Here comes the gang

Ecclesall Scouts Centenary Gang Show: Giraffes Ben Smith (left) and Tom Anderson get to know each other while Wildebeest Joe Staves and Matt Wyman have a chat in the background
Ecclesall Scouts Centenary Gang Show: Giraffes Ben Smith (left) and Tom Anderson get to know each other while Wildebeest Joe Staves and Matt Wyman have a chat in the background

HERE comes a gang of teenage boys: all appear to be wearing pink, yellow and scarlet dresses. They are also wearing fluorescent wigs.

They are smiling.

Many students of the social behaviour of pre-adult males might think this is untypical. The leaders and volunteers of the 20th Ecclesall Scout group would disagree.

“We have eight-year-olds working with 16-year-olds, all building their confidence and skills. It’s very much a team-building experience as a group – but on top of everything else it’s great fun.”

So says cub leader and Gang Show technician Tony Richardson.

The Scout movement’s Gang Shows have been dressing scouts and cubs in embarrassing costumes, teaching them to sing and dance and issuing them with appalling jokes for nearly 80 years now.

The originators in the 1930s may not have used terms such as ‘team building experience’ but they’d have recognised the ideas and ethos, says Tony.

“They’re thoroughly enjoying the whole thing,” he says. “They’re with their friends, all doing something that they’d never have the chance to do otherwise.”

This is evidently true. Two 18-year-olds wearing towering giraffe sculptures on their heads stroll by chatting to several zebras and wildebeest.

The 20th Ecclesall Scout group celebrates it’s centenary this year and the Gang Show next week is the first of several special events over the year. There’ll be a fun day and a charity abseil from Ecclesall parish church in June, a temporary promotional shop on the Moor in September and a reunion dinner for existing and former members in November.

Show director Andrew Watson has also received a booking for 40 former members of the group who are heading to the Gang Show.

“One man, who must be in his 60s now, said it will be the first time he’s ever had chance to watch a Gang Show as he’s always been in it up until now,” Andrew says.

Andrew and Tony note that the former performers will recognise the ethos of the show, and maybe some of the jokes, but the technical aspect will be very different, with computer controlled lighting and downloadable song sheets and music from the group’s website.

The group has run a Gang Show every four years since 1977 and their first show took place in 1961 – so in addition to starting the centenary, the 2011 performances also mark the 50th anniversary of the Gang Show at Ecclesall.

Tony says scouting is growing nationally and the movement now is “more relevant than it’s ever been” with its aim to provide fun, challenge and adventure to more than half a million members in the UK.

New leaders are still very much in demand, even though nationally the number of volunteers working for Scouting is bigger than the workforces of the BBC and McDonalds put together.

“Some people may think it’s old-fashioned but it’s really sorted itself out. You can now get badges in computing, in PR, in marketing… it’s completely and utterly relevant.”

And on the social reframing policies of possible past holders of marketing and PR badges in the current government, he adds: “It might not be organised by the government but in terms of community involvement and giving something back, it’s absolutely part of the ‘Big Community.’

“The scouts have actually been doing this kind of thing for 100 years.”

All the leaders and adult helpers are doing their bit for free and have been doing for months. Tony and Andrew are both former performers and although they both like the idea that they can put something back after being cubs and scouts as boys, they also thoroughly enjoy it, Tony says.

The boys and girls on stage do their traditional arm movements for Riding Along on the Crest of a Wave, Andrew bellows at them to smile and they troop off to make space for the cast of the Lion King sketch.

“We may be an outdoor adventure-led organisation but there are loads of kids who may not want to be dangling off a rock face,” he says.

“For the loads of kids with artistic talents it’s a great thing to see shy little kids suddenly blossom and get a buzz they’ll never ever forget.”

lThe 20th Ecclesall Gang Show is at Ecclesall Parish Hall, Ringinglow Road, from next Tuesday to Saturday, February 26.

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