I can remember my mum watching films on Sunday afternoons - her only day off as she ran our busy double-fronted shop all week. She often watched films on the portable black and white television, a novelty at the time. Blimey, you could lift it up and carry it around the house – not known before. Often the films starred Dirk Bogarde or Richard Chamberlain and they were made by the Rank Organisation. Their films always started with a muscle man hitting a huge gong (muscle man was wrestler Ken Richmond, the huge gong was made of plaster and paper - and the noise was made by a three-feet wide Chinese tam-tam gong.) Here I am in Hull outside the house where the film guru Joseph Rank was born. It’s quite a big house and from the pavement I could see it goes back a bit. It was bought with profits from his dad’s substantial flour milling business.
Joseph set up his own flour business but it went bust and he went to work for his bossy dad (who considered his son to be thick.) But how did films seep into his blood? How to go from flour to films? The Rank family was religious and Joseph taught at Sunday School and found himself showing lots of religious films. Educating children through films became so successful it spread across other churches and led to his formation of the Religious Film Society. At this time Joseph was a strict Methodist and despaired at the corrosive influence British and American films in cinemas was having on family life. To combat this he created the British National Films Company and soon a film Turn of the Tide was shot nearby at Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby. He was aged 47 by the time the film came out, quite old to become a film king.
He deduced that making films was easy but distributing them was difficult. He looked into the business around films, set up a film production company and bought Heatherden Hall estate in Buckinghamshire (later to become Pinewood Film Studios.) At the time most films were American and British film companies were contractually tied to the American film industry. Getting a British film across the land was difficult. Joseph formed a partnership with film maker C. M. Woolf to form General Film Distributors. This would handle all films completed by Rank.
Though his dad said he was thick Joseph started pulling off some masterstrokes. Aged 50 he bought the Odeon Cinemas chain, the Gaumont British Company (which owned 251 cinemas) and Lime Grove Studios. Aged 54 he bought the Paramount Cinemas chain and was, at this time, the owner of 619 cinemas. This was the era for films and he dominated the British film production industry. If you watch any number of British films made in the forties and fifties and Rank controlled and produced it.
Aged 60 he stepped down from the managing director role and continued as Chairman. He retired aged 72 and died aged 83 at his huge country pile Sutton Manor in Hampshire in 1972. There’s another blue plaque on the Rank Organisations main office in Mayfair in London. Being a geek I’ve saluted outside that, too.
The headquarters of the Rank Organisation was based here on South Street in Mayfair…
Joseph’s home Sutton Manor in Hampshire where he died…