In his early autobiography, ‘Sum Total’, produced at the age of 23, Ray Gosling wrote:
” I was for the working class, for the underdog, for the seedy and the left behind.”
He might well have added, “for young people, for the outsiders.” For, although Ray was to make his name as the maker of well over a thousand radio and television documentaries, one of his first initiatives was to found in 1960 the experimental Leicester Youth Venture. In his own words this was a club for “the otherwise unclubbables”. Ray claimed that for two years the coffee bar-cum-club was open 24 hours a day before it closed under a cloud of alleged gang violence. In the language of the day the club was ‘self-programming’, organised by and for young people according to their fluctuating agendas and desires.
Fascinatingly this led to an exchange in the New Left Review between Ray and Bernard Davies, still going strong as a leading light in our Campaign today. As backcloth we need to remember that the influential Albemarle Report  had just been published, giving a real boost to youth work both in terms of fabric and people.
As it happened Ray was less than convinced, offering his anarchist critique in ‘Lady Albemarle’s Boys’, a pamphlet hailed by its publisher, the Fabian Society, as an exciting study of the youth service in Britain . In particular he argued that the Albemarle emphasis on training a qualified professional vanguard was too prescriptive and at odds with the need to prioritise young people’s self-organisation.
Responding Bernard defended the creation of a highly skilled full-time work-force as a key to reaching out to the ‘unclubbables’. Suggesting that such as Ray were illustrating “a near-fanatical desire to get inside the ‘real’ teenage world” he underlined the need for an authentic meeting of ‘adult’ and ‘youth cultures’.
In the event the two of them were closer in outlook than the argument suggested and became friends after agreeing to meet up and explore their differences. Nevertheless the tensions revealed in their argument still resonate down the years – around professionalism, leadership, young people’s autonomy, the prescriptive and the spontaneous.
As it was Ray moved on to become a much loved face and voice on TV and radio, especially in the North-West, where during his weekly slot on Granada with On Site, he criss-crossed the area, interviewing local folk about their concerns and often gripes with the council bureaucracy. Much later he mused, “I lived in a glorious era. I could do anything and dictate terms. You don’t get that anymore.”
This video is from a later period, but still captures his ability to relate directly to the characters he met and his delight at eccentricity – in this case lovers of gnomes!
He never abandoned his grass-roots convictions. Moving to live on the St Anne’s estate in Nottingham in around 1967, becoming prominent in the local Residents and Tenants Association, he spent over 15 years fighting against its demolition and the destruction of the community. On the wider political scene, explicit about his sexuality, he worked with Allan Horsfall in the formation of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) .
Sadly his later years were overshadowed by the false claim that he had killed a gay lover in an act of mercy. At the time he was making a documentary on euthanasia. He was prosecuted for wasting police time. Reflecting later on the aberration he mused that he had said so, because he wished he had done so.
Without doubt Ray was a remarkable character and an enormous talent. True to the IDYW definition of youth work his life was one of improvised creativity and a commitment to social justice. His documentaries were extraordinary because they gave voice to supposedly ‘ordinary’ people telling their ‘ordinary’ stories. In a way our ‘story-telling’ project follows in his footsteps. Belatedly I wonder what he might have thought of our Campaign?
This is how he closed his response to Bernard fifty years ago,
‘But what of the skilled youth leader? Is there a place for him [sic]? Yes, yes and many more in the service of youth being called in by the young people and working for them. This is a question of emphasis. Bernard Davies puts the emphasis on a youth service of trained skilled leaders implanting their deep meaningful personal relationships; true associations; integration; value-contents.
No, start on the ground, sort out the real from the fake and canned. And then put the emphasis on the young people. This is the way to build a Youth Service for the Sixties.
These questions, even if differently posed in 2013, have not gone away. It would have been good to hear Ray and Bernard chatting them through afresh. Seeing this cannot be so, the best we can do as a tribute to Ray is to keep the arguments burning, the critical dialogue alive.