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Obituary: Denis Goacher

Nicholas Johnson
Tuesday 05 May 1998 23:02 BST

DENIS GOACHER believed himself to be a "strolling player", a "troubadour". Primarily a stage actor, then radio actor, later he existed on his looks and wits; as poet. How he scored the line between media, and when this line broke, is hard to ascertain.

Script-writing and acting for the BBC's Third Programme, produced by D.G. Brideson, Lawrence Gillam and Douglas Cleverdon, led to broadcasts charting Rimbaud and Verlaine's London affair, a one-man show on Byron, readings from e.e. cummings, Raleigh and Shakespeare, and programmes on Ezra Pound, and Basil Bunting.

Five tail

linney nor shippon has

bed for

under their constellation . . .

That synod of poets'll

filch sweet note

the first falters -

they like you sing

He was born in London, an only child in working-class Pimlico, in 1925. His father, a self-employed travelling textile merchant, paid for private lessons for him with an actor. When they moved to Birmingham the wartime bombing closed his grammar school. Instead of becoming an evacuee he became a boy actor, first at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham, then in London at St James's and the Albany. The chance of the West End never came again. Goacher did repertory at Salisbury and Hayes, and worked for Ensa. Perhaps this was the origin of his wanderlust.

At 19 he married Margaret Vines, whom he met at St James's, an actress who in the 1930s was considered Peggy Ashcroft's equal. He worked with A.E. Matthews, and was proud that Freddie Lonsdale wrote him a part. In repertory he founded friendships with Basil Sydney, Margaret Verney, Michael Gough and Kenneth Williams. Connecting with Williams years later, when Carry On had become so popular, he asked why Williams lost touch. "Oh Denis," said Williams. "I thought you would be ashamed of me."

This month the BBC screens a documentary on Williams, to which Goacher contributes. Gregarious, generous, yet mercurial and intolerant, he remained loyal to his first profession.

Post-war theatre sustained him until he found it corrupted by kitchen- sink drama. He excelled on stage and radio, at Bernard Miles's Mermaid Theatre, translating for John Barton at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and in Pound's adaptation of Sophocles' Women of Trachis. Vines's career tailed off, subsumed by children from her first marriage.

Drawn by a new relationship with a sculptor, Simone Paurd, Goacher divided his time between freelancing in London and in Paris where he learned Provencal, medieval and 19th-century French. He would soon have use of it.

Arthur C. Rank tried to persuade him to become a "matinee idol". He went not to Hollywood, but Washington in 1953, becoming Ezra Pound's secretary, visiting him at St Elizabeth's Hospital, typing his pronouncements, his poetry. His careful documentation of Pound's predicament at the time, and the campaign for his release, remains crucial. He became lifelong friends with Basil Bunting - sent to meet him by Pound. Bunting had fallen silent after The Spoils, grieving the death of his first son, Rustam. Goacher was quick to broadcast Bunting's work on the BBC. This remains insufficiently recognised.

Clear Lake Comes From Enjoyment (1959) interspersed Denis Goacher's early poetry with Peter Whigham's, another rival for Poundian anointation. They both regularly visited Dorothy and Ezra Pound at Brunnenburg Castle in Turin. He became drama critic for Oswald Mosley's the European. In 1962 Louis MacNeice commissioned his translations from Dante's Inferno for the BBC.

In 1968 Goacher had a daughter, Kore, with Hermione Russell, moving near Peppercombe, where Turner had painted, in north Devon. Moving inland, to Wembworthy, with another child, Fabrice, alongside two sons from Russell's first marriage, he continued to work. He performed in Colin Davis's production of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex and a one-man show of Byron at the Royal Court.

At Dione House, a dilapidated rectory, chickens roosted on lavatory seats, the pumpwater frequently froze, and a horse would climb the stairs in hopes of company. Goacher located his true poetic voice late, at 43. Logbook, published in 1972, was resonant for its diction, inversion, attention paid in short lines to minuscule detail of the field spider, the speedwell. Tall, curly-haired, with lungs like bellows, in monocle, silk dressing gown, or suede jacket and white plimsolls, he tramped miles planning his poems. He punctuated pub hours by reveries on nearby benches. Even in blizzards he would negotiate drifts higher than hedges to the pub. Most publicans retained a "reading corner" for him. He wrote in many churches; they were empty enough.

Grosseteste Press ran for five years at Dione House, publishing his Transversions, renditions of the Arch Poet, Corbiere, Michaux. Basil Bunting and John Riley came to stay. Six miles away, Sean Rafferty shied at visiting. Insisting Rafferty was concealing poetry, he coerced this shy Scottish publican into print at Grosseteste.

Joining Bunting at the ICA memorial to Ezra Pound, he also continued broadcasting for Douglas Cleverdon. He ghosted two autobiographies for the blind colonel Sir Michael Ansell, Soldier On (1973) and Riding High (1974). Domestically, however, he had outstayed his welcome, and quit for Poros.

Sky-blue dragon-files poise and


with Greek marguerites brighter

than guineas,

rich more sunny than Montezuma's


and all steady stars, nearer

an egg-yolk without its glare

Although he soon returned, fathering two more children, Orlando and Columbine, support for Pound's troubadours had faded. His next two books, published only in America, To Romany (1976) and If Hell, Hellas (1980), alienated British support. Denied an invitation to Bunting's 80th birthday readings, which hurt, he severed all working ties with England, except Durham University's Bunting Archive. He never worked again in the theatre. Today it seems only the obituary honours the life-work of contributors to the English poetry renaissance.

Health and morale broke down, and his writing faltered. In 1984 he settled in Deya to be near Robert Graves and his spirits momentarily revived. He began Now, demarking his route for the cargo of location, love, the everyday of Deya, Poros. The unpublished Now stands as his supreme achievement, one of the finest long poems of the 1980s. It is an idiosyncratic, strangely timeless and innocent lyric, deftly simple, pushing detail he once prescribed on English wildflowers on to larger vistas, geographical and personal. It retains a dialogue with his notion of English literature, a classical, actable literature.

Slenderest virgin asphodel,

the fullest sweet throttle, that's black-


Oh to be in Sller now that April's


train and tram nearly identical

St George's Day, Catalonians gave

a rose,

at Stratford upon Avon would they?

Gravitas, courtesy, constant among


prompt manners the darker the face,

inward time slow, outer sometimes


willingness, goodwill, which god's will

be done?

Shall dignity ever ride horse-proud


Forced back to England, he holed up in a Pimlico room. Lonely, in chronic health, the line had become a circle. His spiritual home became Gordons Wine Bar, off Charing Cross. There, souterrain, nocturnal, he wrote satires, seated below a painting of Churchill, an intimidation of his demons. He wrote what the barman said: his glossary prefigured by "B"s, booze, books, board.

Denis John Goacher, poet, translator, actor and broadcaster: born London 9 June 1925; married (two sons, two daughters; marriage dissolved); died London 23 April 1998.

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