HIS iconic, muscle bound frame appeared at the start of hundreds of films and has been depicted by boxers, a stunt double and even a circus strongman.

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History of the Gongman

The Gongman appeared before the opening credits of hundreds of movies produced by Rank for more than 50 years.

His figure, also known as “man with the gong”, is the Rank Group’s trademark and was used as the introduction to all of its films.

Despite the loud crash heard from the gong, this was not actually made by the instrument itself. The gongs used in the films were props made of plaster or paper-maiche, and the sound was added by James Blades on a tam tam, a Chinese instrument.

The first Gongman was Karl Dane, a 6ft 5in former circus strongman, who played the part from 1932 - 1948. Because of the deteriorating film stock, Karl had to refilm his sequence every three years.

He was awarded the OBE for his services to show business and went on to be a small part actor in Hollywood.

Bombardier Billy Wells, aka “The Bomber”, a former heavyweight boxer was the next to step up to the gong. Wells was, in his time, one of the best fighters and later opened a pub in Park Lane, London and had a beer named after him, Bombardier best bitter.

Other Gongmen include Phil Nieman, a film extra and wrestler and Ken Richmond, a British super-heavyweight freestyle wrestling champion who was also a prolific film extra.

The last man to make the iconic strike was actor and stuntman Martin Grace, known for his roles as the Milk Tray man and as Roger Moore’s stunt double in several James Bond films.

His footage remained on the cutting room floor however, and Richmond was used until the 1980s.

But now a fitness fan from Great Yarmouth is in with a chance of playing the instantly recognisable Gongman, who would strike a huge cymbal before the opening credits of movies produced and distributed by the Rank organisation.

Ben Tavares beat hundreds of other toned up contestants to smash his way into the finals of a national competition to find a modern day Gongman, and could now be in with a chance of winning a trip to Las Vegas.

The 23-year-old, who works out five times a week, was in the gym sculpting his winning physique when he heard about the contest and decided to enter.

He said: “One of my friends told me about it and said ‘get down there and have a go’. I thought I’d pop down and I did really well.”

The competition to bring back the Gongman - who enjoyed a career of more than 50 years - celebrates the 75th birthday of the Rank Group, which now owns Mecca bingo and Grosvenor Casinos.

Potential Gongmen, or women, could enter two categories - classic, where they replicated the original gong smash - or freestyle, where they came up with an original bonging routine.

And it was at Yarmouth’s Grosvenor Casino where Ben made his debut as the rippling icon and wowed the judges with his winning strike in the classic category.

“I liked the look of the classical one. The bloke was big and was looking good so I thought I’d enter that,” he said. “I waited for my turn then took my top off and did it. I think I did as well as I could really.”

But the former Great Yarmouth High School pupil did not stick around to watch his competition and instead went home.

He later returned to the casino with girlfriend Sophia, who is expecting their first child with, to hear the results and to his surprise was announced the winner.

His videoed entry was picked among the top 75 in the country and he was then successfully plucked as one of the top 10 in his category and is waiting to hear if he has won, with an announcement expected today (Friday).

Ben added: “I didn’t think I’d hear anything else and they got hold of me and said I was in the top 75, and then I got into the top 10. If I win I get the trip to Vegas, I have never even been abroad. I have got my fingers crossed.”

Since getting through to the final 10, the Harbord Crescent resident has looked over his own performance, via Rank’s YouTube channel, which he said he was happy with. And his clip has also been a hit with Sophia, 19.

Ben added: “She watches it all the time, she loves it.”

To see the video of Ben in action visit our website www.greatyarmouthmercury.co.uk

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