Banging the Gong: The Promotional Strategies of Britain’s J. Arthur Rank Organisation in the 1950s
This article addresses the neglect in academic studies of film culture of the publicist’s role, particularly in British film production and distribution. Taking the last decade of the British studio system(the 1950s) and the leading British studio (Rank) as its timeframe and focus, the article begins to answer questions such as, ‘who were the publicists and how were publicity divisions organised and directed?’;‘what were the main elements of the publicist’s role?’; ‘how were these used in film promotion?’; ‘how was this process influenced by shifts in the wider mission of the film production company?’; ‘what was the relationship between publicists and contract artists?’; and ‘how was pictorial publicity created and used as a promotional tool in this period?’. After reviewing contemporary debates about publicity strategies and the importance of star creation, the article identifies leading practitioners and then discusses their relationship to the newspaper press before offering a job description for the film publicist and the significance of women in the profession. The second section considers the interactions between publicists, contract artists and studio managers, noting the importance of personal appearances by stars and their frequent frustrations with the way they were treated and used by the Rank Organisation. The third section deals with Rank’s mid-decade shift towards markets in continental Europe as British exhibition revenues declined, and the impact this had on promotional practices, particularly with the growing importance of overseas film festivals. The fourth section focuses on the production of pictorial publicity, considering in some detail the roles played by the studio photographer, Cornel Lucas, and the Italian poster artists who were used to give a contemporary and continental gloss to Rank’s products. The final section briefly describes and accounts for the decline of Rank as a film production company and the consequence of this for its promotional activities.
Citation:Chibnall, S. (2016) Banging the gong: the promotional strategies of Britain’s J. Arthur Rank Organisation in the 1950s. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 37 (2), pp. 242-271
Research Group:Cinema and Television History Research Centre
- Leicester Media School