South Norwood’s own gang show

In the week when we just happen to have had our first fire survey of Stanley Halls, John Nalty’s reminiscence makes a few members of our board feel a bit uneasy……….

The more recent memories I have of Stanley Halls are from a decade ago when taking the kids to the annual pantomimes but as I sat in my seat listening to the screams of excited children my mind always drifted back to almost 40 years previous when I, too, trod the boards at Stanley.

It was a once-only Scouts Gang show (well twice really as there were two performances) around 1965/6; we had been rehearsing in the technical college next door for several weeks and the whole performance was to be put together for a Friday and Saturday showing to packed houses. The excitement was building up, butterflies in the tummy, stage fright, the lot as our Scout leader, who we called Skip, collected each of us from home (to make sure we turned up) – not in an elaborate limo or even a minibus but a motor bike and side car. How he managed to get seven scouts in it, I will never know (and it would clearly not be allowed these days).

Arriving at the Hall we were taken into the make-up area (oh yes, very professional and we had to hide our spots), then there was the wait for our performance plus a few bits when we were added to other acts just as extras.

The show started with a senior scout leader coming on stage to welcome a few ‘dignitaries’ and tell a few jokes. To make sure he got the correct response we were all back stage reacting to prompt boards of ‘Applause’ and ‘Laugh’, and this was followed by a few songs and sketches. Then I was on stage, just as a makeweight in a sketch about bob-a-Job week, each scout telling of his experiences, one lad said that a woman invited him in because it was raining and he was asked to hold her baby. He then said with a grim face ‘I might as well have stayed out in the rain’ and a greeting of groans and laughter followed. Next up was a short walk-on bit featuring one of the few females involved, this woman was complaining about her car, it had broken down and when she lifted the bonnet she discovered that the engine was missing, several questions were asked but finally, and to hoots of laughter from the audience – she said her car was a Volks Wagon Beetle! – and we were on next.

Our bit was a song; we were the pop group of the time (sort of based on the Rolling Stones) dressed in black jeans and frilly white shirts and wigs. We pranced around the stage with cardboard guitars singing some song which had a hook line of ‘looking like something the cat dragged in’. There was a round of applause as we finished – I think that was because it was now the interval…

The second half was similar to the first, with various sketches and songs. I remember one which featured men singing about the train they used to travel to work in and how they no longer spoke to each other since it was axed by cutbacks (yes even in those days); each held a newspaper and dressed in a fashion of the stereotype who may read a particular paper, such as the Times, the Telegraph, the Guardian, the Mail, the Express, the Sketch and the Sun and they sang accordingly. It was a bit ‘classist’ and not PC by today’s standards.

Then the grand finale, everyone on stage around the camp fire, which was a prop made of twigs in a wigwam shape with bits of red and yellow tissue paper stuffed in it and a large light bulb in the centre. We sang a few traditional camping songs and finished with everyone standing for ‘God save the Queen’. By now the camp fire was noticeably smoking – a nice effect from the props department I thought! But no, at the end of the national anthem it burst into flames (the light bulb was too hot); it wasn’t used for the second performance.

At the end of the evening, it was orange squash and cakes in the side hall then back home with my mum, dad and sister on the 196 (Skip didn’t have room in his side car for all of us).

Stanley Halls  – thanks for the memory.

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