The History of Birkenhead Gang Show
Birkenhead Gang Show 1961 – 2014
1961 The first Birkenhead District Gang Show was produced by Don Coughtrie in the Assembly Hall of Birkenhead Technical College on Borough Road, with a cast of 98. Don had previously produced several successful 23rd Birkenhead Group shows at the Birkenhead Institute.
1963 The show moved to the Plaza Cinema in Borough Road, literally just next to the Technical College. After the Saturday night film performance the screen was carefully removed and the stage was then prepared for the Monday nights opening performance of the Gang Show
1965 ‘Mr Gang Show’ himself, Ralph Reader the creator of the Gang Show made his first visit to Birkenhead.
1967 The Birkenhead show was assessed for National approval. We were successful and to this day have been allowed to wear the coveted ‘Red Scarf’ with its distinctive insignia. We wear it with pride.
1968 The show went on the road for the ‘first’ time. Following an invitation from the Isle of Man Scout Association, we presented a four night show at the Gaiety Theatre in Douglas. The logistics at the time were a huge headache. We transported 112 cast, a further 80 back stage teams, tons of costumes and stage sets over a stormy sea on Dec 28th. On arrival they had just 24 hours to prepare the theatre for the dress rehearsal, followed by the first performance – ring any bells? The Gang were successful and to this day remain the only show to successfully pull it off..... they said never again..... until 2011 that is!
1969 – 1971 The show made its first move to the Gladstone Theatre in Port Sunlight. Staying for two years at the Gladstone, the show went from strength to strength, growing its audience.
1973 – 1981 The show made the decision to move back to its original home, The Technical College back on Borough Road, Birkenhead. This became the shows ‘home’ for many years. Performing to packed houses every other year, the Birkenhead Gang Show was back where it began in 1961. In 1975 the show was filmed for the first time. This reel to reel tape has just been discovered in a dusty Birkenhead attic.
1981 Ralph Reader, now a CBE, honoured us with a second visit to the show. Due to illness, Birkenhead producer, Don Coughtrie, retired.
1982 A sad year for Gang Show. Ralph passed away, leaving a legacy that would live on forever. After further illness, sadly Birkenhead lost its own ‘Mr Birkenhead Gang Show’ Don Coughtrie also passed away in the same year as Ralph.
1983 Graham Lennox, who had been assistant producer with Don, took over as producer. Graham was one of the original 1961 cast and had been taught by ‘the best’
1985 The Technical College on Borough Road was equipped as a proper theatre and named after the actress Glenda Jackson. The Glenda Jackson Theatre continued to be the shows home. John Thackray joins the show as Director for three shows.
1987 The show staged its Silver Jubilee, celebrating 25 years of the Birkenhead Gang Show.
1989 – 1993 The show continued to grow, with fresh material for the audiences but still sticking with the tradition that Ralph began. The Birkenhead Gang Show was well and truly on the map. The show was also fortunate enough to bring on board Brian Hazlehurst as show Chairman. Brian was able to bring on new elements to the show together with fresh revenue opportunities and initiatives.
1994 The show went on the road again. This time closer to home with ‘The Gang Show Road Show’ – visiting over 20 nursing & retirement homes as well as children’s homes across Wirral. Each location was different, with a cast of 30. We literally performed in the fireplace of one large venue.
1996 After the success of the “Gang Show Road Show” we went on the road again performing in over 25 different homes. An amazing experience for the cast. On certain days they had three performances at three different venues.
1997 A year that brought together the Birkenhead Show and the district as a whole in many ways. Following over 20 years at the ‘Glenda’ we again had to find and move venues. The theatre was to be closed and knocked down to make way for houses. Our original home and stage is now someone’s back garden. After beginning with the show as a cast member in 1983 Graham Lysaght joined the production team together with Sue Pierce who had been production secretary for many years. Under the guidance of producer Graham Lennox they co-produced the last show at the ‘Glenda’. Mike Willis, musical director of the show retires after over 25 years with the show. Mike is succeeded by Alan Reynolds as musical director, who had been with the show as organist for several years.
1999 ‘Every cloud’ – with the closure of the ‘Glenda’ the show needed a new home. Wirral Council opens the ‘Wheel House’ (now known as Pacific Road Theatre), near Hamilton Square. Originally a wheel house and now converted to a tram museum and performance venue, it was one of the biggest challenges the show has ever faced. A complete refurbishment of the venue gave us headaches no show had faced. With no changing facilities we had to have tents back stage for the cast to change, the orchestra where positioned up in the gods in ‘the ash tray’ as it was christened by the orchestra and on our opening night the workmen where literally painting the stage staircase just 30 minutes before the show opened. The full cast went on stage with blue paint on their hands from the staircase rails!
2003 Still at the Pacific Road theatre with a brilliant and yet challenging show, the production team realised that they couldn’t continue with the traditional style Gang Shows that the audiences were used to and enjoyed so much. The logistics of back stage issues where causing continued problems. After the 2003 show the production team began to look for a new home..... again! Sue Pierce who had been with the show for many years retires from Scouting but remains ‘on hand’ for advice and guidance for the Gang Show.
2005 After 34 years the show moved back to the Gladstone Theatre in Port Sunlight where the show was originally staged back in 1969 & 1971. Graham Lysaght continues as show producer and invites Paul Coleman, who joined the show as a cub in 1973 and Mark Easdown, who joined the show as a Cub in 1993, on board to the production team. New blood and fresh ideas.
2007 – 2009 The show continues to grow over two years in its new home. The familiar surroundings feel good for the show and the cast. With fresh and new material the show continues to entertain and surprise the audience on what Gang Show is all about.
2010 A year of excitement and sadness. Graham Lysaght, the show producer presents the most exciting, (some would say insane) idea to the show committee to move the show within 24 hours to the West End of London to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Graham asks Graham Lennox and Sue Pierce to both come out of ‘retirement’ to help produce the show and take the Gang Show back to where it began. They both agree and with a team begin to plan both the show and the logistics of moving the Birkenhead Gang Show from the Gladstone Theatre in Port Sunlight, to the Bloomsbury theatre in the West End of London. Tragically, during the plans for the 50th anniversary show in late 2010, Sue Pierce sadly passes away after a long fight with cancer. The cast attend Sue’s funeral and do her proud with her favourite songs from the Gang Show.
2011 ‘The Gang Shows Back In Town’ - Our 50th anniversary show at the Gladstone Theatre, Port Sunlight and then just ..... ’24 Hours Later’ at The Bloomsbury Theatre, London’s West End.
2013 After our 50th Anniversary London West End debut the show returns to its home once more at The Gladstone Theatre in Port Sunlight for another successful weeks run. A challenging show and after the success and hype of London the cast and crew had to prove just how good they really are… and they did!.
2015 The show returned to a 'normal' year after the excitements of the West End and performed to packed houses back at the Gladstone Theatre.
2017 To celebrate 50 years since the Show performed in the Isle of Man, we returned to the Gaiety Theatre, Douglas, to perform, alongside cast members from the Manx Scouts, despite the best efforts of Storm Doris to prevent us from even getting there!
2019 Who knows, all we can reveal at this stage is that the show will be SPECTACULAR!!!