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 (Joseph
Rank Limited) that he later inherited and which became known as Rank
Hovis McDougall (now the quoted company RHM).
was a devout Methodist and in his middle age he taught Sunday school
to which he began to show religious films. 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.
One Sunday he decided to screen a religious film and it proved to
be a great success and Rank decided he would make one of his own.
In 1933 Rank formed a religious society and his first film was called
made more films and was joined by Lady Yule, a millionaire’s
widow who like Rank was a Christian. She had been left an estimated
£9M upon her husbands death. Her only hobby was horses so her
interest in films was merely to combat boredom and later when she
became a share holder in Pinewood Studios she had little interest
whether the films made a profit or not!
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.
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 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 Sir 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).
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.
Rank also owned Gaumont British studios was the home to Alfred Hitchcock
in the years prior to his departure for America, where he made his
best British films -- more directly, Rank was responsible for organizing
Independent Producers, the production company through which Michael
Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Laurence Olivier, David Lean, Frank
Launder and Sidney Gilliat, and Carol Reed made their most important
movies. Rank was Britain’s first and only film supremo –
the films that his company distributed are simply too many to mention.
1957 J. Arthur Rank was raised to the Peerage, being created Baron
Rank, of Sutton Scotney in the County of Hampshire. He died on the
29th March 1972 in Hampshire, England. He started out as a flour magnate
and a devout Methodist, who originally began producing movies in 1933
in order to spread the gospel. By the end of the '30s, he had an interest
in key centres of film production, distribution, and exhibition, and
in less than a decade, his empire -- known as the Rank Organisation
- controlled half of the theatres in England, and the majority of
the production facilities. Much more important than his business achievements,
which were considerable, however, were the films whose production
I could recall to you some of my various adventures and experiences
in the film world, it would I think be as plain to you as it is to
me that I was being led by God’