Bang A Gong

Because I maintain the Genevieve website, I get a small but steady stream of interesting e-mails. Never, prior to an hour ago, have I received this one:

Hi there, wondering if you could help, who is the man banging the gong before the start of [the J. Arthur Rank film] Genevieve? Appreciate if your able to help!

I was, of course, immediately tempted to write back and suggest Marc Bolan. I didn’t, but I did learn that people are almost evenly divided about the meaning of “Bang A Gong,” with slightly less than half believing the phrase refers to drugs, slightly less than half who think it is a reference to sexual activity, and the remaining fraction who responded either “don’t know” or “couldn’t care less.”

But I realized that I had no idea who banged the J. Arthur Rank gong.

I didn’t know that the gong was a complete and total fake, made out of papier-mâché, and that if the mystery man had actually hit the thing, not only would it not have made a sound, but also the beater (and I didn’t know that the thing that hits the gong is called a beater) would have gone right through it.

So, who is the greasy gentleman above? No, not Bolan, the guy banging a gong.

Well, the greasy gentleman above is – I think – Ken Richmond. In actuality, J. Arthur Rank employed four gong beaters, and hardly anyone notices the difference, a situation sociologists refer to as “Ronald McDonald Syndrome.”

The 6′ 5″ Carl Dane started banging in 1932 and kept banging until 1948. Dane was the first man to pull a London bus with his teeth and the first man to open a J. Arthur Rank film.

He was succeeded by Bombardier Billy Wells, a professional boxer who is the only beater to have a beer named after him.

Then there was Phil Nieman, who was only able to bang for a short time, considered by many to be a master beater.

And finally Ken Richmond, also 6′ 5″. He was a Jehovah’s Witness wrestler, and by that I do not mean that he wrestled the odd Jehovah’s Witness now and again. He was himself a Jehovah’s Witness, and when his gong-banging days were over, he started banging on doors and passing out copies of The Watchtower.

Ken being a 6′5″ 265 lb. pro wrestler, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most people said yes, they’d be very happy to have a copy of The Watchtower.

The beater was last applied to the gong in 1980, when the Rank Studios closed; Mr. Richman’s own beater gave out at his home in August of 2006, when he was 80 years old.

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1 comment to Bang A Gong

  • Anonymous

    I believe there was at last one more man that hit the gong. As, I am pretty sure, it was my day. Charles Wolf. Who died when I was 12. (He was this big bodybuilder) I remenber sitting watching a movie one late night as a teen. I think it was some old Viking movie or something. And out walks this big muscle guy in a loin-cloth and hits this big gong. I'm looking at this man and saying to myself, “that guy looks like my dad. Ah no, they all look alike back then with that greased hair. But, that guy really looks like him this time." But, I blew it off. Well, last year I go to a family reunion and my aunt (his sister) starts telling me this story about my dad going out to CA, with his best friend (Gene Wells) from the gym, for the Mr. American contest. The day before the contest they are on Muscle beach and this guy walks up to my dad and says; "I want you at the studio tomorrow to fill in as an extra and to shoot a promo. So, my dad blows off the contest and his best friend wins. At least that's what my Aunt says. From what I can tell he might have placed. The funny thing is, my dad was a better looking bodybuilder. At least from what I can tell from all the gym pictures I have of them.
    There are too many factors involved for this story to be misplaced. Although I have only seen this clip of my father one time, I am very aware of his physical appearance. To have my Aunt tell me this story, out of the blue, many years later seems only to back up my suspicion. Plus, I doubt my fater would have flew all the way out to CA., then not competed.
    Any help with this mater would be greatly appreciated as I have been trying to locate the clip or film for several months now.
    Carl Wolf.