My notes on Gonks Go Beat (1965) and The Ghost Goes Gear (1966)
At once frankly insane and mildly dull, this artifact from the mid-1960s British pop craze strings together various turns with a fantastical plot. Out there in the universe, the Great Galaxion (Jerry Desmonde) is worried about the state of things on Earth but all the serious interstellar ambassadors are busy – so huffing foul-up Wilco Roger (Kenneth Connor, with a space helmet) is dispatched to our planet, and told to get things sorted out or be reassigned to ‘Planet Gonk’. Gonks (humpty dumpty cushions with vestigial limbs) were a short-lived toy craze of the mid-60s, and it seems likely they were written into this half-way through production since they are irrelevant to the thin story, pop up only in surreal cutaways (a dance scene with young folks swinging their gonks around in the dark) and never actually go beat (at least in The Ghost Goes Gear, the ghost goes gear). WR is zapped down to Earth and finds the rival island communities of Beatland and Balladisle in a state of Cold War, with young folks brainwashed by tutors Reginald Beckwith and Pamela Brown (in a bodystocking) to express themselves only in their society’s favoured form of music. A stalemate has been maintained by the A&R Man (Frank Thornton), who judges the annual Golden Guitar competition, but skirmishes are taking place.
Inspired by ‘that writer Shake-something’, WR and A&R recreate the plot of Romeo and Juliet by bringing together a beat boy (Iain Gregory) and a ballad girl (Pamela Donald), who fall in love and eventually win the competition with a beat-ballad fusion combo ‘It Takes Two to Make Love’. Terry Scott does his usual dithery act as the pompous, inept Prime Minister of Balladisle, and guest stars include Ginger Baker (who takes part in an impressive mass drum-off which is supposed to be a punishment), the Nashville Teens, Elaine and Derek and Lulu and the Luvvers. Director Robert Hartford-Davis and producer/cinematographer Peter Newbrook (better known for horror films like Corruption and Incense for the Damned) cobbled together the script, which is thinner even than Just for Fun or It’s Trad, Dad. Sadly, most of the music is as bland as the jokes are flat – though one or two scenes (a band of guitarists standing up in sports cars) are just weird enough to seem like proto-pop videos.
A wholly charming, aesthetically negligible, entry in the mid-60s cycle of British pop movies. Clearly intended to give the Spencer Davis Group the kind of treatment the Beatles got in A Hard Day’s Night and the Dave Clark Five in Catch Us If You Can, it’s mounted more along the lines of all-second-division-star get-togethers like Just for Fun, It’s Trad Dad and Pop Gear. The absolutely minimal plot centres around Nicholas Parsons, who mugs dreadfully in tandem with Jack Haig as a doddery Dick Emery-type retainer. Parsons plays the uppercrust manager of the Spencer Davis Group and gets fish dumped on him a lot or steps in a bucket of bait worms, hile his dotty mother (Joan Ingram) has run out of shillings for the electricity meter — she’s on the point of firing the blonde maid (peppy Sheila White, who sings ‘I’m a Miss Fit’ and ‘Switch Off the Night’) because she doesn’t have any spare change either. The group wander into the supposedly decrepit but actually well-preserved stately home, where Lorne Gibson shows up as a superimposed Elizabethan ghost and sings a number (‘Like Free’), then Parsons throws a ‘gear garden party’ to raise those shillings (after having been knocked into a ditch perhaps by the Queen’s car and blundering into a ‘Ban the Bomb’ rally) and a whole bunch of acts do their lip-sync numbers and the plot disappears.
Oddly, the Spencer Davis Group don’t do their big hit (‘Keep On Moving’) but, with Stevie Winwood taking lead vocals, do interesting takes on ‘The Midnight Special’ and ‘Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out’ and kick off with their lesser hit ‘When I Come Home‘, while a posy Dave Berry sits in a tree or stands in a field to sing ‘Mama’ (weirdly, the biggest chart hit in the film) and ‘Now’, Acker Bilk and his jazzband play (‘Henry the 9th’), two youthful guy groups the St Louis Union (‘Show Me Your English Teeth’, ‘I Got My Pride’) and the M6 (with two lead singers: ‘Seven Deadly Sins’, ‘The Place’) perform for a heartbreakingly young audience of enthusiastic amateur jivers (a lovely Indian girl gets a close-up, but the boy in the white shirt has the strangest moves), and a wonderful-looking blonde trio of proto-fembots called The Three Bells sing sadly forgettable (‘No One Home‘, ‘Original Lemon Tree’) numbers in pink minidresses or yellow catsuits with cool synchronised moves. To justify the title, the ghost (who looks alarmingly like horror writer Christopher Fowler) shows up again, with his trio, and does indeed go gear by segueing into a mod outfit (for ‘Listen To My Jingle-Jangle’ and ‘Meddlesome Matty’). There are lots of balloons and streamers in the party scenes, and nice bright colours. The comedy stuff — sped-up foolery on the river, much play with that fish, an obnoxious kid who wants to see the ghost and gets armour on to run around as if headless (he has probably grown up to be William Hague), endless Jack Haig doddering — is ghastly, but all the musical numbers are cherishable.
Valerie Laws Lovely stuff Kim. Much rather read yr notes than actually see them! Please can someone make a cover version of ‘show me your english teeth’, best song title ever. Gonks, too, could well be recycled as the next Big Thing.
Ian Johnston Thanks for keeping us posted on these vital releases, Kim. ‘Harmonica’ by The Graham Bond Organization in Gonks Go Beat is worth the price of admission. Also, thar’s gold in them thar Gonks. A mint copy of the Gonks Go Beat original soundtrack album now goes for £200! Having seen the trailer, I too wish to see Bop Girl Goes Calypso on DVD/Blu-ray. Judy Tyler, Nino Tempo, Lord Flea and the Mary Kaye Trio performing a ‘calypso’ version of ‘Fools Rush In’ all in the same picture. Wow.
I’ve never seen “Gear” (but boy do I want to) but having seen “Gear” a couple of times I consider myself an expert on it. The Graham Bond Organisation’s appearance is the high light. Interesting (ish) fact – the Derek of drippy balladeers Elaine and Derek is Derek Thompson, best known for playing Charlie in Casualty for thirty odd years (and for being beaten to death by Bob Hoskins in the Long Good Friday).