World Scouts Day: The Grand Opera House and The Scouts
The connection between the Scouts movement and the Grand Opera House goes back for decades. In fact, more than 125 years ago, before the Grand Opera house was even built, Ginnets Circus stood on the very same site in Glengall Street. In it’s short history Ginnets Circus featured a military tournament staged by one Robert Baden-Powell, a captain of the fifth Dragoon Guards, later to become the founder of the Boy Scouts movement.
The Grand Opera House regularly receives visits from scouts’ troops for entertainment and activities. These groups have traditionally loved attending the annual pantomime in particular. However, did you know the Scouts also have a legacy of providing entertainment on the Grand Opera House stage? We’re of course, referring to years of sold-out ‘Gang Shows’.
Back in the 1950s the Grand Opera House hosted annual Gang Shows with Scouts from all over Northern Ireland. The first Belfast Gang Show was staged at the Theatre in 1951 and it followed in the tradition of the Scout Gang Shows that had begun by Ralph Reader in London 1932. Ralph became a frequent visitor to the Belfast Gang Shows in 1951, 1953, 1955 and 1958. He described his experience of the Belfast Gang Shows in 1961:
“Boys are mostly the same the world over, but if an extra bit of warmth can come from any one set then I would award the palm to the Ulster Lads.” This is the Gang Show, Ralph Reader
1982 was named the Year of the Scout and the Ulster Scouts joined forces with the Ulster Girl Guides to perform their biggest Gang Show yet. Grace Bannister, Lord Mayor in 1982 wrote in the programme:
“It is fitting that in this, the 75th Anniversary year of the Scout movement worldwide, the Scouts and Guides of Belfast will stage Gang Show ’82 in the Grand Opera House at Eastertime.
By a happy coincidence this year also brings the fiftieth anniversary of the original Gang Show produced by Ralph Reader in London in 1932, and it is very encouraging to find the local Gang Show returning to the Grand Opera House after an enforced absence of eleven years.
I feel sure it will be well supported, not only be parents and friends, but by all who appreciate the fine work of the Scout Movement and the Girl Guides in this city and throughout the Province. Certainly, we all look forward to a very special evening.”
Last week we asked our followers what they remembered about the Gang Shows. We loved hearing about their experiences and seeing their memorabilia:
- “Fond memories of participating in Gang Show in 1985 in Grand Opera House, often think of these special times in my life, friendships made, songs we sang, sketches we participated in, the many laughs and happy memories and all under the Productive expertise of Roy and Alan McNeill and Tom Whyte’s musical excellence.” Stephen MacFarlane
- “Happiest of days spent rehearsing & being a part of gang show. Which included guides late seventies & eighties!!” Catherine Galbriath
- “Many happy memories of all the shows from 1971 until 1987 in the GOH and Harberton Theatre both as pianist and then MD. So many great friendships formed that have lasted to the present day. Great times.” Tom Whyte