Ralph Reader MBE, CBE

Born: 1903 in Crewkerne, Somerset, England.

Final Curtain Call: 1982 at his home in Buckinghamshire, England, just a few days short of his 79th Birthday.

Ralph was born the son of a Salvation Army bandmaster and began his theatrical career by putting on Scout Shows as a Patrol Leader in the 2nd Newhaven, Denton and Heighton Troop in Sussex.
He was orphaned as a boy and started work as a clerk before travelling to America to study for his true vocation, the stage. At the age of 21 he produced his first Broadway show and the New York Times wrote "Watch Ralph Reader". He later returned to England and within months of returning he was involved in several West End shows and triumph followed triumph at Londons Drury Land and at the Hippodrome.

In 1932, still in his late 20's, at the Scala Theatre, London, Ralph staged his first "Scout Gang Show". His "stars" were Boy Scouts drawn mainly from Londons down-to-earth East End. He was so worried that his image as a producer of sophisticated West End Revues might become blurred by his involvement with novices that he deliberately kept his name off of the programme. He need'nt have worried... The show held three performances in late October and early November, 1932, a cast of 150, and an opening title of "The Gangs all here". Although many tickets for the first night were unsold, and there was disappointment when the Duke and Duchess of York were prevented at the last minute from attending the second, all three performances were rapturously received and prolonged cheering and singing marked the final night, with song after song encored. It was, the critics agreed, the biggest amateur success of the century.

The next year "The Gang Comes Back" at the Scala played to capacity houses, with hundreds turned away, and the public and press began referring to "The Gang Show". In 1934 that became the title and media pressure finally forced Ralph to confess to being the producer.

In 1937 "a bunch of Boy Scouts" as one writer described them, became the first amateurs to appear at a Royal Variety performance. They were in esteemed company - Gracie Fields, George Formby and Max Miller were all on the same bill-but they stole the show and had King George VI and Queen Elizabeth beating time in the Royal Box to "The Sun Breaks Through" and Riding Down to Dixie".

Even the war didnt stop Ralph. He put on special performances for the British Expeditionary forces in France in 1939 and while serving in the RAF used airmen as "scouts". The first post-war performance of "Gang Show" ran for 3 weeks at the 3000 seat Blackpool Opera house in 1946, broke all records, and went on to play in Glasgow, Newcastle on Tyne, Manchester, Birmingham and Brighton.

In December 1950, Ralph opened a fresh show at the Kings Theatre in Hammersmith with a cast of 150 "old boys" and raw newcomers. This show was broadcast on both Radio and Television.

In 1954, the young Queen Elizabeth came specially to see the entire performance, rocking with laughter and slapping the side of the Royal Box. Other members of the Royal Family who became ardent fans were Princess Margaret, an ex-Brownie who at one performance heartily joined in with "Crest of a Wave", and the Queen Mother.

Yet for all the honours and plaudits heaped upon him throughout his career, there were two he cherished most of all: his appointment to the post of Chief Scouts Commissioner, and the granting in 1976 of the Bronze Wolf, World Scoutings highest honour.

In "Its Been Terrific", an autobiography published in 1974 he wrote:
"The greatest influence for good in the whole of my life has been Scouting. The brothership it has given me, the richness of its ideals, in fact everything it stands for, have brought years of happiness I could never have enjoyed had it not been for the Movement".

Sourced: Readers Digest - Autumn 1997


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