70 Years on the Crest of a Wave: the history of the Harpenden Gang Show

A report by Joyce Bunting on the talk given to the Society by Ewan Murray at the Society’s meeting held on 22 March 2022 at the Eric Morecambe Centre.

Ewan Murray joined Harpenden Cub Scouts in 1969 and took part in his first Gang Show two years later, aged 10½. He was a member of the cast between 1972 -1979 and 1986 -1988. He became Musical Director in 1989 and Producer in 1994. He still undertakes both roles. His illustrated presentation about the history and development of Gang Shows was greeted with great enthusiasm by the audience, which included many Scouts and Gang Show participants, both past and present.

How it started – London

The original London Gang Show was founded by the late Ralph Reader CBE. It appeared from 1932 until 1938. RAF Gang Shows followed during the war years, and returned in 1949 until 1974. In 1937 the Gang Show became the first amateur production to have Royal Command Performance – an honour repeated in 1957 and 1964. Ralph Reader wrote over 600 items for these shows. Two songs are particularly well known: ‘On The Crest of A Wave’ – the signature tune of all Gang Shows – and ‘Together’ – the signature song for Harpenden Gang Shows.

Local Development

Harpenden & Wheathampstead District Scout Gang Show has been performed at Harpenden Public Hall every year since 1949, making it the longest continuously running Gang Show in the world. Over the years, the number of the performers increased, and the musical accompaniment developed from two pianos to a full orchestra. So many Scouts wanted to take part that rehearsal space became problematic. In 2009 the 10th Harpenden scout troop had a new purpose-designed HQ built at Crabtree Fields where gang show rehearsals could be held. In this spacious environment it’s OK to practise routines, tap dance, make music and plenty of enthusiastic noise. Props and scenery which had formerly been stored at Annables Farm can be accommodated here. Over the 70 years there have been just 4 producers – a remarkably stable environment.

Inclusivity and purpose

Boy Scouts in the early Gang Shows hadn’t shown much enthusiasm for dancing. But each year the producers insisted some of them have a go, and a team would learn tap dancing – with some success. In 1969, for the first time, a dance team of 16 Ranger Guides joined the cast to great acclaim. Scouting was changing, and by 1979 they had all become Venture Scouts so it was back to being an all-Scout show. Girls in Scouts and Cubs first appeared in the Harpenden Gang Show in 1992 (in 1991 Scouting became fully mixed).  Enthusiasm for dance grew, and with the advent of ‘Strictly’ on TV, real dancing became popular with the boys. Hilarious drag acts, usually involving Scout Leaders, had been very popular – but gradually fizzled out.

The Cast of the 1993 Gang Show – HDLHS Archive: RB 102.39A

Nowadays Scouts of all ages appear on stage. No one has to audition to be in the Show, but if a Scout is keen, they can be selected for sketches, solos and the Dance Team. Working together in this way encourages the development of new talents – in some cases leading to professional stage management, stage production or musical work. It promotes confidence, team work and great fellowship – lasting long after Scouting years.

Scouting aims to be inclusive. Parents of children with mental or physical disabilities may work with the leaders. It’s amazing what the Gang can produce with the right support – they sometimes surprise themselves!

Nowadays there’s always a waiting list of lively Scouts wishing to take part in promotional videos for Harpenden’s Gang Show U-tube channel:



Scout Gang Shows everywhere raise money for charitable causes, both at home and abroad, just like the very first one – which was to provide a local swimming pool.

New show venue: Eric Morecamble Centre (EMC)

The new venue for the Harpenden Gang Show is a great improvement on the old Harpenden Public Halls, especially front-of-house where seating is more comfortable. Backstage, the team has had to adapt in order to overcome a few shortcomings – some suggestions for improvement got lost during development of EMC, due to cost.

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