Ingliston King Kong sculpture stars in new Sky Arts music documentary

It was an unforgettable piece of public art that kept watch over a generation of bargain hunters at one of Edinburgh’s most popular open-air markets.

Tuesday, 9th February 2021, 4:45 pm

For almost 30 years, sculptor Nicholas Monro’s King Kong statue found pride of place at the entrance to Ingliston Market near Edinburgh Airport.

Rather incredibly, now it is the subject of a new Sky Arts documentary King Rocker written and presented by comic Stewart Lee, who intriguingly links the sculpture to the fate of a post punk musician from Birmingham.

Painted in battleship grey, garish pink and even in tartan at various stages, the 18ft-tall sculpture of the Hollywood movie icon was on permanent display at Ingliston Market from 1976 and was especially popular with children down the years.

Sign up to our Retro newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Despite Kong’s movie star status, the imposing sculpture ironically did little to prevent the distribution of counterfeit films and other merchandise the now defunct market became notorious for.

But the famous gorilla’s mighty silhouette wasn’t just known north of the border, as Stewart Lee, whose new film aired on Sky Arts last Saturday will attest.

Kong’s life in the public eye can be traced back to 1972 when he was installed at Birmingham’s then newly-built Bullring shopping complex.

It had been a part of a local authority-backed initiative that placed pieces of modern art in the centre of several UK cities – but only for an initial period of six months to see if the public liked it.

The giant King Kong figure towers over bargain hunters at Ingliston Sunday Market near Edinburgh, July 1991.

However, the people of Birmingham decided to flatly refuse their gorilla statue.

Speaking on film reviewer Mark Kermode’s podcast, Stewart Lee, who was brought up near Birmingham, explained how the Kong sculpture had made a big impression on him as a child.

And in telling the story of Robert Lloyd, best known for fronting cult Birmingham bands The Prefects and The Nightingales, Lee says he drew parallels with the Kong sculpture.

In Lee’s view, Lloyd’s story was one of being undervalued and rejected by his native city, similar to the much-maligned piece of public art.

The Kong statue was moved from Ingliston in 2005 following the closure of the once popular market.

Lee said: “I do look at it like, here’s a thing that Birmingham rejected along with its 1970s architecture that years later that people look like critically rehabilitating – and I did think about that in terms of a connection with Rob [Lloyd].

"That statue was hated. The Angel of the North was hated in Newcastle, until one time there was some big derby and somebody climbed up it and hung a massive Magpies shirt on it, then after that people sort of took ownership of it. That never happened with the Kong and I think that the Nightingales have been sort of the same for that city [Birmingham].”

Following the closure of Ingliston Market in 2005, the King Kong statue was given a new lease of life in 2016 when it was loaned to the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds and repainted in its original hue to front an exhibition commemorating the original City Sculpture programme from the early 1970s.

It is understood the statue currently stands in the Cumbria garden of its owner Lesley Maby.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription at https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/subscriptions.