My name’s Darren and I’m a giant-ape-oholic. That’s right, I’m addicted to giant-ape-ohol – a cheeky and highly intoxicating substance that’s a key ingredient in more films than you might imagine. My DVD collection houses 28 of them, at last count. And, as you might expect, I’m partial to related collectables too, such as autographs. Which is why, today, I find myself standing in the lobby of Westminster Central Hall, handing over a crisp five-pound note to gain entry to the London Film Memorabilia Convention, where a certain Paul Stockman is a guest.
In 1961, Mr Stockman donned a hairy suit to play the titular character in Konga, one of only two British entries in the giant-ape genre (the other being the comedy Queen Kong from 1976) and a film that I’d regard as a guilty pleasure if I felt any guilt. Of course I can’t defend it as high art – it’s a daft production through and through, with its species-changing ape and not-always-so-special effects – but the presence of Michael Gough, who plays the dastardly Dr Decker, makes it very watchable. I find the film charming and, in the end (the very end), quite affecting. If you’re interested in my full and proper thoughts on the movie, have a read of my review. I’ll still be here when you get back, I promise.
It’s been 53 years since Konga first played in cinemas, and I’ve been wondering whether I’ll meet a frail old man today in Westminster. However, upon entering the venue, I’m delighted to see that Paul Stockman is nothing of the sort. Jolly, engaged and talkative, he appears to be keeping very well. I plump for two signatures from him. The first is on a black-and-white promo pic, which I’ve already had co-star Jess Conrad sign. Unfortunately, the silver pen on Paul’s desk is running out, so the end result is disappointing, but I’ve been doing this for long enough now to know that that’s sometimes the way it goes. The next time I want something signed in silver I must remember to bring my own pen.
I get the second signature on a colour still of Konga with Claire Gordon, another of the film’s younger cast members. This autograph, signed in black, looks lovely, and Paul tells me that Claire is currently living in Egypt, where she’s writing her memoirs. I’d planned to ask Paul why he didn’t receive an on-screen credit for his role in Konga. Given its size (double meaning intended), it seems like a huge oversight. But, in the moment, I’m too busy cursing the dodgy silver pen to remember – a huge oversight on my part.
Though I’ve met and sought autographs from a few actors for their work in giant-ape films (I’m one of those strange blokes who’s asked Terminator star Linda Hamilton to sign a promo pic from King Kong Lives), Paul is the first I’ve met who’s actually donned an ape suit on film. For that, as well as the furry-costumed turn itself, he’ll always have a special place in my heart, as well as my collection. For as long as I continue to enjoy giant-ape movies, I’m sure I’ll be banging a gong-a for Konga.