William Henry Ralph Reader was born on 25th May, 1903, in Somerset, England. Orphaned before he turned nine, he was then brought up by his aunts and uncles. He joined the Scouting movement in 1914, and around the same time watched theatrical productions for the first time.
In 1920 he moved to America, and in his first few years there took up various job opportunities, including office duties and manual labour duties. He also participated in off-Broadway shows and Vaudeville, before eventually being offered the position of choreographer for a major Broadway production.
After moving back to England, Ralph continued producing and choreographing several West End productions. In all, Ralph Reader had been involved in 32 productions on New York’s Broadway and 34 productions in London’s West End, in addition to over 100 shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
With his commitments Ralph was still able to devote time to Scouting. In 1932, he first staged what would become the greatest amateur theatrical production of all time – The Gang Show.
In 1939, following the outbreak of the Second World War, Ralph was commissioned into the Royal Air Force as an intelligence officer. As a cover for his activities, twelve members of the pre-War Gang Shows were formed into the first Royal Air Force Gang Show. The Royal Air Force saw this as a great opportunity for future Royal Air Force Gang Shows to make perfect cover for Ralph’s activities. For his services to the Royal Air Force, Ralph was awarded an M.B.E. of the Military Division in 1943.
Not long after the Second World War ended, Ralph set up his own production company, Ralph Reader Limited, which revived many shows that he had produced prior to the outbreak of war in 1939. He also recommenced producing the London Gang Show in 1950, and also went on to write more songs and musical plays for the Scout Association.
In 1957, he was appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, C.B.E., by Her Majesty the Queen.
In 1971, Ralph was initiated and made a member of the Grand Order of Water Rats, an occasion he rated as one of the proudest events of his life.
In 1974, Ralph made the decision to produce his last London Gang Show that year. Although the London Gang Show would eventually perform for the last time in that year, other Gang Shows continued to flourish. Ralph also found time to write some more songs, and occasionally made personal appearances in some Gang Show performances.
At the London Gang Show’s 50th Anniversary Reunion in March 1982, Ralph recalled many highlights of his Gang Show career, remembering such events as the first Gang Show performance and the Royal Air Force Gang Shows, among other things.
On 18th May, Ralph Reader passed away just twelve days short of his 79th birthday.
Ralph… we shall be forever grateful for your inspiration.
RALPH READER C.B.E., 1903-1982
* Article kindly submitted by Brendan Richards