Veteran Ray rejoins St Albans Gang Show to tell it how it was

GANG Show veteran Ray Welch made a surprise visit to see the cast of the 2011 show and reminisce about how things were over 70 years ago.

Ray, 86, took part in the first Gang Show at the Culver Hall in St Albans when he was 15 and still in the Scouts. He recalled the auditions being really nerve-wracking as would-be performers auditioned in front of Ralph Reader, creator of the original Gang Show which was known as a revue back then.

The St Albans show in 1939 pooled the talent from earlier gang shows with “Tinny” Fellows and Cyril Swinson as producer and assistant producer and “Mac” Mackintosh as musical director.

Ray recalled: “With the big names working on our show, we knew we had to do our best. We rehearsed for several months all over St Albans just like they do today.”

The 1939 St Albans Gang Show was an all-male affair comprising a cast of 89 including boys from Wolf Cub age upwards and leaders from across the district. In those days it encompassed Park Street and Colney Street as well as St Albans.

The show’s format has not changed much in over 70 years with singing and dance routines blended with comedy sketches and Ray remembers having so much fun doing it. He went on: “I even remember having my legs painted by the costume ladies! The audience loved it and many came to more than one performance. In those days we didn’t have an orchestra, just two pianos, drums and effects.”

He even recalls wearing a tutu to perform a hilarious take on Swan Lake with water cans, saying: “We got the biggest laugh of the night when our sprouting ‘lily’ appeared amidst the white swans – sporting the blackest of moustaches.”

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Ray said it had been an “absolute pleasure” to be invited to meet the cast of the 2011 show and the happy memories which were brought back when everyone sang Riding Along on the Crest of a Wave, the Gang Show signature tune.

The 1939 Gang show was a one off as war got in the way and many of the cast went off to fight. By 1945, Ray was working on the railways and married but his association with Scouting continued and he became a leader himself – the production manager of the 2011 show Sam Keates or ‘Prickle’ as he is known to the cast was in the 2nd St Albans Cub pack when Ray ran it.

Gang Shows started up again in the 1960s run by individual Scouting groups and it was not until 1980 that the modern district show started, including the involvement Girl Guides and being held at the Alban Arena.

Said David Barker, producer of the 2011 show which is already sold out from Wednesday, February 16, to Saturday, February 19, at the Arena, said: “We were delighted to welcome Ray to see the 2011 Gang Show in rehearsals.

“The show has come such a long way since those early days and it was great to hear some of the fond memories Ray has of his time in the cast. We pride ourselves and work hard to ensure the show continues to move with the times whilst remaining true to the original concept devised by Ralph Reader and are proud that over the years we have achieved nationwide acclaim for being a modern, progressive and first class showcase for young talent.

“This strong reputation has led to performances at the O2 Arena and two appearances at the Royal Albert Hall. It was great to talk to Ray as the one thing that has clearly remained untouched by the bounds of time is the special spirit of being part of the Gang. Long may it continue.”