Raymond Arthur Gosling was born on May 5 1939 into a cultivated working-class family in Chester. [MYTH] He was brought up at Weston Favell, a village on the outskirts of Northampton. His father was a motor mechanic, his mother a schoolteacher until her marriage, who taught her son at home until, under protest, she enrolled him at the local primary school.
He quickly fell behind, and after a year was officially rated “backward”; although coming bottom of his class of 46, he passed his 11-plus and went to Northampton Grammar School, which he came to regard as part of an elaborate plot to suck him into the Establishment.
Attracted to the more vibrant ethos of working-class life, he preferred the company of boys from the local secondary modern school. He was good at English, and although sent to elocution lessons, cultivated (to his parents’ disappointment) “the accents of the scruffy and the 8secondary modern children”.
A sickly child, Ray had several spells in hospital, mainly on account of an injury to an arm which had failed to mend properly after a break; after several operations it became, and remained, slightly shorter than the other.
Between the fifth and sixth form Ray took a summer job as a railway signalman, later remembering not only the stress of concentrating on pulling the right levers but also the micro-rituals of “lobbing your phlegm out of the sliding windows, stoking up the black grate, polishing the fender, learning how to roll cigarettes”.
The experience kindled an interest in politics, albeit from a spectator’s viewpoint; he personally descended into the political fray only once, in 1963, when he stood as an independent Liberal in the Nottingham city council elections, his leaflets urging constituents to “vote for a madman just once in your life”.
Although raised in a churchgoing Anglican family, as an adolescent Teddy boy Ray left the Church of England and after a pilgrimage to a local abbey, embraced Anglo-Catholicism, before later converting to Rome. At Leicester University he read English, but left after a year and in 1960 founded what was described as Britain’s most controversial youth club, the experimental Leicester Youth Venture.
Gosling himself called it a club for “the otherwise unclubbable”, attracting teenage prostitutes, young shoplifters, gamblers and thieves. But the following year, when he tipped off the police about who had been responsible for the club being robbed, he was beaten up and spent a night in hospital.
He was still only 23 when he published his autobiography, Sum Total (1962). In it Gosling sought to explain his inner conflict, a desire to tear down the semi-detached dream his parents had inculcated in him while at the same time “wanting to build something better”. Casting himself as a sort of angry young man, he caught the attention of producers at Granada, who recognised his television potential.
BBC on 1963 tv program he made about Leicester and Nottingham
Gosling recalls the heady days of the Sixites in Leicester, when breaking the rules and being a rebel was something to be proud of.
“We were the first ones that were breaking with what your parents told you to do, what the church told you to do, and what the boss told you to do.
Ray Gosling arrived in Leicester as a student during the late 1950s. He spoke of it with great affection in 1963 when he made Two Twin Town.
Leicester was seen as a truly modern city in 1963. It had the first automatic multi storey car park in Europe, it boasted the first Tesco supermarket outside London, and it had a drive in post office and a drive in bank.
“We were the first to say what we wanted to do. In some ways we were overthrowing the working class culture that was very regimented.”
A night out was a trip to the pub, the social club or the bingo. The age of the teenager was about to explode as rock’n’roll was hitting the dance floors.
Ray compares the early 1960s with today, “The tradition was not to look young, the tradition was to look old.
“Whereas now you get people in their seventies and eighties going around in jumpsuits in the strangest sorts of colours!”
When Ray moved to Nottingham 26 miles away in the 1960s, it was a city hoping for a “powerful” future on the back of the coal industry.
Gosling claims to have invented a new political party as a result of this rebellious act.
“I was the begatter of what became the Monster Raving Loony Party,” says Ray with a wry smile.
“Dave Sutch (Lord Sutch) got in touch after the elections and asked me how to do it.” It was the start of Sutch’s political “career”.
These days Gosling still lives in Nottingham although his work takes him around the country.
“It’s so nice when you’re in one place for so long. I’m glad I never went back to London.”
Born and brought up in Northampton, Gosling moved to Leicester University in 1955. He quickly dropped out of university and briefly worked as a railway signalman, before leaving to manage a band, [organised rock’n’roll youth club for 2 years] and then working in a factory in London and as a youth worker.
Describes Americans he’d meet in Northampton town in 1952-53.
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.”
He fled the town as soon as he could, first to Leicester university, before dropping out to run a rock’n’roll band, then moving to London to take up a factory job. He had a fascination with ordinary people, hitchhiking along the A6 as a student to hear how lorry drivers talked, and had been writing since he was a teenage teddy boy (“I felt in my heart it was more than a fashion, it was a belief: teds to change the world”), sending pieces to Peace News, Anarchy, and Tribune until Faber & Faber, as he says, wrote him a letter saying: “Try a book.”
At 21, Gosling found himself writing what is, if not exactly an autobiography, a memoir of his life and the people he was meeting during the late 50s. “It was lovely to be young as I was,” he later wrote. “I strongly advise anyone to try their autobiography as early as possible. You’ll never feel like that, like you did then, ever again.” Through his publishers he met Richard Hoggart, Francis Wyndham, WH Auden, TS Eliot. “No one patronised me. No one was anything but lovely with me.”
He dropped out of university and started up rock ‘n’ roll dances instead. “We did this club and it was wonderful for two years, 24 hours a day. You can’t imagine a youth club open for 24 hours a day.” The club would eventually close down due to gang trouble and fighting. Were people more violent then? “No!” he exclaims. “There’s always been a bit of violence and there’s always been a bit of trouble. I absolutely love the world as it is now. I’m enormously proud of how kids have come on.”
His father was a mechanic; his mother he describes as “a Cambridgeshire peasant girl”. He disliked his time at Northampton Grammar, and his schooling was seriously disrupted: doctors reset a broken arm several times before they realised he had bone cancer. Spending long periods in hospital, “I thought, ‘I belong down here, sitting and waiting. I don’t belong up there at the school, where they’re all laughing and don’t give a damn.'”
He dropped out of Leicester University, where he was reading English, and began running a club for disadvantaged youths, who rewarded him with savage and ritualistic beatings.
What the book does not mention is the author’s homosexuality, still illegal at the time. Despite the discretion the times demanded, Gosling has been involved in gay politics since the 1950s, and was an active campaigner on the issue even as he became well-known on television and radio in the 1960s and 70s.
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
The riots of August 2011 were very different to ‘58. This time blacks and whites went on the assault together. Five police stations were fire-bombed. One was in St Anns, a place close to Ray’s heart. These protests seemed senseless in comparison, having no common goal. For most it was just an opportunity to vent. Yet this attitude was also prevalent in 1958, though is perhaps less remembered. A week after the riots, 4,000 youths descended on St. Anns, but with no visible Black faces to attack, they turned on each other. “It’s a rough old town. I absolutely love it.” He stamps his fist down on the table.
But his real idol is Colin MacInnes, the author who depicted London’s youth and black immigrant culture during the fifties. Absolute Beginners (1959) “was the first novel of teenage times. I think I was the model for it, really. This kid who wasn’t sure of anything and wanted to change the world.” MacInnes, a bisexual, took Gosling under his wing and lovingly nicknamed him “junior,” though “we never slept with each other.” He introduced him to coffee bars, jazz clubs and celebrities. “He taught me how to dress. You always wear something smart and something scruffy.”
Personal Copy: A Memoir of the Sixties is available from Five Leaves, £8.99.
These included a copy of the first issue of New Society, dated October 1962, containing an article Gosling had written about relations between black and white teenagers.