Let’s Go Gonk!

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:

9 thoughts on “Let’s Go Gonk!

  1. Fascinating Kimberly,
    Britain in the sixties is pretty unbeatable to me so to hear about something I am unfamilair with in connection to it is great. That clip is great, I will have to check this out. I also love that old article on ‘gonk’…priceless stuff.
    Thanks for posting.

  2. I’m glad you found you my review interesting Jeremy! I really hope more of these mod musicals get released on DVD in the states, but for now it looks like the new Optimum Beat Classic DVDs are PAL only. You can find NTSC bootlegs floating around on ebay though.

  3. I believe that’s Ginger Baker on drums, later with Cream and Blind Faith. And Jack Bruce on bass, another incipient member of Cream.

  4. Hi Kimberly,

    I just came across your wonderful website via imdb. I too LOVE British cinema and music of the 60s&70s. I was more than amazed that someone still cared about a film like “Gonks”. Thanxalot!! I first heard about it when I was working on a TV feature on British jazzrock pioneers Colosseum. (“Colosseum – Story of a band”, included on the Colosseum-DVD “The ’94 reunion concerts”) Saxplayer Dick Heckstall-Smith happened to posess a VHS copy of the film which he proudly played to us on his (top-loading)VHS player in his kitchen! as can be seen in the documentary. Dick, a member of the Graham Bond Organization in ’65, is featured on the film poster (displayed on your website) top left, next to the tiger wearing a leather cap. “I had to put this on because Robert (Hartford-Davis – another hyphenated name) didn’t want any bald people in the movie!” The other members are of course Graham Bond, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. If I recall it correctly, the song is “THE GIRL HARMONICA”. I’m sure that Dick would have been delighted to tell anybody interested more details about “the worst picture you havn’t seen in your life”, but sadly he passed away in Dec of 2004. But some more information can be found in his autobiography “The Safest Place on Earth”, an interesting read for anybody interested in the 60s, 70s, Graham Bond or Colosseum.

    By the way, has the DVD of “Petulia” that you mention in Best DVDs of 2006 been released in Britain as a code 2 PAL copy – because so far I was only able to find US imports on the net. I’m really looking forward to see this one (and the bonus!) because I was told by Chet Helms, that some of the shots had been taken at his club “The Avalon” in ’67.
    Sure to visit your site soon!
    all the best –
    stay tuned!

  5. Hi Johannes! Thanks for sharing your story about the Gonks film. I’m glad you enjoyed my post.

    The Petulia DVD is a NTSC region-1 disc. I’m in the US so most of the discs I write about are region-1 NTSC. I hope you get a chance to see the movie soon because it’s really terrific.

    Thanks again for stopping by my blog!

  6. I found your site really interesting.
    I was one of those young girls in the 60s who was bought a Gonk by my parents – just the style of the Gonk in the poster with a Beatles haircut. I looked after him and he still has his original label on a tag on his nose peeking from under his long black fringe. I could email you a pic for your site if that’s of any interest – just send me an email I can reply to

    King regards

  7. Dorthy – I’ve tried emailing you a few times, but the mails keep getting bounced back to me. If you want to contact me directly please feel free too! My email addy is cinebeats@yahoo.com

    Beat Gonk – I love your band! I hope anyone who’s interested in the film will stop by your Myspace page and give your music a listen. Thanks for stopping by!

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