Along with the MGM lion, the stars above the Paramount Studios’ mountain, and the distinctive white lettering of the Hollywood sign, the Rank Gongman remains one of the most enduring images in cinema history.
We’ve all seen the muscular, bare-chested man standing in profile as he slowly and deliberately strikes a large gong, unleashing an exotic and resonant sound.
In his quiet, unassuming way, the man with the gong is one of the most famous men in the history of British cinema. He has certainly appeared in more films than most, heralding the start of Brief Encounter (1945), Doctor in the House (1954) and Carry On Matron (1972) amongst many many others.
Given that the man has been striking the gong since the 1930s, it will come as no surprise that he has been played by a number of different men over the years.
The first was Carl Dane, a former circus strongman who filmed his sequence several times because the nitrate film used at that time deteriorated quickly and had to be frequently replaced.
Next came former heavyweight boxing champion Bombardier Billy Wells (pictured), who remained in the role until after the Second World War.
In 1948, Wells was replaced by Phil Nieman, who in turn was replaced by 6ft 5in wrestler Ken Richmond (pictured at the top of this page) in 1955. He was paid a one-off fee of £100 for the shoot, which took place on a Sunday afternoon at Pinewood Studios.
Richmond revealed that the giant gongs used were, in fact, props made of papier-mâché.
In 1978, Rank tried out a replacement, stuntman Martin Grace – best known as the Milk Tray man – but his efforts remained on the cutting room floor, and Richmond’s image continued to be used until the demise of Rank Studios in 1980.
The actual sound heard in the gong sequence is made by a “tam-tam”, a smaller Chinese gong played by distinguished percussionist the late James Blades.