William Henry Ralph Reader CBE (25 May 1903 – 18 May 1982), known as Ralph Reader, was a British actor, theatrical producer and songwriter, best known for staging the original Gang Show, a variety entertainment presented by members of the Scouting Movement.
Reader was born in Crewkerne, Somerset, England, the son of a Salvation Army bandmaster. He was orphaned by the age of eight, and brought up by aunts and uncles. Joining the Scout Movement at the age of eleven, he began his theatrical career by putting on Scout Shows as a Patrol Leader in the 2nd Newhaven, Denton and Heighton Troop in Newhaven, Sussex.
In 1920 he moved to the United States of America, working in various menial jobs, while acting in and directing off-Broadway shows. At the age of 21 he choreographed his first Broadway show and the New York Times wrote "Watch Ralph Reader". Returning to England, he continued producing and choreographing several West End productions, notably variety performances at Drury Lane and at the Hippodrome.
In 1932, still active in Scouting, he anonymously staged his first all-Scout variety show at the Scala Theatre, London. Entitled The Gang's All Here, the production featured 150 Boy Scouts largely from London's East End, performing sketches, songs and dance numbers. The three performances were well received by both the public and the critics. The following year The Gang Comes Back at the Scala played to capacity houses, with hundreds turned away, and the public and press began referring to "The Gang Show". In 1934 that became its official title. Reader acknowledged that he was the producer of the shows. In 1937 "a bunch of Boy Scouts" as one writer described them, became the first amateurs to appear at a Royal Variety Performance. They shared billing with Gracie Fields, George Formby and Max Miller.
Following the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 Reader was commissioned into the Royal Air Force as an intelligence officer. For his services to the Royal Air Force he was awarded an MBE in 1943.
After the war Reader 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. The first post-war performance of the Gang Show ran for three weeks at the Blackpool Opera House and broke that theatre's box-office records. 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. He continued to produce the Gang Show annually until 1974, and his association with it continued until his death.
He published an autobiography, It's Been Terrific in 1953, with a second volume, Ralph Reader Remembers, in 1974. He was appointed CBE in 1957. In the 1970s he was appointed to the post of Chief Scout's Commissioner, and in 1975 was awarded the Bronze Wolf, the only distinction of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, awarded by the World Scout Committee for exceptional services to world Scouting. He died in 1982, one week short of his 79th birthday. On 8 October 2011 a blue plaque was unveiled on his former home in Heighton Road, Denton, Newhaven.
- On the Crest of a Wave
- In My Dreams I'm Going Back to Gilwell
- Scout Hymn
- No Show Like A Gang Show
- We'll Go On And On
- Where Do We Go From Here?
- Nobody Wants To Know
- It's A Wonderful Life
- A Touch of Silver
- These Are the Times
- It's Gonna Be Warm
- Making Memories
- Stepping Out
- Make Friends With People
- Everybody Must Have Someone
- Troubles Rolling Down The River
- You Can't Go Wrong If Your Right
Published works by Ralph Reader
- Good Turns for Scout Shows - (1933)
- Oh, Scouting is a Boy - (1950)
- It's Been Terrific - autobiography (1953)
- This is the Gang Show - guide to producing Gang Shows (1957)
- Ralph Reader Remembers - autobiography (1974)
- Material written by Ralph Reader Esq. CBE. Scoutbase. http://www.scoutbase.org.uk/library/hqdocs/facts/pdfs/fs120160.pdf (accessed 2 February 2010)
- Reader, Ralph This is The Gang Show, C. Arthur Pearson Ltd [London], 1957
- Reader, Ralph Ralph Reader Remembers, Bailey Brothers and Swinfen [London], 1975