Birmingham’s King Kong Returns
‘Brummie Kong’ is the story of a rejected piece of public art being held in the memories of a city, and the nostalgia that comes with its homecoming, all told in under a minute.
Kong Studio’s ‘Long Story Short’ series is about showing that truth can be stranger than fiction, and all told in the space of a single minute. The latest instalment was already in production when Kong Studio heard that the great King Kong would be making a return to 2022’s host city of the Commonwealth Games.
Modelled on the fictional giant King Kong, Birmingham’s original Gorilla statue stands at 18ft (5.5m) tall with a 15ft arm span, and weighing in at 890 kg of pure fibreglass. Pop Art sculptor Nicholas Monro was commissioned to create the towering beast for display in Manzoni Gardens in Birmingham’s old Bull Ring shopping centre from March to November 1972 as part of the city’s Sculpture for Public Places scheme.
However, Brummie Kong didn’t end up staying in Manzoni Gardens. Birmingham City Council turned down the chance to buy him at a knock-down rate of £2,000. He was then sold to a local second-hand car dealer who renamed his company ‘King Kong Car Co’, where Kong was dressed as Santa every Christmas. He was moved around the area and then across the border into Scotland – and back again, only briefly recognised as a work of art in more recent times. Kong Studio’s ‘Brummie Kong’ recounts the places and misadventures this mighty statue has had along the way, before reaching retirement in 2017 at his current owner’s home in Cumbria.
With Birmingham hosting the Commonwealth Games, it was decided a replica of the mighty beast should be made. Working closely with Monro and his family, local property development company Cordia Blackswan borrowed the original maquette from Wolverhampton Art Gallery to create a new, and slightly bigger version. The hope was to overcome any fears that the replica statue ‘wasn’t as big as I remember it as a child’. On Friday 22nd July, Brummie King Kong made a return to Birmingham, 50 years after it was originally displayed.
Kong co-founder, Bill Elliott, said,
One of my films of the year was Stuart Lee’s fantastic documentary King Rocker, and the perfect little animations in it by Greg McLeod. It sent me on a deep internet dive into the mad life of this alternative Kong. I liked to think Nicholas Monro’s epic sculpture was the real King Kong. And how he started life cinematically swatting planes on the Empire State building, ending up in Leslie’s Garden in Cumbria, and all the glamourous adventures in between.
Friend of Kong Studio, Simon Bristow showed me a photo of his boys posing by this new Kong incarnation at the Commonwealth games last month. He recalled his memories of seeing the original in Manzoni Gardens back in 1973. It felt right that he be our voiceover.
On the film’s visuals, Wiktoria’s artwork is so sumptuous, painterly, and full of colour, that it felt like the ideal contrast to the King Rocker animations, and to create snapshots into this great ape’s life.
Animator and designer Wiktoria Lewandowska said,
It was only after a week or two of working on the paintings for Brummie Kong, I finally asked Bill what the whole thing was about. He replied, ‘It’s for a Long Story Short. We base them on true stories. Fact!
Perhaps it should have been obvious but the Kong statue in front of a King Kong Kar company sign seemed so bizarre, that I immediately dismissed the possibility of it ever actually happening. Nonetheless, it was a fun project. I got to paint the scenes and then bring them to life in 3D, which was an exciting process to dig into.
The latest incarnation of Nicholas Monro’s King Kong statue has been on display in a pop-up park in Birmingham to mark the 2022 Commonwealth Games. There are hopes a permanent home can be found, but perhaps this enlarged version of Brummie’s King Kong is set for even bigger and better adventures than his predecessor.
Written by Bill Elliott
Directed, Animated and Designed by Wiktoria Lewandowska
Additional Animation by Elliot Baker
Sound Design by Josh Elliott
Voice Over by Simon Bristow
Additional Sounds by Freesounds
Produced By Emma Burch