During a recent trip to London I stayed in Leytonstone, the birthplace of Alfred Hitchcock. The director's native home is marked with a commemorative plaque (albeit one sandwiched between a petrol station and a fried chicken shop) and a beautiful painted mural celebrating his 1963 film The Birds (above), which sees delicately painted, yet mammoth creatures chasing a petrified Tippi Hedren around the side of a building, where she cowers atop a telephone cable box. The street before the building is also paved with birds celebrating Leytonstone's most famous figure. In case that's not enough, as you exit and enter via the Tube, Hitchcock's legacy is acclaimed via a trail of seventeen hand crafted murals. Made with over 80,000 tiles, the images serve to proclaim of the director's phenomenal legacy and outstanding contribution to British Film.
As I returned home, I stepped off the train at Hull's Paragon Interchange where I was greeted with a huge poster that boldly announced Hull's City of Culture 2017 status. Yet, as I looked around I saw lots of empty wall space and a missed opportunity to greet me with some actual evidence of the city's cultural heritage. It got me thinking of how great it would be if Hull's station was decorated with memorials of the city's famous faces say, The Housemartins, Amy Johnson or Mick Ronson or it would be even better, if Hull could claim to be the birthplace of a legendary film-maker with an outstanding legacy and then, as in Leytonstone, we could celebrate his everlasting contribution to the film industry. Wishful thinking perhaps? Well, no, it just so happens that such a figure did in fact come from Hull and the birthplace of renowned film-maker and industrialist, J. Arthur Rank, is on the cusp of breathing new life into the city.
After being a derelict eyesore for over a decade, the birthplace of J. Arthur Rank on Holderness Road in Hull (above), has been lovingly transformed into four affordable apartments for local people. Many of the building's original features have been restored, preserving the heritage of the building and the history behind it. The project has been carried out by the apprentices of Probe (Hull) Limited, a not for profit company which contributes to the regeneration of Hull by refurbishing derelict properties and providing vital skills and work experience to students of Hull College many of whom, when they started out on the project failed to understand the importance of one of the city's groundbreaking pioneers. It is thanks to the combined efforts of businesses and organisations including project managers, Delaney Marling Partnership, Ettridge Architects, PJPS Construction and Hull College's Construction Skills Centre, that this film legend is about to receive a new lease of life 42 years after his death.
Rank's career began when he ran the family business in flour mills and various other industries. He then went on to found Pinewood Studios which celebrates its 80th Anniversary next year. He also created Odeon cinemas prior to taking up the career defining role of Hollywood movie mogul at the helm of the Rank Film Corporation, where he became responsible for the production of such classics as Brief Encounter, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes... The list goes on.
Always one to give back to the community, the Hollywood high-flyer and philanthropist donated a whopping 70% of his earnings to the poor. It seems fitting then that the legacy, as embryonic as it currently is, begins with affordable housing. To mark the opening of the completed apartments on Tuesday 26th May, the famous Rank Film Corporation opening-titles will be recreated with a celebratory banging of a colossal gong which was also hand-made by a small team of Hull College students. This is a great way to commemorate a true pioneer of both Hull and Hollywood but I sincerely hope the influence of the great man doesn't end there.
Hull has finally and deservedly been recognised on a national level and is currently undergoing a much needed renaissance. It would be wonderful if Martin Green and the City of Culture team could take Rank's legacy one step further. Perhaps Hull City Council could commission a small and tasteful mural of the gong-man on the side of the house or a commemorative gong for tourists to bang at their will. A tangible tribute to the visionary, who contributed greatly to bringing the visions of others to life would be more than advantageous, in fact any kind of social-media friendly tribute would surely benefit the city. We could even follow Leytonstone's lead and commission murals for the blank station walls. I hope the commencing gong bang marks a revolutionary resurge of interest in the city's most honourable son and hopefully, in the near future when city newcomers step off a train they will know that they have arrived somewhere truly special - The birthplace of not just J. Arthur Rank but many an illustrious legend.