“Ladies and gentlemen: these guys, the Crocodiles, have come 5,340 miles from California. So you can at least come 14 feet to the front of the stage. Thank you: action!” Last August Roger “Dodger” Pomphrey was directing an episode of the Rotten Hill TV Show, a West London community project. Working for free, as this highly-rated director also did every year for the star-studded Notting Hill Pantomime charity, it was clear that day that his role was very much the director-as-performer: his charismatic, generous-spirited energy sparkled magically over the event, drawing out a joyous drive in the assorted performances. Underpinned by a perpetual understated irony, a wry twinkle in his eye, this approach to directing sprang from Pomphrey’s entire mode of life.
He had first been a guitarist, a member of the Eurythmics, contributing a pair of songs to the ’80s supergroup’s first album. “Roger was warm, sweet, generous and funny,” said Annie Lennox. “A bona fide real-deal rock’n’roller through and through, who loved nothing more than strapping on an electric guitar and turning it up to 12. That’s when his soul reverberated and sounded at his best. Sometimes he flew too close to the sun, but his heart was always golden, and in the right place. Rock’n’roll is populated with legendary characters. Some aren’t internationally well-known, but appreciated and revered by their peers and comrades none the less. Roger Pomphrey was a known legend amongst everyone he came near.”
In fact, that first Eurythmics album didn’t sell. But the early 1980s was when videos emerged to transform popular music’s marketing. Blessed with an acute visual sense – the tastefulness and order of his home was renowned – Pomphrey found himself drawn to that world. Taking the traditional lowly route into the film business he became a runner and then transport captain, in charge of vehicles, the beginning of his friendship with the actor Tim Roth.
By 1986 he was working as assistant director on a documentary of a UB40 tour of Russia. “I immediately I loved the guy,” said the group’s saxophone player Brian Travers, himself then endeavouring to move into the world of film. “He was the AD. I was directing, but really posing as director just because I was in charge of the budget. It was Roger who taught me how to do it. As AD he was very much a cheeky chappie, not someone who shouted at people. And when he became a director, he brought that stance with him.” Pomphrey later directed several UB40 videos.
“In many ways the biggest thing that happened to Dodge was that all his mates were famous,” Travers continued. “And he would say he felt he wasn’t really in the game. But he was just the same as them, in the same league. Yet he wasn’t an angel, and he unfortunately adopted the habits of some of his heroes.”
Roger Pomphrey was born in Bristol, the middle of three brothers, with an older sister. His upbringing was modest; his father owned a heating engineering firm. Although later indubitably an intellectual, he was self-taught: he left his secondary modern without taking GCEs. It was then he began to play guitar.
“Roger soon realised he wouldn’t learn anything at school,” his elder brother Rick recalled. “I always knew he was highly intelligent, but he said he wanted to get out into the real world because that was where real knowledge was.” Quickly tiring of being a lathe-operator, he spent six months in California in 1976, returning with a passion for West Coast rock, especially Santana. Loony Tunes, the group he formed in Bristol, reflected this.
Moving to London, Pomphrey became guitarist with the Troggs. He met Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, then in their group the Tourists. As their flatmate, he occasionally played with them, joining the Eurythmics when the group was formed.
His move to directing, however, was where Pomphrey found himself. By 1987 he was making a big-budget video for George Harrison’s Got My Mind Set On You. He approached directing videos as though they were short films, epitomised by the first Massive Attack video, 1990’s Just a Matter of Time, filmed in black and white. Many more followed, among them videos for U2, Ziggy Marley, Big Country and, more recently, Babyshambles.
For Channel 4 in the late 1980s he made the Beyond the Groove music series, set in the US and funded by his old friend Dave Stewart. Among his 40-odd full-length TV documentaries were “Jimi Hendrix: Electric Ladyland”, part of the Classic Albums series; a personal favourite; Life, Death and Damien, the story of Damien Hirst’s first New York exhibition; Who the Hell is Pete Doherty; “On Pain of Death” for Dispatches, an investigation of the lack of palliative care for the chronically sick; The Shop That Sold Itself, a profile of Mohamed Al Fayed; and Keith Allen Meets John McVicar.
Last October cancer was detected in his liver. It very quickly spread, and he spent his 60th birthday in London’s Kings College hospital.
Roger Peter Pomphrey, director and musician: born Bristol 11 January 1954; married 1993, Caroline Thomas (one son), marriage dissolved 2001; died London, 29 January 2014.
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