had a taste of performing in front of an audience and being part of a team, all have played their part in weaving some of the magic. There are many friendships that have started with Warrington Gang Show and still flourish many years on.

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Many people from outside Scouting come to give a hand and stay - some of the members of the orchestra pit come year after year, without pay; mums and dads help out in many ways, Hospital Radio General spend hours setting up a sound system; without all these people Warrington Gang Show would not be the show it is today.

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All shows are a team effort
, cast, Main Committee, Production Team, but one person has to lead that team. Over the years there have been twelve Directors and each has led a successful team. They have all done it in their own individual ways, but they have all produced unbeatable shows.

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This is just a snap-shot of Warrington Gang Show. There are bound to be names and events missed out which we hope will not cause offence. The main thing, over the years, is that Gang Show has to be a part of Scouting and it is, above all, about everyone having FUN! Without this there is no point to Gang Shows. We hope there has been a good measure of this over the last 40 shows.

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" When the years have flown away we shall dream of the times we had, and songs we used to sing..."


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