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Ray Gosling: A Tribute

Phil Griffin remembers the broadcaster of quirk and controversy

Written by . Published on November 22nd 2013.

Ray Gosling: A Tribute

Somewhere between sleeping and waking, on a Saturday morning soon after nine, a flat, though strangely elevated, slightly theatrical voice made its way into my head: “She’d had that cat for donkey’s years”. 

Gosling, after all these years. Unmistakably Gosling. 

I quickly called my friend and fellow fan, Bruce; “Gosling is on Radio 4. Now!” 

Too much red wine, of course, but just the one false confession of murder, to camera, to a large TV audience the day after Valentine’s Day 2010. 

Legendary broadcaster and gay rights activist Ray Gosling, who has died age 74, was a hero whose writing, radio and television broadcasts, helped rebalance our unequal world across three decades, from the sixties through the eighties, from south to north.

Born in Chester, infant move to Northampton, university in Leicester, some time in London; but Nottingham became his home and, happily for us, Manchester and Liverpool places he often visited. 

We never worked together, he and I, but I knew his work, especially that in the Granada archive. He co-presented an extraordinary live show called On Site.

It was a chunk of Granada Reports and a formidable piece of direct action telly. Ray would be at one end of an outside broadcast link, shivering in the midst of local protestors who had some grouse or another. Back in the warm studio a resting actor with impeccable inflection, drafted in to referee the weekly spats between the hard-done-by and the hard-doers, would bark, “Gosling, get to the point”, or similar.

I seem to recall the man in the studio was called McGregor and that second name terms were the order of the night. McGregor talked to authority figures on the set, while Gosling was out in the cold. Once, I’m reminded, a wheel-chair user was requesting a ramp for the step to her home. A councillor said, “If we give her a ramp, everybody will want one”. Ray knelt down beside her: “Could I make you a ramp, Mrs. Taylor?”

In the early seventies Ray presented Gosling’s Travels, a documentary series that included portraits of a caravan park in Colwyn Bay and Trafford Park. Alan Whicker for the masses. He was moved by the state of things, disparities and inequalities. He liked people. Ordinary people. His was not always a stance for the downtrodden; often it was an extension of his contrariness, his innate sense of difference, his desire to be liked back.

I curated an exhibition at Urbis in 2009. It was about TV in Manchester across fifty years.

Ray back in the dayRay back in the dayRay stood next to me at the opening, staring into the middle distance; “Look at that handsome devil”, he said, recognizing his younger self on a distant screen. His much younger self; denim jacket, upturned collar, freaked out hair, full face to the camera, slightly uplifted. It was the closing sequence of his Trafford Park film. “The jobs have gone…the people…the community….and who cares?” The thing is, Ray was in the middle of a huge traffic roundabout, and the camera turned through 360 degrees, Ray moved with it in a full revolve. “Did the director tell you to do that?” Ray, still captivated by his own distant youthful good looks said, “Did ‘e ‘ek. I told him.”

Of course, he loved Canal Street, the young men and the large drinks. He had a friend in east Manchester who he stayed with when he worked here, for Granada or the BBC. No phone, no computer, often not even an address. Small red notebooks and a biro. He communicated with his producers by postcard. Always freelance, no contracts signed, no expenses claimed. Hopeless.

Or, at least that’s how the new thrusting heads of television and radio must have viewed him from their end of the nineteen eighties. No commissions, no work. Then his long time partner Bryn Allsop dies of cancer in 1999 and Ray declares bankruptcy the following year.

Trent University in Nottingham rescued (and paid for) his giant paper archive in the shape of a large Victorian house. Off he went, to be the resident activist in sheltered accommodation. Brilliant director and old friend Peter Symes and Bristol production company Available Light eventually got a commission and made Ray Gosling OAP for BBC 4 in 2009. They won awards and, briefly, Ray was back.

Too much red wine, of course, but just the one false confession of murder, to camera, to a large TV audience the day after Valentine’s Day 2010. This is when he stood in a cemetery and made up a story that he had smothered an aids-suffering lover, “my bit on the side”, to death, in a hospital. He backed up his claim in a radio interview the following morning. He was arrested and released on police bail.

The last conversation I had with Ray Gosling was in the back yard of Cask on Liverpool Road. He’d been to a Granada old hands lunch with his friend Bob Dickinson, round the corner in Dimitri’s and was well refreshed. “Ray, you know you didn’t do that. Now, tell me you were saying those things for effect.” “No, no, you’re right.” Eventually, he got 90 days suspended for wasting police time, or what journalist Jon Ronson neatly described as, “excess of empathy”.

He was a teddy boy, you know. Slick black hair, narrow tie dragged down at the knot. Which is how I spotted him one summer’s day, walking down Morecambe prom, ice cream in hand, jacket draped over one shoulder. Which is when I noticed that the other shoulder barely existed, and that one arm, in its rolled up sleeve was emaciated and shorter than the other. I found out later that the damaged arm was due to some badly treated injury when he was a kid.

Ray converted to Roman Catholicism late in life, and clearly it was important to him. So many things were, big and small. The last time I heard him on the radio was on You and Yours (three cheers to the producer who gave him the slot). Ray delivered an essay on the correct way to wash dishes. “Hot, hot water direct into the sink… no unhygienic, slightly slutty washing-up bowl….Fairy Liquid…Rinse. Drain dry. None of those soiled, smeary time-worn tea towels.” I wrote him a postcard and made a pale joke about the Fairy Liquid. I never got a reply. Unmistakably Ray Gosling.

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AnonymousNovember 23rd 2013.

Ray Gosling was one of a kind, he always seemed to care deeply for the underdog and I think it is sad that such a lovely bloke had a lot of bad luck towards the end of his life. The TV needs more people like Ray, people who speak their mind and are real individuals, not the moulded, polished politically correct bunch that we have on TV at the moment, particularly the BBC. I hope Ray found some happiness in his latter years, it is a pity we didn't see more of him as I think he had so much to offer.

Poster BoyNovember 25th 2013.

A touching tribute. Ray Gosling was the 'kitchen sink' presenter who became a real life 'Billy Liar'. Empathetic and nuanced, a social and political egalitarian. An original. It's sad that his legacy was sullied by his desperation in later life.

AnonymousNovember 27th 2013.

There is nobody like Ray Gosling now. Media is full of anodyne bore-arses.

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