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Ray Gosling: 5 May 1939 — 19 November 2013

On the back of his precocious autobiography Sum Total, first published when he was 23, Ray is quoted: ‘I am for the working classes, for the underdog, for the seedy and the left behind… and the England that seemed and still seems an impossible dream.’

In a dim corner of Ray’s home from home, the Hard To Find Café in Nottingham, where I attended his wake, the photographs on display told their own story: young good-looking Ray, slight of build with attempted Tony Curtis haircut and defiant cigarette. Old Ray, ravaged by events, and raging against the dying of the light.

Singer-songwriter Dan Whitehouse came and played a couple of very touching elegiac songs. The first, composed largely from Ray’s own words with a repeated lament for ‘little Ray’, and the second prompted by Ray’s advice to Dan: ‘don’t be scared’. Perfect.

PN has always attracted very good writers to contribute to its pages and in the ’60s and ’70s these included Ray. His first contribution (he was an irregular contributor) may have been his magnificent piece about the Cuban missile crisis. He also wrote for New Society, New Left Review, Anarchy, and any other publication with space for a freelancer with unpredictable opinions.

He was hard to place in the orthodox Left/Right spectrum and he shed light in rarely-illuminated corners. Ray was absolutely committed to the ideals of mutual aid, community, and gay rights. He lived up to all of them.

Ray was a favourite Radio 4 broadcaster who spoke his mind without pandering to ‘balance’. His programme about the keeper of the queen’s racing pigeons was a gem among many gems. His voice belonged to what increasingly feels like a lost golden age of BBC radio.

He never answered letters, but wrote to me once after reading a piece of mine in PN in which I mentioned, in passing, shopping in London for yellow socks. He was eternally interested in ‘the left behind’ and fought tirelessly to preserve the St Ann’s area of Nottingham from the worst of ruthless clearance. On the radio, his unmistakable regional voice was a rare treat among the very few: John Arlott, Andy and Liz Kershaw, Pam Ayres.

In 1980, Faber published his memoir of the ’60s, Personal Copy, republished by Five Leaves in 2010. Like Sum Total, it reveals that note of grumbling optimism which distinguished his radio broadcasts – and how desperately we need that tone now.