A Gonk is a small furry soft toy which was extremely popular in the 1960s and 1980s as a gift. They are usually plush toys, animal in nature but of no discernible species. They have no legs or arms (although small flaps of material sometimes serve this purpose) and large eyes (often crossed) and/or noses.

The History of the Gonk

Gonks were first "created" (unofficially) during the First World War when the flow of teddy bears from Germany was halted. Other factories across Europe had to start producing soft toys. Because of the material shortages, the toys had to significantly simplify their designs. The Second World War again brought soft toy production to a standstill - many factories never reopened. To keep the children's spirits high throughout the two wars, women at home made gonks from stuffing socks with rags and then sewing on button-eyes and material flaps for arms and legs.

In the 1960s, gonks became particularly popular, with their new designs and colours. The term “Gonk” became a popular slang term in Britain for a brief time. If someone called you “Gonk” you were hip and happening. Lots of teenage girls seemed to own a stuffed Gonk and they even wore Gonk inspired fashions.

Gonks were available in America too, but were not as popular in the states. Pattern books contained instructions for making hand-knitted gonks. In the UK and Australia, they rapidly became the "must-have" playground accessory. Fortunately, their simplicity meant that they could easily be made at home, and thus even the poorest children could boast one. Gonks popularity reached its peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They were often given as good luck tokens, or won as prizes at fairgrounds.

Today, gonks are most commonly used as promotional items, often appearing alongside corporate-branded pens or mugs. The gonk will often have fur in the "corporate colour(s)" and a short length of ribbon with the company's name attached to the bottom.

Popular Culture

Perhaps the most famous gonk in living memory was Humpty from Play School. Gonks were also immortalized in the early 1980s in the TV comedy show The Young Ones, where Neil gets worried about his exam performance:

"I sat in the big hall and put my packet of Polos on the desk. And my spare pencil and my support gonk. And my chewing gum and my extra pen. And my extra Polos and my lucky gonk. And my pencil sharpener shaped like a cream cracker. And three more gonks with a packet of Polos each. And lead for my retractable pencil. And my retractable pencil. And spare lead for my retractable pencil. And chewing gum and pencils and pens and more gonks, and the guy said "Stop writing, please."

In 1965, the film Gonks Go Beat was released, and the music from the soundtrack became a cult classic. The advertisements for the film included circular gonk-like creatures dancing around. The Go Gonks spurred a wave of Go Gonk merchandise including plates, glasses, fashion, and toys. The Go Gonks were 6 distinct figures: Gone Gonk, with his long hair covering his eyes; Upside-down Gonk, who stood on his head; Beat Gonk, with his full make-up face and fashionable clothes; Ssshh Gonk, who is always trying to be quiet; Fred Gonk, wearing suspenders; Mac Gonk, in his kilt.

In 1985, Lyn Paul sang on a children's pop song called "The Gonks Are Here for Christmas", written and produced by Geoff Morrow. The 'B' side of this single, "The Gonks Landing" was a non-musical narration of a news reporter talking to gonks landing from Outer Space.

In the hit Scottish television series Chewin' the Fat, two people at a carnival hold up the "archery bit" with crossbows after lamenting "the mad ping-pong patter" of a previously visited stall. They turn the weapon on the stall holder demanding: "gee'us a gonk, ya dobber," which the man is forced to do.

Subsequent Decline

Gonks fell completely out of popularity in the early 1990s, due to the name being assumed by small plastic dolls with a great deal of hair (Trolls). Fairgrounds started giving away less expensive furry toys, often made in China. The rotund and simple-to-manufacture gonk fell out of fashion.

The term 'gonk' came back into common usage in the 2000s during a cult episode of comedy show Bo Selecta in which the character of 'Bear' and Charlie Simpson of pop band Busted immortalised the word during a comedy skit. Bear refers to Simpson as a 'gonk' and when contested on the meaning of word explains it to be "one of those things you win from the fair, it's a toilet roll tube covered in fur and has paper eyes stuck on it". This famous usage re-instated the word gonk as a light hearted insult.

Other uses of the word "Gonk"

  • A gonk in computer-speak is the user's least favourite piece of hardware.
  • In Northern Ireland, gonks are another name for underpants.
  • In the 1978 film Dawn of the Dead, "The Gonk" by Herbert Chappell was a piece of Muzak on the film's soundtrack. The song appeared in the soundtrack to the 2004 film Shaun of the Dead in remixed form, entitled "Fun Dead (Cheggars Vs The Gonk - Osymyso Remix)". Another version of the song is used during the ending credits of the Cartoon Network series Robot Chicken.
  • Gonk is slang for a cat with large eyes and poor balance.
  • Gonk was used to refer to a droid supplying power in Star Wars.
  • In the 1987 film Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, Elvira calls her poodle Gonk. It was intended to be short for 'Algonquin'
  • In Ottawa, Algonquin College is sometimes referred to as 'the Gonk'.
  • In the Republic of Ireland and Scotland "gonk" is a derogatory term
  • Gonk is a well-know Neocron celebrity
  • Gonk is British Army slang for sleep.
  • "Gonk" was a piece of music by UK DJ/producer Dave Clarke originally released in 1994 as part of the Red series.
  • "The Golden Gonk" is a musical project of UK-based multi-instrumentalist and composer Jamie Azzopardi.
  • During an in-studio audio recording, Orson Welles became irate when the audio engineer requested a retake due to an outside noise; which the engineer referred to as a "gonk".
  • Simon Gonk was the drummer in Antiproduct for 5 years from 2000-2005.

External links

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