Ray Gosling: Writer, broadcaster and activist who fought prejudice and the class divide and championed those without a voice

 

A vindication of the days when regional programming in Britain crammed the schedules, Ray Gosling, the writer, reporter, documentary maker and activist, belonged to a time before everything came with a knowing wink. He was shamelessly crusading both on and off-screen, exposing class divide and prejudice, fighting for everything from gay rights to pedestrian crossings, but equally candid at sharing his delight when celebrating the frivolous comfort blankets of British life, from provincial tea shops to garden gnomes. He cared nothing for celebrities, instead spending his screen time listening to the aggrieved, the unheard and the eccentric.

His Sixties were a time when "regionalism was just coming into fashion" and "provinciality began to be proud". Looking back on his television career, he remarked: "I lived in a glorious era. I could do anything and dictate terms." He certainly made the most of it, an intelligent and fiercely constructive anarchist who demanded things be done on a local scale rather than by career politicians. Gosling was loved because he wasn't strident, self-important or even slick. Everywhere he went people wanted to shake his hand, but no one ever asked for an autograph.

Through the 1970s, Granada's On Site saw Gosling with members of the public demanding answers from authority figures over local grievances. Gosling's refusal to let officials off the hook nearly got him sacked in the first week, but public reaction made the show a local institution, at times virtually trial by television. In the 1990s clips from the show were poked fun at by Bob Mills on his late-night comedy series In Bed With Medinner; admittedly very funny, but also a good indicator of how by then irony had overthrown anarchy.

Raymond Arthur Gosling was born in Chester in 1939. His family moved to Weston Favell in Northamptonshire when he was young, and he was taught at home by his mother, a former teacher, until forced to attend Northampton Grammar School. He was ill for much of his childhood, the long spells in hospital making him feel at home as an outsider, "sitting and waiting, and not up at the school where they were all laughing and not giving a damn." Initially blessed with a clear soprano voice, he went from chorister to crooner after discovering alcohol at the age of 12.

But he rarely did "sit and wait": he ran a club for disadvantaged youths while reading English at the University of Leicester, then quit his studies to work as a band promoter. He ran a bawdy dance at the Co-Op Hall during his teddy boy phase but fled when things got violent, moving to Nottingham, and taking solace in writing his autobiography, Sum Total, at the age of 21. It had been a messy life so far but the book it produced was bewitching, a drizzly view of a weary England lost in the no-man's land between Look Back in Anger and Please Please Me that held its own beside the works of his friend Alan Sillitoe.

Despite his Northampton childhood, Nottingham was his spiritual home, and his memoir on the city, Personal Copy (1980) is a treasurable, wistful ramble on social change and injustice. As a member of the St Ann's Residents and Tenants Association, he worked for 15 years fighting for better conditions: when asked how he managed to raise money for 15,000 leaflets to be distributed on one campaign, he responded "Money is always the easy thing. Courage is the difficult thing to find."

Inspired by an early friendship with the bisexual writer Colin MacInnes, Gosling, beside Allan Horsfall, became a powerful voice in what became the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, and until his death he and Horsfall ran the website Gay Monitor.

It was while campaigning in St Ann's that he crashed into broadcasting. The Third Programme producer Tony Gould spotted his passion for people and places, and commissioned him to give a series of talks during the intervals of broadcast concerts. "The same qualities that make him an outstanding performer also make him a very big risk," was Gould's cautious pronouncement.

He did a pupilage as a researcher for the legendary radio producer Charles Parker, but in no time at all forged his own style, one of immediacy, the rough edges of his work never sanded down in the edit suite. He made his first documentary film in 1963, Two Town Mad, comparing life in Nottingham and Leicester. His broadcasting highlights include angry radio such as Who Owns Britain? (1988), the award-winning Ray Gosling OAP (2007) which followed his move into sheltered accommodation, and working with Denis Mitchell on Maryport (1979), one of a number of portraits of small towns, which worked because he could seemingly integrate and ingratiate himself with anyone. His scruffy appearance and lilting melancholic voice made the perfect soundtrack to his views of the North's struggle to adjust to industrial decline, and to those plentiful little stocking-filler films celebrating Britain's modest attempts to bring colour to life, be they East Midlands statues or Sunday allotments.

After the death of his lover in 1999, Gosling was forced to sell his home, a £5,000 tax debt that he had neglected to pay having now accrued massive interest. His life took a bizarre turn in 2010 when he confessed on the BBC's Inside Out programme that he had used a pillow to suffocate a former lover who was dying. He was subsequently arrested, ultimately receiving a suspended sentence for wasting police time. The incident became a media sensation and managed in a few days to risk overshadowing a fine, imaginative and benevolent career.

His vast archive of papers and ephemera was rescued from the skip by Nottingham Trent University, where the Ray Gosling Archive is now safely preserved. One hopes some examples of his broadcasting legacy will see the light of day too, the work of a man Stephen Hearst described as "a Henry Mayhew for the Twentieth Century. What he says will be worth hearing in a hundred years' time."

Not only what he said, but what he allowed others a voice to say, too.

Simon Farquhar

Raymond Arthur Gosling, writer, broadcaster and activist: born Chester 5 May 1939; died Nottingham 19 November 2013.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Multi-skilled graphic designer ...

Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solicitor

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solic...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?