(from The Guardian)
One day in Bolton in the 1960s, Ray Gosling was interviewing an elderly woman in a wheelchair about why the council refused to build a ramp outside her house. He was reporting for Granada TV’s On Site. “They had a presenter in the Manchester studio, talking to authority figures, while I was out in the street with the people,” he recalled. “This councillor said, ‘If we give her a ramp, everybody will want one.’ … I knelt down beside her and said: ‘Could I make you a ramp, Mrs Taylor?'”
This was how Gosling, who has died aged 74, liked to do journalism. He was the reporter shivering outdoors, supporting a campaign, while the suits sat in the studio. “I was for the working classes, for the underdog, for the seedy and the left behind,” he wrote, aged 23, in his memoir Sum Total. Gosling chronicled, in dozens of TV and radio documentaries from the early 1960s onwards, scenes of apparently inconsequential ordinary life – caravans, sheds, bus travel, the way lorry drivers spoke on the A6, the subtle differences between Leicester and Nottingham – always reporting in a distinctive, lugubrious east Midlands voice.
Raised in Northampton, where he attended grammar school, Gosling was “a C-stream child”. His father was a mechanic. After dropping out of Leicester University to run a rock’n’roll band, he went to London to take up a factory job. Gosling was a teddy boy: “I felt in my heart it was more than a fashion, it was a belief: teds to change the world.”
Sum Total detailed his work as an assistant signalman and in a shoe factory, as well as capturing period details such as the smell of hair oil and cigarettes on buses’ top decks. From adolescence onwards he wrote a great deal, including articles for Tribune, Peace News and Anarchy. Active in gay politics, he was a member of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, co-founded in 1969 by Allan Horsfall, with whom he later set up the website Gay Monitor.
Gosling was also a force in his local residents’ association in the St Ann’s district of Nottingham, the city to which he moved in the early 1960s and where he fought against the Labour council’s plans to bulldoze the largest slum in England. “Gosling rightly realised,” wrote Alan Sillitoe, “that the whole district had a life and homogeneity that could never be replaced.” Sillitoe reported that Gosling succeeded in catalysing local people to fight the council’s worst proposals. Even as he worked as a kind of social worker-cum-activist, he was a rising star of broadcasting.
But his luck eventually ran out. In the 1990s he started drinking too much and his brand of poetic realism fell out of favour with commissioning editors. He lamented: “The kind of little niches I was able to get into? It’s gone. And there’s no way of bringing that back.” Gosling declared bankruptcy in 2000 and moved into sheltered accommodation, giving up the house he had lived in with his partner, Bryn Allsop. He continued to work, making three films for BBC4 – Bankrupt, Pensioned Off and Ray Gosling OAP – about his personal struggles. The last of these won a Grierson award for most entertaining documentary in 2007.
Hired by BBC East Midlands as a presenter on Inside Out, he reported on cafes, statues, gnomes and Joe Orton. And then, in 2010, he decided to make a programme about death, interviewing people involved in mercy killings. Gosling stood at the grave of Allsop, who died of cancer in 1999, and – to camera – claimed responsibility for the mercy killing of a former lover, who had Aids. He had suffocated the man – later named as Tony – with a pillow, he said, 16 years earlier. Gosling was arrested on suspicion of murder, but released after it became clear he was in France at the time of Tony’s death. He was given a suspended sentence for wasting police time.
In a Guardian interview, Jon Ronson asked Gosling why he had lied. “It was a genuine feeling, after listening to these interviewees,” he said. “Like a surfeit of empathy?” Ronson asked. “My heart was bigger than my head,” Gosling replied.
• Ray Gosling, broadcaster, born 5 May 1939; died 19 November 2013