I recently had the opportunity to watch the low-budget British musical Gonks Go Beat (1965). Gonks Go Beat is not a great movie, but it is a fun film with some good musical numbers and it’s directed by one of my favorite British filmmakers, Robert Hartford-Davis.
The paper-thin plot of Gonks Go Beat involves a bumbling alien named Wilco Rogers (Kenneth Connor) who is sent to earth to bring peace between Ballad Isle and Beat Land. Beat Land is home to the groove loving “beats” who have long hair and dress in dark sunglasses and turtleneck sweaters. Ballad Isle is home to the ballad loving “crooners” who wear button down shirts and keep their hair short.
To bring peace between them, Wilco Rogers relies on Shakespeare’s story of star-crossed lovers for inspiration. He brings a boy from Beat Land and a girl from Ballad Isle together in a Romeo & Juliet style romance, but Gonks Go Beat has a much happier ending than Shakespeare’s tragic play.
The best thing about Go Gonks Go Beat is the musical sequences and thankfully the movie has a lot of them. The film features some good British artists from the early sixties and highlights include the terrific opening number by The Graham Bond Organisation, a spectacular drum jam lead by the great Ginger Baker, The Trolls leading a beat driven “battle hymn” while driving a bunch of fabulous vintage cars and Lulu singing a romantic tune in the battle of the bands finale.
This extremely low-budget movie has some interesting set designs that seem like they’re borrowed from Gilligan’s Island and H. R. Pufnstuf. It also features lots of cute “Gonks”. I hadn’t heard the term Gonk before watching the movie so I did a little web research and was surprised by what I found out.
From the Wikipedia entry on Gonks: “Gonks were first “created” (unofficially) during the First World War when the flow of teddy bears from Germany was halted. Other factories across Europe had to start producing soft toys. Because of the material shortages, the toys had to significantly simplify their designs. The Second World War again brought soft toy production to a standstill – many factories never reopened. To keep the children’s spirits high throughout the two wars, women at home made gonks from stuffing socks with rags and then sewing on button-eyes and material flaps for arms and legs. In the 1960s, gonks became particularly popular, with their new designs and colours. In the UK, they rapidly became the “must-have” playground accessory. Fortunately, their simplicity meant that they could easily be made at home, and thus even the poorest children could boast one. Their popularity reached its peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They were often given as good luck tokens, or won as prizes at fairgrounds.”
I also came across a website for a band that calls themselves The Gonks who had some great old magazine articles and ads on their site about the Gonk phenomenon. It seems that in the sixties the term “Gonk” became a popular slang term in Britain for a brief tim. If someone called you “Gonk” you were hip and happening. Lots of teenage girls seemed to own a stuffed Gonk and they even wore Gonk inspired fashions. Gonks were available in America too, but I don’t think they were as popular on the states.
Here’s a snippet from a silly old article about what it meant to be Gonk in Britain in the sixties:
For more information about Gonks Go Beat and all the new Optimum’s Beat Classic (PAL Region-2) DVDs that have recently been released in the U.K. check out Cinedelica. Optmum’s Beat Classic DVD collection is a great source of mod British musicals and I hope all the films get an offical NTSC DVD release in the U.S. soon. You can enjoy a clip of The Graham Bond Organisation performing one of my favorite songs from Gonks Go Beat below: