The story can be traced to a weeknight in 1966 in the West London Divisional Headquarters where both John Gowans (then a Captain at Kingston Upon Thames Corps) & John Larsson (also a Captain at Hillingdon Corps) were present with the then National Youth Secretary Denis Hunter & Lt-Colonel Samuel Lynn and a married couple from Reading Central Salvation Army called John & Ivy Plant.
The group were assembled to try and find ideas for the upcoming International Youth Year in 1968 and various things were discussed including a Oberammergau which was thought to be a bit to heavy.
Eventually the idea of a Salvation Army "Guys & Dolls" was mentioned and it was mentioned that JG wrote verse & JL wrote music, they were asked to go away and see what they could come up with.
A month later, the same group met and reported that they had not come up with much suggesting that the project be scrapped. Denis Hunter then proceeded to say the following:
"I hear what I hear with great disappointment, I do not have it in me to write one note of music or one sentence of stage direction but you two can do it, please don't ask me to accept your decision as final".
They went away and started to come up with "Take Over Bid". This was introduced on 1st October and the first performance was given to 1,600 officers of the British Territory gathered for councils at Butlin's Holiday Camp, Clacton-On-Sea. This was the first time in Army history that so many officers in Britain had met at the same place at the same time for Corps officers annual events of this kind, and the West London cast could not have had a more searching baptism of fire.
They need not have worried. The officers, veterans and youngsters alike, sat through the eighteen songs, lapping up the humour, prayerfully accepting the challenge of the more sombre scenes, and taking readily to this new means of reaching the masses with the gospel.
As the last exciting chord of the final chorus lingered in the air, the huge audience jumped to its feet, its applause revealing approval, its tears expressing the might moving of the Spirit.
The two Johns were committed, Gowans got down to the script and lyrics and Larsson to the music, working in close co-operation and sharing inspiration. The writers set themselves certain specifications. The musical had to be lively, colourful and happy. It had to say something to both non-Salvationists and Salvationists. It had to be capable of production under the most varied circumstances-by large groups, small groups on stages, on platforms, anywhere.
It had to fit into a time limit of about 2 hours and had to say something related to Youth Year and yet at the same time be of permanent interest.
The musical was ready for production within a year. The overture later published in the Band Journal, was written by Lt-Colonel Ray Steadman-Allen (Click here to listen) and plans for the 'take-over' were complete."
Taken from "Sing The Happy Song" by Colonel Brindley Boon
After seeing this, the Territorial Commander William Cooper decided it needed a wider performance. He authorized John Larsson to have a weeks holiday at a Salvation Army centre in Margate where he began to copy out all 18 songs & text for the musicals (these were the days before photocopiers etc..)
The first public presentation was in Reading Town Hall on Saturday October 14, and the second in Acton Town Hall on 21st October 1967 a week later. After those three momentous performances Take-over bid went into dry dock again and reappeared with slight amendments, early in 1968.
In September 1968, the 3,000 'residents' of the Army's annual "Holiday Plus Fellowship" week at Butlin's were treated to two performances-by south London young people in the afternoon and west London at night.
Other divisions accepted the challenge and soon productions were being announced to take place at Sheffield, Hemel Hempstead, Lewisham Town Hall, Woolwich Town Hall, Bromley, Grimsby, Hull, Portsmouth, Guildhall, Bristol, Plymouth and a hundred other centres.
At about the same time Take-over bid received its premiere in Australia. The Tivoli theatre Sydney was almost full and with the cast, supporting cast, and Sydney Congress Hall Band, there were close on 2,000 people in attendance. Additional performances were given at Newcastle, NSW, and Orange. By popular request, two further performances had to be given in the Music Auditorium, Sydney.
After this astounding success, the Army public wanted more. Was this possible.? Had it been merely a flash in the pan. Could the Johns be expected to repeat their initial achievement? The diehards thought that perhaps there could not be another Take-over bid. It was not reasonable to expect too much from these hard-working officers!
Taken from "Sing The Happy Song" by Colonel Brindley Boon
The following is extracted from General Gowans autobiography:
Bramwell Booth in his memoirs said of the early days of the Army: 'We had to build the ship while we were at sea.' The phrase can certainly be applied to the making of Take Over Bid The choice of the name for the 'first Salvation Army musical' is something of a mystery. I have a feeling it came from Captain Bill Metcalf. 1 could be wrong. He might disown it! The attempt by one enterprise to take over the direction of another and buy it out, had only recently begun to be called a take-over bid. It was an in' phrase which most people understood 'The Two Johns' spent long hours trying to plan the work ahead, though we had little idea of its dimensions We agreed that the extra responsibility should not in any way damage our investment of time and energy in our Corps, even if this meant burning the candle at both ends. I was to provide the lyrics and John L. the music. We would work on the Script together.
The story described what could happen if the direction of a Salvation Army corps/congregation was taken over by its own young set, the seniors relinquishing their grasp. It was to have several messages. It was to encourage imaginative, innovative and courageous experiment in Salvationist attempts to reach new people. It was to stress the need for every Christian to become involved in care for the marginalised, the underprivileged, the hurting. At the same time it was to underline the spiritual essentials without which nothing of any lasting value could be achieved. In the event, we discovered that the storyline had a life of its own, taking off in new directions, some of which needed curbing and controlling.
The West London Division gathered together some 60 young Salvationists to form a team to present the musical, and rehearsals began when only one song had been written! Fortunately the first rehearsal went well, the team surprising us with their ability to learn quickly and to sing effectively.
We want a Take Over Bid!
A mammoth Take-over Bid!
We've been content for too long
Just jogging along each day.
We'll make a Take-over bid!
It's really time that we did
Driving home together, John gently said, 'You do realise that we will need at least one new song by the next rehearsal?' I had realised! I was trying to launch a Christian Stewardship programme at Kingston and at the same time he a good pastor to my flock and follow a course of study at King's College, London University. It is incredible what a 32-year-old captain can do with 24 hours daily, but I discovered there were limits. The danger of doing nothing well was a serious one. Jack of all trades is necessarily master of none. Sometimes songs came easily, at other times inspiration seemed to dry up. Now and then we would teach a new song to the cast and the silence in the home-going car would speak volumes. We would know instinctively that the new creation' was no good and agree to abandon it.
Returning to the next rehearsal with its replacement we would address the cast: You remember the song you learned at the last rehearsal? Well forget it. Try this one!' Their patience with the learner writers was magnificent.
Alongside the Hunters, Commissioner William Cooper was the great champion of the musical idea. He refused to submit Take Over Bid to the International Music Board on the grounds that, as Territorial Commander, regulation allowed him to produce music and song for publication in his own territory. When Salvationist publishing and Supplies refused to publish the musical on the grounds that there was no market for it, he gave permission for the National Youth Department to publish it.
It was a great success. The Trade Department had suggested that a few duplicated copies for interested parties would be an appropriate way to handle the almost invisible market. Commissioner Cooper suggested that the first full performance should be presented to the 1,600 officers of the British Territory in councils he was leading in the autumn of 1967 at a Butlin's holiday camp on the south-east coast. That was a courageous and inspired hit of strategy. He argued that if the field officers were on the side of the musical, then it would go ever where in the territory.
On the day of the presentation the fears of the cast can be imagined. The youngsters felt that they were being thrown to the lions. In the first 20 minutes Of the presentation about half a dozen officers walked out of the building feeling that the whole thing was too worldly and unworthy of the Army. I was involved backstage as a member of the cast, but when the presentation reached the point where the layabout asks in vain for a miracle, John L. tells me that from his place in the orchestral pit he was conscious of immense Silence. He feared that we had lost the audience. A furtive look over his shoulder reassured him when he discovered several officers in tears. The musical ended with a strong finale and the whole audience gave a resounding confirmation of its approval.
The final and appreciated seal of approval was given when the two casts of West and South London combined to give an excellent Presentation to a crowded Royal Albert I tall. General Frederick Coutts presided and called upon the great congregation of young people at the National Youth Councils to cheer the cast on. As the cheers died away, lie stepped forward to make a sensitive appeal to dedication, and hundreds of young people came forward. Cast and stage staff, along with the writers, were all weeping at the sight of what God can do with the dedication of amateurs.
In the 1968 International Youth Year the two-hour long musical was reproduced in two thirds of the British divisions. T-OB, as we called it, had an impact in many different countries where the script and the lyrics were translated into several languages. I was interested to learn that the first musical was dusted off recently and, 35 years after its debut, still spoke to new audiences who had never heard of it.
To help John Gowans get the music into his head, both John Larsson &
himself came up with the idea of nuisance rhymes