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Tuesday, 1 December 2020

New Month Old Post: Ray Gosling’s Goole

(First posted 15th October 2017. The YouTube videos linked below are quite long. I don’t expect many will want to watch them through.)

Gosling's Travels 1975: Goole
Gosling’s Travels: Goole (1975, 26 minutes)

In 1975, the radio and television broadcaster, Ray Gosling, made a film about Goole: a place I used to know well. The inhabitants were appalled. They had been looking forward to a film about a pleasant little town on the banks of the Ouse, with friendly folk in homely homes, about canals and railways, brave mariners who sailed the North Sea, the strange salt and pepper pot water towers, and the proud rise of a town from nothing to one of the country’s busiest ports in less than a hundred years: the story of the port in green fields.

But Ray Gosling was never going to stick to that. He homed in on the eccentric linguist who sought out foreign sailors to practise his Russian, businessmen who looked shifty and evasive, dockers who appeared scheming and workshy, the mysterious world of pigeon keepers, and, most embarrassing of all, the star turn, some young ladies who also liked to consort with foreign seamen, although not to practise their language skills. Goole: working-town low life in ragged abundance.

Watching again on YouTube, I see the problem. Right from the start, he goes for the jugular:
I’m walking the streets of a flat little town in Yorkshire that most of you will never have heard of: Goole. And those who do know where it is, between Doncaster and Hull, have nicknamed it Sleepy Hollow, because nothing has ever happened here that’s made the headlines in a newspaper. The place has no history worth putting into history books, and they don’t really manufacture anything. 
You might say: “What did you expect?” It was what Ray Gosling did. He was different from other broadcasters. He was cheeky and a bit common, working-class with an East Midlands accent, a university dropout, C-stream and proud of it. He made films about the little things of life, to him more important than the big things: caravans, allotments, sheds, the seedy, the left behind, the small-scale concerns of ordinary people. He was one of them. He wrote about them, ran things and campaigned for them.

The film is pure genius. He had seen the times they were a-changin’  long before Bob Dylan. He had tried to help the lively working-class community of St. Ann’s in Nottingham when the local council wanted to flatten and redevelop the whole district, but the community was lost in the end. He could see that Goole’s canal trains of coal-loaded compartments known as ‘Tom Puddings’, hydraulically hoisted into the air and tipped into the holds of ships, were nearing their end. Goole was a working museum that could not last, no more than the well-meaning vicar and police chief in the film, gullible anachronisms innocently trying to set up a wholesome mariners’ club not run by mariners. It was never going to supplant the Dock Tavern.

Ray Gosling Autobiographies
He had read On the Road and seen Rebel Without a Cause and The Wild One (a film banned in Britain) and understood the implications. He saw change in the hearts of young people rejecting their fuddy-duddy parents’ expectations. His autobiographies, Sum Total and Personal Copy are fascinating memoirs of the fifties and sixties. “We were the first generation to be able to busk with our lives” he reflected in 2006 in one of his last films, Ray Gosling OAP. And as he sat waiting for his cluttered Mapperley house to be forcibly sold due to bankruptcy, unable to move around the heaped accumulations of a lifetime’s work: piles of files, mountains of books, scattered nick-nacks; he said:
All my life, I’ve known we are what we collect, what we pick up, so my room with all the detail I’ve kept is what made my work, it was important, to me. The silly nick-nacks are not just nick-nacks, and they’re not silly.
That is truly uplifting to hoarders like me: the glorious antithesis of decluttering.

Ray Gosling OAP (2006, 59 minutes)

Hopefully, the links to his films on YouTube will remain active, but they might get blocked for copyright reasons. There is also an archive of his work at Nottingham Trent University.

I'll leave the last word to Ray himself, part of an article in the TV Times in 1975:

... I don’t think facts always tell the truth. And I’m not a promotion man for God, Queen and the Ruling Class in Britain Beautiful – but we do search for the good in a place. And try to film what people naturally do. Try to avoid dwelling on obvious eccentrics, though that’s difficult. We are such an individual fruit and nutcase lot. I’m not hawking any pet philosophy or seeking hidden meanings. The films are simply place-tasters.

I don’t know what you’re going to make of Goole. People live nearby refer to it as Sleepy Hollow, because nothing ever happens in Goole. That’s why I went. It’s one of the most forgotten places of England. Britain’s most inland port, 50 miles from the sea. Just as Bath doesn’t make enough of its spa water, Goole doesn’t make enough of its dirty canal water. Still it is the 11th port of the land. Behind the parish church, you can see hanging from the jib of a crane, Britain’s balance of payments. Steel: in and out. Russian timber imported. We got turfed-off a Russian boat, camera and all – nicely, but firmly. And Goole exports: coals for every purpose.

The great local row was in the pigeon club. Should the birds be flown, next season, from north to south? Opinion divided. I like Goole, I do hope I’ve done it justice.

There was a nice man we wanted to film there; Albert Gunn, dental mechanic, pigeon racer and performer in the amateur Kiss Me Kate at the Grammar School – but Albert was ill, so we couldn’t.

That’s the problem I find filming as against writing. With pictures we have to prove it. Our folks have got to perform in front of the camera.

23 comments:

  1. Sounds like he was filled with curiosity and lived life to the fullest.

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    1. I liked his comment about being the first generation able to busk with their lives, or in the film the first to be able to seek to enjoy ourselves.

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  2. His documentary about Goole sounds like your country's version of "Hillbilly Elegy".

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    1. Perhaps as a location, although no hills in Goole - perhaps Valebilly Elegy.

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  3. He went down hill and ended up with one of his own films about mercy killing going to his head and saying he killed his friend. It all went belly up. That's all I remember of Ray Gostling.

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    1. Yes that was a strange incident wasn't it. Did he think he could get away with saying that in a TV programme without it leading to him being arrested?

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    2. Strange and a big incident at the time. He lost a great deal of credibility as I remember it and spun a web of lies, all complete fantasy.

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  4. I loved his voice over the radio, did he not fall out with the BBC. I shall enjoy listening to the videos when I have time.

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    1. The longer OAP film linked at the bottom says a lot about older people in society. I like the line "We were all somebody once".

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  5. Coming as I do from Lincolnshire I seem to think that Goole had rather more importance before the Humber Bridge was built. Am I correct?

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    1. The railway bridge at Goole and the road bridge nearby at Boothferry were the first crossing points of the Humber, so anything too big to use the Humber ferry had something like a 50 mile detour to get from Hull to Grimsby. However, Goole was also important as a port - the 11th busiest in the country at the time of the film.

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  6. "Place-tasters." I found that a perfect description. I watched the first link; the second was blocked by confounded copywriting. So, it was a taste of Goole in 1975.It's not really a "Hillbilly Elegy" work; it's about the making of the result in 2000, not the result. Everyone interviewed seemed to be reasonably reconciled to their lot.

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    1. I missed the "place taster" description so thanks for bringing it to light. I think that in 1975 there were still a great many people who lived life for what it was without any particular desire to change it or improve their lot. There are arguably no upwardly-mobile professionals in the film. Pity about the blocked link because the one at the end is an interesting film and I like his philosophy and outlook.

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  7. A fascinating blogpost. Well done Tasker! Amazing to think that Ray Gosling's take on Goole happened forty five years ago! As for the woman buying Ray's place - so sickeningly fair and reasonable and civilised and aspirational that I wanted to clout her with a wet haddock. Sad to think of him ending up like that.

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    1. Well thank you for such an encouraging comment. I'm pleased you were sufficiently interested to look at the films. I think he was an innovative film maker with interesting things to say. Some people have made a lot of money turning lovely homes into HMOs. To think he lost it because of what started out as just a £5,000 tax debt seems ridiculous and unfair. True, he was negligent, but there were mitigating circumstances including bereavement, and there really should have been limits to the interest and penalties that were added.

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  8. Smashing post.
    Only one quibble. Was Gosling really C-stream and proud of it?

    The next generation of BBC producers pandered to the D-stream.
    Melvyn Bragg said of the Dumb It Down crowd, *They ought to be shot.*

    Thanks to YouTube we can now see the odd episode of BBC's One Pair of Eyes and Look, Stranger. The latter was taken from WH Auden's poem.

    Earlier this year I watched a vintage documentary on James Mitchell, the creator of Callan (Edward Woodward) and When the Boat Comes In (James Bolan) but I have been unable to find it again. It was produced I think for Yorkshire Television, and followed Mitchell's return to Tyneside.

    Gritty TV documentaries by Ian Nairn and Gwyn Thomas can also be seen on YouTube. Television in our youth was as diverse as Goole's exports. We lived in a different country then.
    Maybe you could review a new book by James Hamilton Paterson.
    *What We Have Lost. The Dismantling of Great Britain.*



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    1. I believe the C-stream and proud description is his own in one of his books. Of course he was a bright bloke with the common touch. You might like the OAP film linked at the end - is your living space as cluttered as his?
      The Paterson book sounds interesting. I enjoyed the Kynaston and Sandbrook tomes some years ago, and Ian Jack who often covers similar topics is incredibly good. I'll put Paterson on mu list.

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  9. Ray Gosling must have meant he did not do well at school.
    Stan Barstow (Desert Island Discs: YouTube) said he did badly at grammar school. Len Deighton's school report said he would not go far.

    Clutter I hate. Ditto dirt. Books are shelved. Magazines stacked. My weak brains are all over the place, and too easily digressed.

    I enjoyed your back reviews of Kynaston and Sandbrook.
    I have made it my mission to understand the 20th Century and my own post war period.
    *What happened? Need it have happened? How, why? Who lost and gained?*
    These are the questions that haunt me.

    Charles Moore's volumes on Mrs Thatcher I shall peruse soon.
    And I want to reread Ben Pimlott's biography of Harold Wilson.

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    1. Tasker, I think you would enjoy a gritty black and white TV documentary from 1969. It was never shown in Scotland.

      Google *A World of My Own: James Mitchell.*
      Yorkshire Film Archives.

      It was made by Tyne Tees Television. James Mitchell's son has developed Till the Boat Comes in for the stage. Follow online.

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    2. I might have a look later. Found it at https://www.yfanefa.com/record/16570

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    3. Interesting film. The creator of "Callan" and "When The Boat Comes In" driving around South Shields in a rather nice Jensen FF, making a film in 1969 when there were still shipyard cranes and commercial ships, but remembering growing up in the 1930s. "I remember the smalll treats, which were such big treats in those days".

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  10. You've piqued my interest in the man. And I want to see The Wild One now.

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    1. He was an interesting chap. I think The Wild One was banned in Britain for 14 years. It might be on YouTube - there are certainly clips. Looks pretty tame now but I guess the police were concerned it might spark social unrest.

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