Gentleman Ken was a giant of his sport – and a film legend, too!
Ken Richmond was an Olympic bronze medalist, the first Englishman to win a wrestling gold at the Commonwealth Games, and in life achieved fame as the last of the bare-chested musclemen who struck the enormous gong during the credits of J. Arthur Rank films.
Richmond was born in London in 1926, and a youthful fascination with films led him to become an extra in several important productions, including Henry V (1944) and Blithe Spirit (1945).
He was also a lifelong pacifist and towards the end of the war spent several months in jail as a conscientious objector. He then spent nine months working on a whaling ship that went to Antarctica but on his return continued taking walk-on parts in films.
He had been keen on judo at school, and in the late 1940s began wrestling. At 6ft 2in and 19 stone, Richmond was well-suited to his sport and won a bronze medal in the freestyle heavyweight category in the 1952 Olympics, in Helsinki and narrowly failed to win a medal in the next Games in Melbourne.
However, he had won a gold medal in the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver and then a bronze in 1950 in Auckland.
In the mid-1950s he was chosen as the J. Arthur Rank gong model, following a former circus strongman, a former heavyweight boxing champion and a film extra. Richmond had further bit parts, often as a wrestler or Roman soldier, and also did odd jobs.
But his life changed in the late 1960s when he spoke to Jehovah’s Witnesses who had called on a neighbour, and was attracted by the group’s pacifist beliefs. Within a year he began working full-time for the group, and spent two years in Malta as a missionary.
Back in Britain, he moved around the country as a circuit and then district overseer, supporting himself by doing odd jobs, including window cleaning.
Richmond continued wrestling after becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, for a time appearing in the Guinness Book of Records, and gave up only when his religious work left him with insufficient time for the sport. However, he then took up windsurfing, at which he excelled, winning medals into his late sixties, and was still very active until a car accident in 2001 left him with serious chest injuries and breathing difficulties.
He died in August 2006, aged 80.