Ray Gosling, 1939–2013
ay Gosling was born in Northampton, in 1939. He went to Northampton Grammar School, briefly worked as a railway signalman, and went on to the University of Leicester, but dropped out to manage a band. He worked in a factory in London and as a youth worker in Leicester, but spent most of his life in Notting ham.
His book Personal Copy: A memoir of the 60s, published 1980, is a vivid description of his time in Leicester, running a youth group and trying to avoid the wholesale demolition of the St Anns area, where there were still many sound and valued houses amongst the slums.
Over the years Ray Gosling wrote and presented more than a hundred television documentaries and several hundred radio documentaries. In the 1960s and 70s he was one of the best known faces in television documentary programming. He hosted a weekly North West regional programme on Granada TV, in which members of the public, in a different town each week, confronted officialdom with their concerns and complaints. He specialised in “the sideways look at such eclectic and quintessentially British institutions as the working classes... and faded seaside towns, the minutiae of life.”
In many of his radio documentaries he used his distinctively quirky writing style to point up the rich diversity of people and places in Britain. Among his best-remembered radio programmes were personal portraits of a series of different towns.
Ray was Initially sceptical about the need for homosexual law reform, but changed his mind when an acquaintance was sent to prison; he thereupon became an active supporter of the North West Committee for Homosexual Law Reform, which later became the Campaign for Homosexual Equality.
One of CHE’s early projects was Esquire Clubs, which aimed to set up clubs for gay people and their friends in various towns. Ray was unable to persuade friends in Nottingham to help set up a club there, and spent a lot of time visiting other towns to promote the idea.
“I was always doing meetings. Once, twice a week. Wolverhamp- ton, Bournemouth, Southampton, Norwich. All meetings of gay people. And they would all be very enthusiastic to begin with. .... When they’d talked about it a little bit, and you wanted their name on the committee, because you wanted local committees, they all started to pull out.”
In 1971 there seemed to be a real chance to get a club going in Burnley. Faced with considerable local opposition, CHE organised a public meeting in Burnley library. That there was no violence was largely due to Ray’s chairmanship; he was praised in the Express and News report of the meeting for maintaining order “precarious at times”.
ay’s background in grass-roots activism fitted in well with CHE’s stated aim to forge a democratic mass movement in which gay people were encouraged to take con trol of their own lives and fight for their rights. This was in contrast to the London-based Homosexual Law Reform Society, which was seen as metropolitan, elitist, and not run by gay people themselves (in fact, HLRS founder A E Dyson and long- time HLRS Secretary Antony Grey were both gay, but never said so at the time). At a CHE rally in Trafalgar Square, on 23 November 1975, Ray said: “Last time it was done by an elite, who did it by stealth ... This time it has to be done by us, brothers and sisters”.
In later years Ray, with Allan Horsfall, ran Gay Monitor, seeking justice for men wrongly accused of sexual abuse. “We’ve watched, supported and some- times advised men caught up in appalling prosecutions in Lancashire – but we’re certain similar is going on all over the country.”
After nursing his long-term partner Bryn Allsop until he died of pancreatic cancer in 1999, Ray found life difficult: failure to pay off a small debt led to mounting financial difficulties and he was made bankrupt.
In 2000 he returned to television with documentaries about his personal life, including his bankruptcy, and was then taken on by BBC East Midlands as a regular presenter on Inside Out. His first film for Inside Out revisited his first BBC TV documentary, Two Town Mad, comparing Leicester and Nottingham. Next came films on garden gnomes, statues, bus travel, OAP workers, frugal living, new arts buildings and windmills. His film on Joe Orton was part of a pro gramme which won the RTS Midlands Best Regional programme in 2008, and his BBC Four documentary Ray Gosling OAP won the Jonathan Gili Award for Most Entertaining Documentary at Grierson 2007.
In 2011 he confessed on television to having used a pillow, many years before, to suffocate a former lover who had been dying in terrible pain from AIDS. He was arrested on suspicion of murder, but it was established that Ray had been out of the country when the man died; he was given a suspended sentence for wasting police time.
In an interview with LeftLion magazine in August 2013 Ray said that he had planned on writing his memoirs, but had never quite got round to doing it. “Life is for living, not for writing.” He also talked about his lifelong relationship with alcohol: “I’ve been drinking since I was twelve. I drink brandy and wine now. In those days I drank ten pints a night. There were fifty pubs in my St Anns. I’d have a drink in every one.”
Ray Gosling died in November 2013, aged 74. He continued to be an active member of CHE, and a Vice-President, until his death, and several times came down to London to put in an appearance at a CHE quarterly meeting or AGM.
By Peter Scott-Presland. Adapted from the article on the LGBT History Project’s website, incorporating material from Amiable Warriors.