A Brief History of The Rank Organisation

Classic film buffs will fondly remember the thrilling sight of the famous “Gong Man” which preceded the opening credits of every movie produced by The Rank Organisation, England’s biggest and finest film production, distribution and exhibition company. The mere presence of this studio icon at the beginning of the film had the effect, much like the proverbial Pavlov’s dog, of whetting the theater audience’s appetite, while assuring that they were about to share another brilliant movie experience. The Gong Man simply epitomized the best in filmmaking.

J. Arthur Rank was born in 1888 in a decidedly Victorian England. He was the son of Joseph Rank, who owned a successful flour milling business. Young Rank eventually inherited his father’s business; however, it was never seriously his cup of tea. Rank was also a devout member of the Methodist Church and even became a Sunday school teacher, to which he often showed religious films. Disparaged by the lack of quality religious films, he began to produce his own, which he also then distributed to other churches and schools and eventually led to the formation of the Religious Film Society.

In a momentous turn of events, the Methodist Times newspaper began to editorialize about the negative impact that British and American movies have on Britain’s families. The London Evening News countered with an editorial which suggested that instead of complaining, the Methodist Church should provide a solution for the problem. It was at that moment; J. Arthur Rank committed himself to take up the challenge. Rank, together with a young film producer named John Corfield and Lady Henrietta Yule of Bricket Wood, soon formed the British National Films Company and within short order, produced their first commercial film, Turn of the Tide.

Though only modestly successful, their first production did at least provide the novicefilmmakers with an introduction to some of the challenges of working in the movie business. Far from discouraging Rank, the experience provided new motivation and launched the young company on a campaign of partnerships and acquisitions which would eventually create a worldwide conglomerate.

Rank and his partners made their next move in 1935, becoming owner-operators of Pinewood Film Studios, which had only recently been created as a potential rival to the Hollywood studios. Then in 1936, Rank made a bold move to improve his distribution, by removing the middlemen who controlled 80% of the British film industry, and clogged the theatrical pipeline with American movies. He began by forming a partnership with filmmaker C.M. Woolf, for the purpose of creating the General Cinema Finance Corporation (GCFC). They then used that company to buy out General Film Distributors, the UK distributors for Universal Pictures. Distribution problems solved.

By 1937, Rank’s movie assets were still accumulating, and besides Pinewood, now included Denham Film Studios, as well as several other interests, and it was at this time he consolidated these holdings in a new company called the Rank Organisation. In 1938, the Rank Organisation bought the Odeon cinema chain. In 1938, it also bought Amalgamated Studios in Elstree, and in 1941, it absorbed the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation, which owned 251 cinemas, and the Lime Grove Studios, (which Rank later sold to BBC Television.) It also acquired the Paramount cinema chain, so that by 1942, the Rank Organisation owned a total of 619 cinemas. By the late 1940s, Rank owned a total of five studios adding Ealing Studios and Islington Studios to those not already named above. The conglomerate also included Rank Screen Advertising and Deluxe Laboratories.

During the 1940s and 1950s, The Rank Organisation employed some of England’s greatest directors, who produced some of the finest films ever made in Great Britain, including: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, I Know Where I’m Going), David Lean (Brief Encounter, Great Expectations) and Laurence Olivier (Henry V and Hamlet).

The Rank Organisation acting school, often referred to as “The Charm School”, was founded in 1945. This prep school to the stars launched several careers including those of Donald Sinden, Dirk Bogarde, Diana Dors and Christopher Lee. Although she was not a member of the school, Petula Clark was under contract to Rank for a period of time and starred in a number of films released by the studio, including London Town (1946), one of the costliest flops in British film history. Also under contract to Rank was the Canadian actor Philip Gilbert.

Beginning in the 1950s the studio began cranking out more commercial productions, aimed squarely at the family market, including the popular Norman Wisdom comedies, the various ‘Doctor…’ films and, later on, the ‘Carry On’ films. Still some films of major note were produced during this era including: Carve Her Name with Pride, Sapphire and Victim, as well as covering many prestige topics including the coronation of Elizabeth II and filmed performances by The Royal Ballet.

On top of their steady stream of feature length movies the company made over 500 weekly short cinema films from 1959 to 1969 in a series entitled Look at Life, with each film depicting an area of British life.

Besides becoming one of the world’s biggest film companies, Rank began to diversify into other interests early on. In 1949 the company bought the Bush Radio manufacturing plant and later on took over Murphy Radio to become the Rank Bush Murphy Group. In 1956 Rank began a partnership with the Haloid Corporation to form Rank Xerox. Rank was also a significant partner in the consortium which became Southern Television, the first ITV television contract holder for the south of England.

In the late 1950s, Rank set up Rank Records Ltd. (the record label was named Top Rank)
and Jaro Records (a jazz subsidiary). In 1961, Top Rank was taken over by EMI, and in 1962 they replaced it with Stateside Records.  Rank Audio Visual was created in 1960, bringing together Rank’s acquisitions in multimedia, including Bell and Howell (acquired with Gaumont British in 1941), Andrew Smith Harkness Ltd (1952) and Wharfedale Ltd (1958). Subsequent acquisitions included Strand Electric Holdings (1968) and H.J. Leak & Co. (1969).

In the mid and late 1970s Rank Audio Visual, made a 3 in 1 stereo music centre, as well as TV sets in conjunction with NEC of Japan. The production of the “classic” Rank TV ran in the mid to late 70s, some interim models appeared and the “modern” Rank TV appeared in the early 80s.

J. Arthur Rank finally stepped down as Managing Director of the Rank Organisation in 1952, but remained as Chairman until 1962. Much of the diversification came under the management of Sir John Davis, who led the company up to 1995. In 1996 the venerable company was absorbed by The Rank Group Plc. Now completely out of the motion picture business, The Rank Group continues today as a leading European gaming business.

VCI Entertainment is pleased to offer a select group of 48 titles selected from the coveted library of The Rank Organisation, all licensed through ITV Global Entertainment Ltd.

The complete list of 48 titles is as follows:

ABOVE US THE WAVES 1955 Sir John Mills, John Gregson, Donald Sinden
ALLIGATOR NAMED DAISY 1955 Diana Dors, Donald Sinden
ASK A POLICEMAN 1938 Will Hay, Graham Moffatt
THE BLACK TENT 1957 Donald Sinden, Anthony Steel
BOYS WILL BE BOYS 1935 Will Hay, Gordon Harker
CAMPBELL’S KINGDOM 1957 Dirk Bogarde, Stanley Baker
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS 1949 Fredric March, Florence Eldridge
DOCTOR AT LARGE 1957 Dirk Bogarde, Muriel Pavlow, Donald Sinden
DOCTOR AT SEA 1955 Dirk Bogarde, Brigitte Bardot
DOCTOR IN CLOVER 1966 Leslie Philips, James Robertson Justice
DOCTOR IN DISTRESS 1963 Dirk Bogarde, James Robertson Justice
DOCTOR IN LOVE 1960 Michael Craig, James Robertson Justice
DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE 1953 Dirk Bogarde, Muriel Pavlow, Kenneth More
DOCTOR IN TROUBLE 1970 Leslie Philips, James Robertson Justice
FERRY TO HONG KONG 1959 Curt Jurgens, Orson Wells
FLAME IN THE STREETS 1961 Sir John Mills, Sylvia Syms
GENEVIEVE 1953 Dinah Sheridan, John Gregson, Kay Kendall, Kenneth Moore,
GOOD MORNING BOYS 1937 Will Hay, Martita Hunt
HEY, HEY U.S.A. 1938 Will Hay, Edgar Kennedy
THE HISTORY OF MR POLLY 1949 Sir John Mills, Betty Ann Davies
HOT ENOUGH FOR JUNE 1960 Dirk Bogarde, Sylva Koscina
I WAS HAPPY HERE 1966 Sarah Miles, Cyril Cusack
LOVE STORY 1944 Margaret Lockwood, Stewart Granger
MAKE MINE MINK 1960 Terry Thomas, Athene Seyler
MALTA STORY 1953 Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins
MIRANDA 1948 Googie Withers, Glynis Johns
OH MR PORTER 1937 Will Hay, Moore Marriott
ONE THAT GOT AWAY 1957 Hardy Kruger, Colin Gordon
PENNY PRINCESS 1952 Yolande Donlan, Dirk Bogarde
REACH FOR THE SKY 1956 Kenneth Moore, Muriel Pavlow
RIDDLE OF THE SANDS 1978 Michael York, Jenny Agutter
ROBBERY UNDER ARMS 1957 Peter Finch, Ronald Lewis
ROMEO AND JULIET 1954 Laurence Harvey, John Gielgud
SEA OF SAND 1958 Richard Attenborough, John Gregson
THE SILVER FLEET 1943 Ralph Richardson, Googie Withers
SIMBA 1955 Dirk Bogarde, Donald Sinden
SIMON AND LAURA 1955 Peter Finch, Kay Kendall
THIRTY-NINE STEPS 1959 Kenneth More, Taina Elg
TIARA TAHITI 1962 Sir John Mills, James Mason
TO PARIS WITH LOVE 1955 Alec Guiness, Odile Versois
TOO MANY CROOKS 1959 Terry Thomas, Sid James
A TOWN LIKE ALICE 1956 Virginia McKenna, Peter Finch
UPSTAIRS AND DOWNSTAIRS 1959 Michael Craig, Anne Heywood
VALUE FOR MONEY 1959 John Gregson, Diana Dors
WAY AHEAD,THE 1945 David Niven, Directed By Carol Reed
WAY TO THE STARS,THE 1945 Sir John Mills, Michael Redgrave
WE DIVE AT DAWN 1943 Sir John Mills, Louis Bradfield
WINDBAG THE SAILOR 1936 Will Hay, Moore Marriott


“J. Arthur Rank, 1st Baron Rank – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” (n.d.)

Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Arthur_Rank,_1st_Baron_Rank

APA: The Rank Organisation. (n.d.)

Retrieved from:  http://medlibrary.org/medwiki/The_Rank_Organisation

16 Responses to A Brief History of The Rank Organisation

  1. Mike Quinn says:

    This is great news. Nice to get these finally after moving to the US from the UK.
    Will they supply you with good quality masters?

    • Hi Mike,

      Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. We are still new to all of this “technology stuff”. Anyway, YES, the good people at ITV have been supplying us with very nice masters; and then of course we are going through each one frame-by-frame to digitally restore any defects that ITV’s production people might have missed. Be sure to check out some of the trailers and clips that we are putting up on our website, which will give you some idea of the high quality of these masters.

      Hope you enjoy!

  2. Tim Bodzioney says:

    This is exciting. Will any of these get Blu Ray releases?

    • Hi Tim,

      Yes, several of these titles will get the Blu-ray treatment, starting with ROMEO AND JULIET. In addition, CAMPBELL’S KINGDOM, AGENT 8 3/4 (aka HOT ENOUGH FOR JUNE), THE BLACK TENT, GENEVIEVE, THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY and THE WAY AHEAD will all be released on Blu-ray.

  3. glenn pynn says:

    This is great,A lot of fine movies here.Have been looking for many of them.I am very pleased that you have found these great movies.Thanks.

  4. Robert M Grippo says:

    Bravo to all at VCI in teaming with Rank! I will pre-order “The Way To The Stars,” “We Dive at Dawn,” and “The Way Ahead.” The Brits made some amazing war films and I tend to favor them over their USA counterparts. Please try to secure the longer British version of “The Way Ahead” and not the cut version that made it to our shores as “The Immortal Battalion.”
    I also wish VCI would try to get the rights to the classic Brit war film “In Which We Serve” and do it first class as it is now really available in lesser quality copies!

    Keep up the GREAT work!

  5. When will you release The 39 Steps? I’m sure you know this is a much sought after title because it’s the best of the several re-makes of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 classic

  6. Mackie Carson says:

    Recall watching these movies on TV during the fifties on Armchair Playhouse out of an Atlanta, GA TV Station. Remember the Gong so well.

  7. Martin Postema says:

    Just wished The Trap (1966) with Rita Tushingham & Oliver Reed was included.

  8. Pingback: 48 Rank Titles from VCI

  9. zzfredzz says:

    I wish ‘Take My Life’ (1947) had been included. You released it on video tape several years ago. How about a DVD release?

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