J. Arthur Rank

From Academic Kids

Joseph Arthur Rank, 1st Baron Rank (December 23 1888March 29 1972) was a British industrialist and film producer, and founder of the Rank Organisation, now known as The Rank Group Plc.

Contents

Family business

Joseph Arthur Rank was born on December 23 1888 at Kingston upon Hull in England into a Victorian family environment, which was dominated by his father Joseph who had built a substantial flour milling business. Joseph is reported to have told his son Arthur that he was "a dunce at school" and that the only way that he could succeed in life would be in his father's flour mill. J. Arthur ventured on his own with Peterkins Self-Raising Flour, but when that business failed he returned to work for his father. That was the business that he later inherited and which became known as Rank Hovis McDougal.

Religious challenge

J. Arthur Rank was a devout member of the Methodist Church and in his middle age he taught Sunday School to which he began to show religious films. This practice expanded to other churches and schools and it led to his formation of the Religious Film Society to which he then distributed films that he had also made. His first production was called Mastership.

When the Methodist Times newspaper began to complain about the negative influence that British and American films shown in Britain were having on family life, their editorial was answered by the London Evening News who suggested that instead of complaining, the Methodist Church should provide a solution. Rank took up the challenge and via an introduction by a young film producer named John Corefield, he discussed both the problem and a solution with Lady Annie Henrietta Yule of Bricket Wood. The net result of these meetings was the formation of the British National Films Company.

The first commercial production by this company was Turn of the Tide, a movie based upon a recently published 1932 novel by Leo Walmsley called Three Fevers. Having created their movie, British National then had to get it distributed and exhibited, but this proved to be more difficult than making the movie itself. Some commercial screens began showing Turn of the Tide as a second feature, but this was not enough exposure for the company to make a profit.

Pinewood Film Studios

Having first created a film production company and having made a movie at another studio, J. Arthur Rank, Lady Yule and John Corfield began talking to Charles Boot who had recently bought the estate of Heatherden Hall at Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, for the purpose of turning it into a movie studio that would rival those in Hollywood, California. In 1935 the trio became owner-operators of Pinewood Film Studios. Lady Yule later sold her shares to J. Arthur Rank and John Corfield resigned from its board of directors.

Commercial challenge

The problems encountered in the distribution of Turn of the Tide were addressed when J. Arthur Rank discovered that the people who controlled the British film industry had ties to the American movie industry and that for all practical purposes he was shut out of his own domestic market. American films occupied 80% of British screen time during the era before World War II.

In 1936 Rank arrived at a solution to his distribution problems. Because the middlemen controlled the distribution pipeline from production to exhibition, he decided to buy a large part of both the distribution and exhibition systems. He began by forming a partnership with film maker C.M. Woolf (father of John Woolf), for the purpose of creating the General Cinema Finance Corporation (GCFC). They then used that company to buy out General Film Distributors who were the UK distributors for Universal Pictures).

Rank Organisation

In 1937 J. Arthur Rank began to consolidate his movie interests in both the Pinewood Film Studios and the Denham Film Studios and other interests within a new company called the Rank Organisation. In 1938 the Rank Organisation bought the ODEON cinema chain (named after its founder's own ambition: Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation). In 1939 the Rank Organisation bought Amalgamated Studios in Elstree and in 1941 it absorbed the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation who owned 251 cinemas and the Shepherd's Bush Studios (which the Rank Organisation later sold to BBC Television.) It also bought the Paramount cinema chain so that by 1942 the Rank Organisation owned 619 cinemas. A more complete history is found under the Rank Organisation from 1937 to 1986 and The Rank Group Plc which absorbed the Rank Organisation in 1986.

Core interests

Although his critics claimed that many of the films that he had produced under the name of J. Arthur Rank were not exactly in keeping with his original intention of producing "family-friendly" movies to combat crass American commercial interests, he nevertheless kept to his core beliefs. To that end in 1953 he set up the J. Arthur Rank Group Charity to promote Christian belief. The charity later became known as The Rank Foundation.

Baron Rank

In 1957 J. Arthur Rank was given a peerage and created Baron Rank, of Sutton Scotney near Southampton. (Sutton Scotney is a small village between Andover and Winchester in Hampshire.)

Cockney legacy

The name J. Arthur Rank became a common expression in Cockney rhyming slang.

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