On the 26th January 1965, the Thanet Times reported on how production was completing at Shepperton Studio on ‘the biggest explosion of reverberating beat ever to be unleashed on the teenage “pop”ulpus’. The film in question was Gonks Go Beat, and we can only imagine the planning process for this masterpiece somewhere in the depths of Wardour Street:
Film Maker 1: What do teenagers want in a film?
FM2: This wild new music.
FM3: Plus, those crazy young tearaways Kenneth Connor, Terry Scott and Frank Thornton.
FM4: And some gonk puppets!
When the picture was released (or escaped into the community), the stern critic of Monthly Film Bulletin thought the script ‘unusually uninventive’, which is highly unfair. It certainly did not resemble the sort of pop B-film memorably described by John Lennon as the sort of musical where the star group would appear ‘All smiles and clean shirt collars’. There were also shorter pop features linked by either comedians or DJs a la Just for Funor It’s All Over Town, but Gonks fuses these two formats in a method that deserves ten out of ten for sheer gall.
The story, which may be charitably described as ‘demented’, concerns a future age when Earth is dominated by the warring nations of Balladisle and Beatland. The “Great Galaxian” (Desmonde in a pink jumpsuit) orders Ambassador Wilco Roger (played by Mr. Connor with the air of a man who wants to find another agent) to bring peace. Should he fail, his fate will be exile on “Planet Gonk”.
Kenneth seems a tad perturbed by the prospect, although from a modern perspective a world dominated by the cousins of Humpty Dumpty from Play School is at least more entertaining than Judge Rinder. On Earth, Wilco encounters the clean-cut folk singers Elaine and a very pre-Casualty Derek Thompson – and a short-haired Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker conducted by a mortarboard wearing Reginald Beckwith.
Gonks was the creation of the exploitation film maestro Robert Hartford-Davis. He was to later declare it as a ‘musical ahead of its time ‘, although many believed that no temporal dimension could encompass the picture’s true majesty. Asides from a sequence featuring some excellent motor cars (especially the Austin-Healey 3000) the narrative is entirely studio-bound with sets that looked as they cost a stupendous 4/7d. As for the screenplay, by Hartford-Davis and Peter Newbold, it quite brilliantly fails to coalesce its disparate elements of music, the Romeo and Juliet subplot and “comedy” from various mortified-looking character actors.
Years later, many Britons wondered if they had actually dreamed watching a pop film featuring a rather nice ballad from Lulu & The Lovers, drumming from Ronnie Verrell and Andy White and Mr. Scott in a not awfully flattering uniform. Other memories fleetingly came to mind – such as a profusion of awful choreography and costumes that looked as though they had been created in the dark. Then there was dancing Gonk Girl sequence, featuring a pre-Pans People Babs Lord, plus some gonk puppets – a film moment that anticipated a brainwashing sequence in The Prisoner.
In fact, Gonks Go Beat deserves to be classed alongside Devil Girl from Mars and Psychomania as a British exploitation film that is idiosyncratically perfect. One band who spurned the chance to appear were The Rolling Stones – what a lost opportunity.
Film Historian Andrew Roberts MA PhD FRSA