When Glenn Chandler came across an old newspaper article about the Hitler Youth’s ‘peace and friendship’ cycle tours to England, he had to find out more… and dramatise the story as an urgent reminder in the face of 21st-century fascism. We caught up with him ahead of The Good Scout‘s London previews and Edinburgh Fringe premiere. Time to add this one to your festival diary!
The Good Scout, written and directed by Glenn Chandler for Boys of the Empire Productions, will run in Edinburgh at theSpace @ Surgeon’s Hall from 2 to 24 August 2019, with London previews at Above the Stag Theatre on 26 and 27 July.
In the 1930s, Lord Baden-Powell and Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s London ambassador, instigated exchange visits between British boy scouts and Hitler Youth, in the expectation that they would influence one another.
In Bassington, England, the local troop play host to a cycling party of Hitlerjugend – but are the German boys cyclists or ‘spyclists’? For Will and Jacob, two Rover Scouts on the cusp of manhood, it is a visit that will change their lives forever. As war looms, a heart-wrenching, darkly humorous drama about espionage, a scout’s honour and forbidden love unfolds.
The Good Scout is the first-ever play based on this astonishing historical record. It stars Charlie Mackay, Amanda Bailey, Lewis Allcock, Clement Charles, Clemente Lohr and Simon Stache.
Talking to… Glenn Chandler
To TV fans, Glenn Chandler is best known for Taggart, which still holds the record as the longest-running TV detective series in the world (28 years). He gave up television to return to theatre a decade ago, founding his company Boys of the Empire Productions to mount his original stage plays.
The Good Scout is the latest Edfringe show from Boys of the Empire, following Sandel (2013), Lord Dismiss Us (2017) and Kids Play (2018), which won the Broadway Baby Bobby Award for Best Play on the Fringe. All subsequently transferred to London.
How did you come across the story of the Hitler Youth & the Boy Scouts?
I came across it about three years ago in an old newspaper article. I didn’t quite believe it myself, as it was something that seemed to have been washed from history, so I visited the National Archives at Kew where I found whole files on the exchanges.
There was a list of all the Hitler Youth boys who had visited Tamworth in Staffordshire and where they came from, instructions to Chief Constables in areas through which the boys were cycling to keep an eye on their activities, and a very long report prepared for MI5 on the organisation of the Hitler Youth and how very different they were from the Scouts. There was also a document detailing worries about the scouts who went to Germany – would they come back indoctrinated with Nazi ideology, and maybe even as spies?
What’s the most surprising thing you learned?
One of the most surprising things was that the Tamworth visit was organised by a half-German scoutmaster, George Kemper, who was a local sausage manufacturer. He was also a Nazi sympathiser who, in the event of an invasion, saw himself as a local Staffordshire Commandant. Goodness knows what Captain Mainwaring of Dad’s Army would have thought of that! During the war, he was interred as a threat to the nation.
The other is the genuine friendships that formed between the boys at a time when young lads rarely met their counterparts from abroad. One scout who joined up tried to find his Hitler Youth friend in Hamburg when the war ended. He found his family who were starving and took them food, but his friend had been killed on the Russian front. At least nine out of the 21 Hitler Youth boys who visited Tamworth did not survive the war.
Why do you think now is a good time to stage this play?
Fascism is again on the rise in Europe. It seems we have learned nothing from history. The Hitler Youth visits were called ‘Peace and Friendship Tours’ – ironically. Years later, those good intentions were just hollow words ringing in the devastation of Europe. I was disgusted by the Brexit Party turning their backs on the European Parliament. It’s just what the Nazis did in the Reichstag.
On the left is a picture of Brexit Party MEPs turning their backs in the EU Parliament as Ode to Joy is played.
On the right are Nazi Party deputies turning their backs on the Speaker in the German Reichstag in 1926. pic.twitter.com/K9JnGFRCqj
— Evolve Politics (@evolvepolitics) July 2, 2019
Tell us about your cast.
We have two wonderful young German actors, Clemente Lohr and Simon Stache. Simon had two grandparents in the Hitler Youth, which he will tell you about. Clement Charles, who appeared in our Bobby Award-winning Kids Play last year in Edinburgh, plays Will, the ‘Good Scout’ of the title, though how good he ends up remains to be seen! Charlie Mackay, a young actor in his first professional role after leaving East 15, is his fellow Rover Scout who develops a huge crush on the Hitler Youth leader.
Amanda Bailey, who recently played Judy Garland’s mum Ethel Gumm in Judy Judy Judy, plays Rose Parrish who has to come to terms with a gay son who is also a scout (and remember it’s 1938), hosting Hitler Youth boys who might be spies, and dealing with a sinister visitor from MI5, John Dory, “a bit fishy” as it turns out. The part of Dory is taken by Lewis Allcock, who played schoolmaster Eric Ashley in the London transfer of Boys of the Empire Productions’ Lord Dismiss Us. They are a fabulous team!
What are you most looking forward to about spending August in Edinburgh?
The sheer buzz of creative energy. It’s everywhere you go. The opportunity to see a host of other shows, as well as putting our own completely new drama in front of audiences, which we hope will be a tearjerker. When the pace gets too much, a visit to the seaside or a climb up Arthur’s Seat, sadly no longer peaceful in August as there is always a piper at the top and hordes of people!
Any top tips for festivalgoers?
One I will be heading for is Silksheen Productions’ Wireless Operator in the Pleasance Courtyard. It’s about an aircrew struggling to survive in the claustrophobic environs of a Lancaster Bomber during an air raid in World War II, and the trauma and stress that it causes. I’m deeply attracted to anything historical.
What are your future plans?
It would be lovely to transfer The Good Scout to London as I did with Sandel, Lord Dismiss Us and Kids Play. Boys of the Empire Productions is eleven years old and I’m sure has a few good years in it yet. But ask me again after Edinburgh when all I want to do is sleep for a week!
Following London previews at Above the Stag Theatre on 26 and 27 July, The Good Scout runs from 2 to 24 August 2019, at theSpace @ Surgeon’s Hall, Nicolson Street, Edinburgh EH8 9DW, with performances (80 minutes) at 8.20pm. Tickets are priced £10-12. Click here to purchase!