These are the times
A nostalgic look back over 40 years of Hastings Gang Shows, recalling the highlights and the disasters, the friends and the fun, but most of all the sheer magic if acting, singing, directing and producing with the Hastings Gang Show
The beginning. Not a lot of memories from this year save that it was all a new experience for us rookies. Hastings Gang Show was born and Eric Stokes as Producer/Director with Gordon Dengate as Musical Director led the whole production. Rehearsals were split up amongst various groups so we never really got to see the much of the organisation. I was in the 8th Hastings Priory Road Troop at the time as young leader and we were assigned a single sketch to perform and given a list of one or two songs to rehears. The whole show was brought together in the last two weeks and that’s when we first met the rest of the cast. Eric Strokes, out producer, referred to it as ‘Barnstorming’ I guess that sums up the mood quite well.
Well, we must has done something right, because we were asked back again for the second show. As with the previous 1966 performance, Ralph Reader wrote all items except one, the exception being a sketch written by Eric. 1967 also saw the inclusion of Ranger Guides. Rehearsals were split in two locations across the town so we did get to mean 50% of the cast before opening night. I got my first speaking role, as a heckler from the audience. Unfortunately the seat they reserved for me was next to my sister who was in the audience on Saturday evening. Boy! was she surprised when I jumped up and started shouting.
Back for a third time. This is getting serious. A busy year as the District has acquired Scoutcroft as the new headquaters and next year it will be available for rehearsals. Luxury! Meanwhile we continue rehearsing in two locations. I notice this year, two names creeping into the cast list. Ian Whatling, now DC of Easbourne, and Susan Austen, a Ranger Guide then, later to become an assistant director with us under her married name Sue Funnell. I get another speaking part, this time selling ‘Beans & Potatoes’.
We changed our name. We now call ourselves The Scout Show as the name Gang Show is reserved for performances that include a high percentage of Ralph Reader material. Out Producer was getting ambitious and wanted to use more of his original and up to date stuff. This year saw the introduction of the Guards, more affectionately known as the ‘Gonks’ by the cast. Other highlights included The Old Town Wanderers & The Colonel takes a Bath, both of which were destined to return in later years.
The turn of the decade and we are still performing. John Woodhams, the Hastleon stalwart joined us this year to help with directing. Michael his son is a member of our current team. Also this year Ken Scott made his debut in the show as a very agile Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk. One strong memory from this show was the thirty odd blue and white tops we all wore for the Somerset song, which were all ‘knitted’ especially for the show by our wardrobe lady Jean. We still have them now I believe
This year taught me one of my biggest lessons in entertainment and the importance of being part of a team all rooting for the same common goal. It was an unscheduled appearance and it remains a vivid memory. Two items were clashing with no time to set the stage so Eric grabbed Dave Shelmerdine & myself to just walk on and hold the curtain for a while. We did this silly routine with imaginary shovels and ad-libs until Eric was happy that all was ready. Then he walked on and asked us what we were doing only to be told by us we were ’filling in time’. We have used that idea since but never in such an emergency as the one we had that night.
The Gonks return in 1972 after many requests to see them again. We also include some classic Ralph Reader items such as Doctor With The Little Black Bag and Giddy Up. Eric is still producing original sketches and Don Hume joins us in production and brings some new material with him. One item, Rural England where we used trick glasses and had two of the cast seem to drink about eight pints of beer in three minutes, was a particular favourite with the audience. I also made my first of four appearances as Fagin in the item Christmas Carol.
Lots of original material in this year with about 50% being written by Ralph Reader and most of the rest by Eric. Don Hume remains in the production team with Eric at the helm and Gordon Dengate still in charge of music. The classic ‘Free & frippence h’apenny’ was transformed with decimalisation to ‘Fourteen little new pence’ and I have my first crack with Keith Donaldson as co-writer, at script writing. We submit some sketches which we slaved over a pint or two of best bitter to produce, and two, return to Treasure Island and Macdeath are accepted. (never did get my commission) Eric was also able to call on the talents of Don Hume’s composer son Colin, to write us some special songs.
Eric takes a job in the Solomon Islands and this will be his last show he tells us. We need to find another producer. Meanwhile the show goes ahead and we call on Colin Hume again to write ‘The Lifeboat Men’ Keith & I get another two scripts accepted, (hey, this is fun), and also perform Madam will you Walk, a classic sketch involving a booby trapped sedan chair. All I can say is ‘I’m glad it wasn’t me wearing the dress Keith’. Mike Neeson our backstage manager for many years, joins the cast as a young scout.
With Eric now abroad, Don Hume agrees to continue this year as producer and asks Dave Shelmerdine, Keith Donaldson and myself to support him. Gordon Waters, our Drummer since the start, takes a break, Gordon Dengate has also stepped down as MD and we ask Frank Fogarty to join us in his place. Colin Hume submits a third song for us to use in Keeping up with the Jones’s (which you can find on an old LP somewhere if you look) and the Donaldson/Smith team submit two more sketches. It doesn’t have the same ring as Galton and Simpson does it? Looking down the cast list, I see Judith Southerdon later to become Judith Collins, our current ‘Wardrobe lady’ and new DC.
Don Hume decides that due to ill health he cannot continue as producer. Dave, Keith & myself agree to run the show as a committee until Eric’s return. Mike Lamb joins us as MD and also in the cast making his debut is a very young Gavin Strachan, now a regular Gang Show member. Colin Hume provided us with another classic song, When You’re A Cub to mark the diamond jubilee of cub scouting. Keith & I write our first pantomime ‘Dick Whittington’ and we borrow vast amounts of World War II props from Brenzett Museum for our Flying High item.
The committee of producer/ directors is back for a second year and have introduced a change in style for the programme, leaving behind the threefold one used since 1966 for a printed A5 booklet. 1977 was the silver jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and we celebrated it with every red white and blue Ralph Reader song we could think of. I made my second appearance as Fagin in the Oliver first half finale, and Colin Hume wrote the song ‘Brownsea Island’ for us. There were 14 in the orchestra that year and the volume was overwhelming.
The thirteenth show and what a disaster! Not satisfied with the 14 orchestra members last year, we increase it to a staggering twenty. BIG mistake. However the script writing continues and this year I submit a second pantomime A Lad in Blue. It must have been awful because we can’t find any trace of the script. Someone had some sense to lose it anyhow. We also tried to introduce an element of competition with Give Em A Cheer. Basically it was like the royal tournament gun carriage run but with tent erecting instead. Oh dear!!. One good thing came from the show though. We had two visiting scouters from Switzerland join us and we were able to produce an exert from Cabaret with the two taking the Sally Bowles and Compere roles. Jeremy Wilkes joins the production team, Brian fox our treasurer joins the support and we survive.
Eric’s back and before we can lose all of the reputation the show has built up, he agrees to take over again as Producer. I stay on as co-producer & Dave takes a job at headquarters. Highlights of the year include The Chapel Lead Hastings which was the last in a long line of items penned by our resident composer Colin Hume and the old Flanders & Swan song, The Omnibus. Eric produces more sketches and Jean Greenhalf joins Edna Osborne in our costume dept. The orchestra is reduced to a modest 17 this year (mostly from Sussex Brass) and the ship is pulled back on course.
Eileen Stevens, who has played piano for us since 1975 has decided to make this her last year and we start looking for a replacement. After last years show we were surprised that one member of the audience gave us a donation saying the show was worth ‘much more than we were charging’ Time to put the seat prices up. Items this year included Matchstalk Men, Jesus Christ Superstar and London Town which we are featuring this year in Ralph’s London.
We say hello to our new pianist, Helen Bird and also to Peter Walker, both of whom are still supporting the Gang Show today. Len Trollope who has been providing make up since the early days of Gang Show makes this his last year and a young Fiona Adams, then Elliott, our present assistant director joins us from Gosport Gang Show. Old Town Wanderers makes a comeback and we send up Peter Pan in a 10 minute version of the panto.
It’s the 75th anniversary of Scouting this year and how do Hastings Gang Show celebrate it? By singing We’ll Go On and On as the opening number and following it with My Old Mans a Dustman. There’s organisation for you!. Helen is back again for a second year and her husband Dickie, who is now designing the programme covers, lends his hand in support.
Well we did it. The orchestra which has been numbering between 14 & 20 for the last six years is reduced to a staggering…. Four! Gordon Waters is back with us on drums after a break of several years and we say hello to a young scout in the cast by the name of Stephen Pickering. Steve will go on to be a regular member to this day of our production team. Eric supplies more original material and I also note the return of Macdeath which we first used ten years previously.
Nearly a disaster. The White Rock Pavillion announces its closure for refurbishment, and we have nowhere to perform. Luckily the De La Warr Pavillion had a free week in November and so we move the whole show to Bexhill. Trevor Quinnell takes the part of the heckler in the same sketch I first performed in 1967. I hope his sister wasn’t sitting next to him. Sue Funnell (see 1968) joins the production team, Brian Lamb organises a dance routine around the currently popular ‘ Thriller’ and we manage to provide the residents of Bexhill on Sea with their first ever Gang Show.
Back to Hastings and the newly refurbished White Rock Theatre. It’s our twentieth show & Eric excelled himself by providing 5 sketches and 2 songs this year. We have a bash at West Side Story and another first we feature a rock band made up of Venture Scouts. Hmmmm? It was also the first year that Beaver Scouts were introduced to the family of scouting. They did a good job of swelfing our audience that year.
The 21st show and this year more of the cast have started to get involved in writing and staging. Several items are quite up to date and original with dance sequences and sketches coming in from everyone. That’s what we like to see. Less work for Eric and I as well. Our band remains at four with Mike, Helen, Gordon and Tony Akehurst filling the pit. And we had over 1,000 in the audience on Saturday evening.
The machine rolls on and the enthusiasm of the cast for providing items continues. Eric has more original sketches to offer and I write my first song. Edna & Jean take a break from wardrobe and Maggie Scott steps in to take over the sewing machine. It’s also Australian Jamboree year and we celebrate with a Kangaroo and boomerang on the programme cover and a selection of Aussie songs to start the second half of the show.
Helen takes a break from playing piano for one year and Olga Clark steps in to save us. We are starting to get more ambitious now with everyone wanting to produce an item. Are we losing control? Have we already lost it? Items in the show include our bash at Fiddler on the Roof and Phantom. The Old Town Wanderers return for the third time and I play Fagin again. Edna returns to help us out with costumes and we decide to get ourselves a choreographer.
Helen returns on Piano in a year which sees a mainly musical show with choreography by Clare Walker and Helen Chipchase. Only four sketches in the entire show. One classic song however was performed which we will go on to use many more times. If I were not Upon The Stage with it’s slapstick knockabout routine has become a firm favourite with our audiences. Jo Ball arrived in time to help us with costumes and stayed with us for a few years to come.
Well, it’s our 25th year. We change the format of the programme to A4, and include individual photos of the cast and production. Eric provided more sketches and we have a Rock Band in the show again. The Chapel Lead was performed for the second time and we finished the show with a huge knife slicing into a birthday cake complete with 25 candles. My main memory of the 1990 show was being stitched up by my Venture Unit who funded a strippagram for the after show party.
Sue Funnel leaves production after seven years and Eric and I look for a new assistant. More offers of material arrive and Eric provides three new sketches. My Venture Unit get me to help them write a sketch based on Cluedo. We perform songs from Grease, west Side Story (again?) Paint your wagon & wizard of Oz, and the Rangers strip on stage. (did you miss it?)
Another year goes by and we are still searching for an assistant director. Mike Lamb decides to retire from the show, and Helen takes over as MD. We do a selection from Les Miserables (ambitious) and Oklahoma. Other items are mainly pinched from Gang Shows which we have seen, and my Unit try their hand again this time with a Ghost Story.
We found one! Steve Pickering joins the production team as assistant director and Will Southcote joins the orchestra for one year. We also get a new choreographer, Mary Colley. Steve performs The Huntsman and On the Beach with hilarious results and we get more and more ambitious with our musical numbers. Eric decides to retire after 24 shows as producer.
Ok ! So I’m in charge. Now what? Ken Scott joins Steve & I in Production to take on the admin role and with Helen still as MD we attack 1994. The result is surprising. We attempt Me & My Girl and Guys & Dolls as our main numbers, and back it up with some proven items such as the Sedan Chair slapstick from 1974 and Eric’s sketch The Entertainers. We played around with the Three Tenors and chucked in a bit of dancing. It worked, and they asked me back to do next year.
Our 30th year and the 50th anniversary of VE day. With growing confidence we went overboard and produced probably our most effective staging to date with an air raid, smoke and burning buildings. All this was a backing for our Blitz songs, which were very well received. Lucy & Jo Hart choreographed a superb River Dance and we let the cubs have their own item for the first time, with John Pickering in control.
A third show…. Material is not being offered as freely so it’s back to writing again. Puss in Boots is the result, one of a number of mini panto’s we will have fun with over the next few years. We also rely on some sketches from The Two Ronnie’s and we fall back on one proven item, Giddy Up. Following her success last year, Lucy Hart joins us for choreography.
Getting into our stride now. Becci Marchant joins Lucy in choreography and with Lucy’s sister Jo, they produce Lord of the Dance and a Grand Prix version of Starlight Express. We revive a slapstick routine from previous years and the pantomime is three in one with Jack and the Amazing Cinder Goose. Liz Bowles joins us in the pit. Eastbourne Kingfishers Band join us on stage. Frances takes on wardrobe from Jo Ball who has moved away & John Pickering decides not to continue with the cubs production so Steve & I take it on with reservations.
Material is flowing again with items coming in from all directions. Fiona Adams joins the team to take on the cub production and Becci takes over choreography from Lucy. Snow White is the featured mini panto this year and other highlights include the Full Monty by our young ladies, a day at the seaside in Two Ronnies style and Olly Toovey’s debut as an undiscovered Tenor.
Full circle, we decide to revert to the name Gang Show again. Times change and the requirement for the inclusion of Ralph Reader material has become less demanding. Sleeping Beauty is our panto this year alongside Men in Black and our version of Barnum. Steve has decided to take time out with his family and so Fiona leaves the cubs in Angela Johnson’s safe hands and joins us as assistant director. We have our first stab at achieving Gang Show status and narrowly miss out.
The new millennium, and wardrobe Is now under the control of Judith. The two Ben’s join us in production for a brief spell, and more original material floods in. We attempt Lion King and thought we had done a reasonable job until we saw the video. The cut out animals used to create the background effect were doing some pretty dodgy things thanks to some of the youngsters. Alice in Wonderland was the mini Panto with Kitson as a Fluorescent Pink Rabbit.
We welcome Claire Collins to the production team to assist with direction and start midweek rehearsals at Gensing Manor. Tribute is paid to the late Sir Harry Secombe in a Pickwick Papers item. Panto is abandoned as we send up Spielberg in Star Wars the Musical, and we invite the Town Crier in to play bagpipes in our Highland Reel dance. A lot more original material is produced by cast and production, and we scrap an item that wasn’t working with 2 weeks to spare and rehearse a new one in time for the show.
Steve is enticed back to help with production and writes some material for us. We visit Aberdeen Gang Show and bring back some gems written by Tony Burns, and we attempt a routine with Basket Balls, which surprisingly is a hit. Claire takes over the Cub production and Mick Woodhams joins us to assist with production. We send up Italian Rhapsody with our own worded version, perform a Fosse number with Dancing Man and the Trotter family (Del, Rodney & Uncle Arthur) make an appearance.
We go for our Red Necker again this year, and this time we are confident. Eric comes back to join us in the cast, and plays Ralph Reader. Steve puts together a hilarious magic routine and we provide some 007 nostalgia with our tribute to James Bond Movie themes. Pity the sound went dead in the middle of From Russia with Love. Helen decides to call it a day after 22 years with the show and we search for a new MD.
We get our Gang Show approval and Andrew J Daniels joins us as MD for our first production as a Red Necker show. Our music and singing becomes even more ambitious as we take on Les Miserables again and Helen is enticed back to play keyboard in the orchestra pit. Becci hangs up her dancing shoes this year because of work commitments and Gum Boot Dancing and Army marching feature in the line up as do five guys dressed as Bumble Bees, and a church choir singing in subtitles.
Well, that’s it. That’s how we reached forty. I wonder what this year will have in store for us? Eric is back with us again to celebrate and the rest of the team are poised ready to continue, maybe for another forty years. I hope they hold as much fun and as many fond memories as the last forty have for me and that they will say, as I do. ‘These are the times I shall dream about and I’ll call them…’The Good Old Days’
As the curtain comes down from the 40th Show Del decides to retire and a new era begins with Fiona as producer assisted by Steve. ‘Let us entertain you’ is the slogan of the 41st Gang Show and the show kicks of with the Robbie Williams song of the same title. Beavers join the show this year to sing ‘It’s a small world’ The first half closes with our colourful version of Joseph and the second half gets spooky as we manage to lift in half a car in Goosebumps.
The same production team return for their second show. Memorable items this year sees the return of the classic sketch Upon the Stage & Never Ever (aka Peter Pan) & even Mary Poppins makes an appearance. This year also sees the departure of several key production team members, Andrew J Daniels (MD), Judith Collins (Wardrobe), & Helen Hayler (Choreography).
With the previous years departures, new faces arrive, Helen Bird steps in as temporary MD for this years show, Tina Mowle takes on Choreography, Krista Pickering leads the Wardrobe team & Kitson Wellard joins Fiona & Steve as assistant producer. A flying car makes an appearance in Magic of Chitty, Harry banks takes off his clothes ‘On the Beach’ Kitson becomes a woman in our version of Hair Spray.
A new MD sees Robert Connelly join the team. Willkommen kicks off the show, a catchy Harry Potter melody gets the audience jigging, the Blues Brothers evade the police & Ashley Burt performs the hilarious Tommy Cooper ‘Hats’ Sketch. Sadly this year sees the departure of Gordon Waters hanging up his Gang Show drum sticks after so many years.
Take That’s ‘Hold up a Light’ starts the show, we go ‘Back to the 80’s, then ‘Go to the Movies’ Travel to ‘Oz’ and the audience is left crying with laughter with the ‘Opticians’ & ‘Brownies’ which sees all the boys putting on their Brownie uniforms. So long farewell finishes another fantastic memorable show.
A new MD, Andrew Morrison joins the team. Our Michael Jackson tribute brings a lump to your throat, but its all laughs from there in the ‘Fork Handles’ (four candles) shop, Ringing them Bells, Steve falls down the Chimney as Santa & 30 Smurfs take to the stage. Finally ending with ‘At the Gang Show’ sung to the tune of Copacabana.
Due to work commitments Andrew decides to step down as MD and we welcome Lesley van Egmond as our new MD. The fluorescent Dem Bones sees 20 skeletons strut their stuff to a dance routine, 11 Morris Men & 1 Morris Girl cause a laugh & the RAF Red Barrows fly round the stage. But the most memorable item of this year was ‘Heroes’ which took our audience through a moving Montague of songs in honour of our war hero’s which literary left you with a tear in your eye.
We welcome Olly Toovey as assistant producer to work alongside Fiona, Steve & Kitson. Sam Jordan comes on board to produce & organise the Beaver item. Tina Mowle hangs up her scarf and steps down as Choreographer, which sees Tracy Sutton & Royah Hamed step forward to take on Choreography. Live While We’re Young is the perfect start, ‘On my Knee’ makes a return, Decorating goes wrong in ‘Overalls’, things get messy in ‘Close Shave’, we pay tribute to the Beatles and then Dance through the Decades.