The Rank Organisation presents... a block of flats in Hull

Joey Newton, grandson of J Arthur Rank, outside the property. Picture by Simon Hulme
Joey Newton, grandson of J Arthur Rank, outside the property. Picture by Simon Hulme
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TO A GENERATION of cinemagoers, he was the man behind the gong - the name above the title on countless movie classics.

Today, the gong rang out again - at the birthplace in Hull of J Arthur Rank, the heir to a flour fortune who created one of the industry’s must enduring symbols.

The “gongman” was a partially silhouetted figure - a British counterpart to MGM’s lion and Paramount’s mountain - whose appearance heralded each Rank Organisation production, at a time when it owned over half the British film studios and more than 1,000 cinemas.

The name became virtually synonymous with the British film industry, producing the likes The Red Shoes, Great Expectations, Henry V and the greatest of them all, Brief Encounter, which shared the Palme d’Or at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival and received three Oscar nominations.

Yesterday, 19-year-old plasterer Tom Binks sounded the bongs on a steel gong outside 371 Holderness Road, where J Arthur Rank was born on December 22, 1888.

The large Victorian house was a boarded-up wreck with an unsavoury reputation before not-for-profit social enterprise Probe spotted its potential for high-quality affordable homes for rent.

The plaque on the property

The plaque on the property

Dignitaries including Rank’s grandson Joey Newton, were among guests at a ceremony, marking the end of a painstaking £250,000 restoration.

Martin Green, chief executive of Hull 2017, who was also at the ceremony, said: “This fantastic project shines a light on a true pioneer of Hull and Hollywood. It seems fitting that the home of J Arthur Rank has been restored at a time when the city’s cultural life and heritage have been recognised and are undergoing a renaissance.”

Despite Rank’s fame, which is reflected by a blue plaque on the wall, the once grand house in Hull, designed by Sir Alfred Gelder, had been empty for a decade when Probe first acquired the house.

Project consultant Jayne Brindley said: “It was in a really poor state, like a drugs den at the back and we had to start from scratch. Everything was bought back to bare brick. We needed new floors because there weren’t any, a new roof because it had massive holes and put in lovely new windows.

J Arthur Rank

J Arthur Rank

“As a private developer you wouldn’t have been able to afford it, because the return would not have been that good, but because of us being a social enterprise and attracting funding, it enables us to bring it back to use and make it affordable for everybody.”

With high ceilings and huge sash windows, the three two-bedded apartments and the one one-bedded flat are light, generous in size and cheap to rent, at around £400 a month. So far Probe has provided 52 units in the city with funding from the Empty Homes Programme, including renovating a derelict west Hull pub, Lion House, and involved 200 Hull College students who have gained experience in bricklaying, joinery and plastering.

Students made the stained glass insert, announcing Rank House, above the front entrance, and took the porch and wooden pilasters away for restoration.

Body repair students Paul and Richard Marshall, with the help of their tutor Paul Wisker, took more than 40 hours to make the gong - the original was made of nothing more sturdy than papier mache - starting with a flat piece of steel.

Probe apprentice Tom Binks said he had gained important new skills through working with the charity, adding: “I personally feel very proud to refurbish derelict properties that drag down the appearance of the local community.”