|Successors||The Rank Group|
|Headquarters||London, England, UK|
|Key people||J. Arthur Rank (Chairman)|
The Rank Organisation was a British entertainment conglomerate founded by industrialist J. Arthur Rank in 1937. It quickly became the largest and most vertically integrated film company in Britain, owning production, distribution and exhibition facilities. It also diversified into the manufacture of radios, TVs and photocopiers (as one of the owners of Rank Xerox). The company name lasted until 1996 when the name and some of the remaining assets were taken over by the gaming company the Rank Group Plc.
J. Arthur Rank was already a wealthy industrialist through his father's flour milling business, Joseph Rank Ltd, when he made his somewhat unlikely start in film-making, financing short religious subjects in line with his Methodist beliefs. From these modest origins, the British film company emerged in 1937 as Rank sought to consolidate his film-making interests.
The company grew quickly, largely through acquisition. Significant developments included:
- 1938 - Odeon Cinemas was purchased
- 1939 - Denham Film Studios were merged with the facilities at Pinewood and the Amalgamated Studios in Borehamwood were acquired, but not used for making films.
- 1941 - Purchase of the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation, which also owned Gainsborough Pictures, 251 cinemas and the Lime Grove Studios.
- 1942 - UK sites of Paramount Cinemas purchased
- Late 1940s - A majority shareholding in Allied Cinemas and Irish Cinemas Ltd was gained, becoming the largest exhibition circuit in Ireland (a position maintained until the early 1980s)
By the late 1940s J Arthur Rank (or the Rank Organisation as it was now called), owned:
- Five major film studio complexes, Pinewood Film Studios, Denham Film Studios, Ealing Studios, Lime Grove Studios and Islington Studios. (The studios at Lime Grove were sold to the BBC in 1949.)
- 650 UK cinemas (Odeon, Gaumont and Paramount chains) plus various international holdings, including subsidiaries in Canada and The Netherlands
- General Film Distributors (later Rank Film Distributors), including the UK distribution rights to Universal Pictures
- Rank Screen Advertising
- DeLuxe Laboratories
- 1966 - Rank Xerox - Joint venture entered into with Haloid Photographic (Xerox Corporation) of America, to manufacture and promote its range of plain paper photocopying equipment. Many of the waning film company assets were hastily converted and pressed into 'Rank Xerox' service. This venture was a huge gamble but ultimately the company's saving grace, until, once more in financial difficulties, it signed off increasing percentages of its holdings, to the parent company, finally becoming fully integrated into Xerox in the late 1990s.
Film making in the 1940s
A loose collective of film makers was established under the banner of Independent Producers Ltd., employing some of Britain's greatest directors, such as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, I Know Where I'm Going!), David Lean (Brief Encounter, Great Expectations), Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat (I See a Dark Stranger, The Happiest Days of Your Life), Ken Annakin (Holiday Camp) and Muriel Box (The Seventh Veil).
The Company of Youth, the Rank Organisation acting school often referred to as "The Charm School", was founded in 1945. It 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.
Crisis and diversification
Despite backing some excellent films, Rank was in crisis by 1949, having built up a debt of £16 million. and reported an annual loss of £3.5 million, Managing Director John Davis cut staff, reduced budgets and concentrated film production at Pinewood. Other studio facilities (in Islington) were closed, sold (Lime Grove Studios) or leased (Denham). The Rank Organisation closed Independent Producers Ltd. The policies of Davis alienated many in the industry, in particular they led film director David Lean, responsible for some of Rank's most critically and financial successful films, to look elsewhere for backing.
In 1949, the company bought the Bush Radio manufacturing facility and began to diversify its interests. In the early 1960s Rank took over Murphy Radio to form the Rank Bush Murphy Group (which was eventually sold to Great Universal Stores in 1978). In 1956 Rank began a partnership with the Haloid Corporation to form Rank Xerox. Rank was also a significant shareholder 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. Top Rank artists included Gary U.S. Bonds, the Shirelles, B. Bumble and the Stingers, Wilbert Harrison, Skip & Flip, Craig Douglas and John Leyton.
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. The NEC badge did not appear in the PAL/ 220/ 240 volt countries until the mid-1980s.
J. Arthur Rank had stepped down as Managing Director of the Rank Organisation in 1952, but remained as Chairman until 1962.
Declining involvement in the film industry
From the 1950s fewer adventurous films were attempted and solidly commercial ventures, largely aimed at the family market, were made instead. These include the popular Norman Wisdom comedies, the Doctor films series and later on, Rank took on the Carry On film series. However some films of note were produced during this era including Carve Her Name with Pride, Sapphire and Victim, as well as a clutch of prestige topics such as the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and filmed performances by the Royal Ballet.
During the 1950s the British photographer Cornel Lucas set up the Pool Studio at Pinewood where he photographed many of the movie stars of this era of cinema, such as Marlene Dietrich and David Niven.
From 1959 to 1969: the company made over 500 weekly short cinema films in a series entitled Look At Life, each film depicting an area of British life.
From 1971 to 1976 Rank only invested around £1.5 million a year in film production. According to executive Tony Williams "the two main streams that they were down to was Carry On pictures and horror films made by Kevin Francis".
However in 1976 enjoyed a success with Bugsy Malone which encouraged them to re-enter film production.
Temporary revival and final cessation of production
In 1977 Rank appointed Tony Williams head of production and over two years Rank made eight films worth £10 million, including Eagle's Wing, The Shout, The Thirty Nine Steps, Riddle of the Sands an Silver Dream Racer.
Many of these stories were set in the past. "You have to go back in time to tell a story that doesn't have to face seventies problems," said Williams in 1978. "What people are nostalgic for isn't necessarily any particular period, but the happier values that are missing today."
Few of these new Rank films performed well at the box office, losing £1.6 million over all. (The company's pre tax profit was £131 million.)
"The decision was made to plunge on in and then it was pulled back," said Williams. The Rank films that had been announced for production - including an adaptation of HMS Ulysses, The Rocking Horse Winner and a film version of To the Manor Born - were cancelled.
The following year Rank reported a record pre-tax profit of £102 million.
According to Tony Williams:
After a time Rank Film Distributors was in trouble because they hadn’t got any new product. So Rank Film Distributors was then given chunks of money to go and buy into pictures because they made a blunder. And they carried on, on that basis, not directly making them and they had no direct control over what they made at all, no influence. They just bought into pictures. They did an output deal with Orion and that carried on until - until they sold the shooting match. Then the decision was made to get out of film, so RFD was closed down, Rank Film Advertising was sold off, eventually the laboratories went. Cinemas was the last one to go.
In 1995, the Rank Group acquired all the outstanding shares of the Rank Organisation.
- Good Morning Boys (1937)
- Oh, Mr Porter! (1937)
- Hey! Hey! USA! (1938)
- Ask a Policeman (1938)
- In Which We Serve (1942)
- We Dive at Dawn (1943)
- Love Story (1944) (G)
- The Way Ahead (1944)
- Henry V (1944) (TC)
- The Way to the Stars (1945) (TC)
- Brief Encounter (1945) (C)
- I Know Where I'm Going! (1945) (A)
- Great Expectations (1946) (C)
- A Matter of Life and Death (1946) (A)
- I See a Dark Stranger (1946) (I)
- Green for Danger (1946) (I)
- Take My Life (1947) (C)
- Black Narcissus (1947) (A)
- Odd Man Out (1947) (TC)
- London Belongs to Me (1948) (I)
- Blanche Fury (1948) (C)
- The Red Shoes (1948) (A)
- Oliver Twist (1948) (C)
- Miranda (1948)
- Hamlet (1948)
- Boys in Brown (1949) (GB)
- The Blue Lagoon (1949) (I)
- The History of Mr Polly (1949)
- Christopher Columbus (1949)
- The Passionate Friends (1949) (C)
- Madeleine (1950) (C)
- The Browning Version (1951)
- Curtain Up (1952)
- Penny Princess (1952)
- Genevieve (1953)
- The Malta Story (1953)
- Romeo and Juliet (1954)
- Doctor in the House (1954) (BB)
- Simba (1955)
- An Alligator Named Daisy (1955)
- Above Us the Waves (1955)
- Simon and Laura (1955)
- To Paris With Love (1955)
- Doctor at Sea (1955) (BB)
- Reach for the Sky (1956)
- The Black Tent (1956)
- A Town Like Alice (1956)
- The Spanish Gardener (1956)
- The Battle of the River Plate (1956) (A)
- Campbell's Kingdom (1957) (BB)
- Ill Met By Moonlight (1957) (A)
- The One That Got Away (1957)
- Robbery Under Arms (1957)
- Doctor at Large (1957) (BB)
- A Tale of Two Cities (1958) (BB)
- Carve Her Name with Pride (1958)
- The Wind Cannot Read (1958) (BB)
- Sea of Sand (1958)
- Nor the Moon by Night (1958)
- Windom's Way (1958)
- Operation Amsterdam (1959)
- SOS Pacific (1959)
- Upstairs and Downstairs (1959) (BB)
- Value for Money (1959)
- Conspiracy of Hearts (1960) (BB)
- Doctor in Love (1960) (BB)
- Make Mine Mink (1960)
- Ferry to Hong Kong (1960)
- Flame in the Streets (1961)
- The Singer Not the Song (1961)
- No Love for Johnnie (1962) (BB)
- Tiara Tahiti (1962)
- The Wild and the Willing (1962) (BB)
- Doctor in Distress (1963) (BB)
- Hot Enough for June (1964) (BB)
- The High Bright Sun (1965) (BB)
- The Ipcress File (1965)
- I Was Happy Here (1966)
- Sky West and Crooked (1966)
- Doctor in Clover (1966) (BB)
- They're a Weird Mob (1966)
- The Long Duel (1967)
- Follow That Camel (1967)
- Carry on Doctor (1967)
- Deadlier Than the Male (1967) (BB)
- Nobody Runs Forever (1968) (BB)
- Carry on... Up the Khyber (1968)
- Subterfuge (1968)
- Some Girls Do (1969) (BB)
- Carry on Camping (1969)
- Ring of Bright Water (1969)
- The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1969)
- Carry on Again Doctor (1969)
- Doctor in Trouble (1970) (BB)
- The World at Their Feet (1970) (documentary)
- Twinky (1970)
- Carry on Up the Jungle (1970)
- Carry on Loving (1970)
- Please Sir! (1971)
- Countess Dracula (1971) (H)
- Carry on Henry (1971)
- Twins of Evil (1971) (H)
- Carry on at Your Convenience (1971)
- Rentadick (1972)
- Bless This House (1972)
- Antony and Cleopatra (1972)
- Vampire Circus (1972) (H)
- Carry on Matron (1972)
- That's Your Funeral (1972)
- Go for a Take (1972)
- Carry on Abroad (1972)
- The Belstone Fox (1973)
- Carry on Girls (1973)
- Carry on Dick (1974)
- I Don't Want to Be Born (1975)
- Carry on Behind (1975)
- Deadly Strangers (1975)
- Bugsy Malone (1976)
- Carry on England (1977)
- Wombling Free (1977)
- To See Such Fun (1977) (documentary)
- Age of Innocence (1977)
- The Uncanny (1977)
- Soldier of Orange (1977) (co-prod)
- Power Play (1978) (co-prod)
- The Shout (1978)
- The Thirty Nine Steps (1978)
- The Human Factor (1979)
- That's Carry On (1979) (compilation)
- The Riddle of the Sands (1979)
- Tarka the Otter (1979)
- Wombling Free (1979)
- The Lady Vanishes (1979) (H)
- Eagle's Wing (1979)
- Bad Timing (1980)
- Silver Dream Racer (1980)
- The Independent 1 July 1999: Obituary: Sir John Woolf Retrieved 2011-09-02
- Patricia Warren British Fiklm Studios: An Illusrtrated History, London: B. T. Batsford, 2001, p.120
- "Film Industry Slipping Out Of The Big Money.". The Sunday Herald (Sydney, NSW : 1949 - 1953) (Sydney, NSW: National Library of Australia). 1 January 1950. p. 7 Supplement: Features. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- Brian McFarlane "Davis, John (1906-1993)", BFI screenonline; McFarlane (ed.) Encyclopedia of British Film, London: Methuen/BFI, 2003, p.164
- John Clement Obituary: Sir John Davis, The Independent, 1 July 1993
- "Cornel Lucas Collection website". Cornellucascollection.com. 1920-09-12. Retrieved 2012-06-09.
- Powell, Dilys. "Bigger Films to Come." Sunday Times [London, England] 10 Jan. 1960: 15. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
- BRITAIN'S SCREEN SCENE: Encouraging Survey, Rank's Dossier -- Footnotes on Three Luminaries By STEPHEN WATTS. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 23 Apr 1961: 129.
- ony Williams Interviewed by Andrew Spicer, London, 18th March 2011, Michael Klinger Papers accessed 16 April 2014
- Can Rank say they 'proudly' present this film? Barker, Dennis. The Guardian (1959-2003) [London (UK)] 26 Nov 1977: 17.
- FILM CLIPS: Harvey: Movies Back to Back KILDAY, GREEGG. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 12 Apr 1978: f8.
- The lucrative case for believing in yesterday The Guardian (1959-2003) [London (UK)] 18 Dec 1978: 11.
- Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, Harrap, 1985 p 207-208
- John Huxley. "Losses of £1.6m sound the knell for cinema production." Times [London, England] 7 June 1980: 17. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.
- "Would You Believe an Industry Could Die?" Sunday Times [London, England] 15 June 1980: 63. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.
- Rank to Quit Film Production, Halting Work on 8 Features: Major British Film Maker Duty on U.S. Films By JOHN HOLUSHA. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 07 June 1980: 27.
- Alexander Walker, Icons in the Fire: The Rise and Fall of Practically Everyone in the British Film Industry 1984-2000, Orion Books, 2005 p4
- Geoffrey Macnab, J. Arthur Rank and the British Film Industry, London, Routledge (1993), ISBN 0-415-07272-7.
- Alan Wood, Mr. Rank, London, Hodder & Stoughton (1951).
- Rank Group
- ODEON Cinemas
- American Rank Records listing
- Rank Organisation at BFI Screenonline
- The Rank Organisation at IMDB