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.