Monday, 24 January 2022

Britain is a country where Elvis Costello has been making music for almost 50 years and gives it his 'Honest Playlist'



Elvis Costello, who will be 68 years old in the Autumn, hardly an old man, yet neither a young one, has supplied the Guardian with his 'Honest Playlist'. 

He said : The first song I remember hearing : "It's a family legend that even before I was forming sentences, I knew how to request, 'I've got you under my skin',(link) sung by Frank Sinatra on the record player. Of course I'm biased, but my wife does the other definitive version". His wife is the jazz musician Diana Krall.(link) 

"I've got you under my skin

I've got you, deep in the heart of me

So deep in my heart that you're really a part of me

I've got you under my skin"

The first record that I owned : "In 1962, I heard my Dad rehearsing a song from Georgie Fame's, 'Fame at Last' EP and he gave me the record. Georgie is an unsung, great advocate of other artists. I once got to sing with Count Basie and totally humiliated myself because I'd learned his classic 'Lil' Darlin'' off a Georgie Fame record".(link) His Dad was singer Ross MacManus.

"Oh, please, please, please,
Quit dragging my heart through them coals,
Oh, please, please, please,
Stop trying to fix it 'cause, baby, it's broke,
When it's late at night and you call me,
'Cause I've got another man fixing my blues,
You should never, never worry 'bout nothing, baby,
'Cause I'll never love someone new the way I love you"

The song that is my karaoke go-to : "Maybe because it is because I gave up drinking 25 years ago, but my exposure to karaoke is limited to watching Bill Murray doing 'What's so funny 'bout Peace, Love and Understanding' (link) in 'Lost in Translation'. I would pick 'King of the Road' (link) by Roger Miller . It is a song where you could make up anything and nobody would notice".

"Trailer for sale or rent

Rooms to let, 50 cents

No phone, no pool, no pets

I ain't got no cigarettes

Ah, but two hours of pushing broom

Buys a eight by 12 four-bit room

I'm a man of means, by no means

King of the road"

The song I inexplicably know all the lyrics to : "I have on many occasions recited Noël Coward's 'The Stately Homes of England'. (link) It's a beautiful lyric and very, very funny".

"Although we sometimes flaunt our family conventions,

Our good intentions

Mustn't be misconstrued.

The Stately Homes of England

We proudly represent,

We only keep them up for

Americans to rent "

The performance that I'll never forget for me : "Aretha Franklin doing, 'Don't play that song',(link) live on the Cliff Richard Show (in 1970). After a moment like that you're never the same again. This song is rich in the gospel she absorbed as a young girl. I'd happily listen to her piano intro alone over 20 times. 

"Don't play that song for me
'Cause it brings back memories
Of days that I once knew
The days that I spent with you"

The best song to play at a party : "I'm thinking of the parties I went to a teenager's, so the Isley Brothers' 'Behind a Painted Smile' (link) is my pick. I was the person who would haunt the edge of the dancefloor, open the 'Party Seven' pale ale and hope to fascinate some girl with my wit and charm, usually unsuccessfully".



The best song to have sex to : "'Behind Closed Doors' (link) by Charlie Rich. It's not the song, it's the statement in the title". 

My baby makes me proud
Lord, don't she make me proud
She never makes a scene
By hangin' all over me in a crowd
                                         

The song I want played at my funeral : "Louis Armstrong singing Fats Waller's 'Keepin' Out of Mischief Now'.(link) I walked down the aisle to this - that's another kind of pledge, isn't it ? So if I must die, I'm keeping out of mischief after".


Keepin' out of mischief now

I really am in love and how

I'm through playin' with fire

It's you whom I desire

Friday, 21 January 2022

Will Britain make amends for the wrongs committed against an old soldier called Stephen Close who happened to be gay ?

The ban of LBGT people in the British Army was lifted in 2000, but before that you could be sacked and criminalised for your sexuality loosing not only their jobs, livelihoods and professional identities, but also their medals, pensions, long service awards. This was a rule that is thought to have affected about 5,000 people in the armed forces. A Government initiated review announced this week, over 20 years after the law was changed, is apparently going to establish the impact of that ban on the lives of men and women like Stephen Close. He was interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme this week. He had ended up with a criminal record after his court martial in 1983, when he was 20 and serving in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in Germany assigned to guard Adolf Hitler's Deputy, Rudolf Hess, in Spandau Prison. 

He had earlier said : "I joined the Army in 1980 because I was confused about my sexuality. Coming from a deprived, working-class area, we had no education about things like that. I thought the army might make a man of me. I was sent to serve in Berlin, where one of my jobs was guarding Rudolf Hess. He was one of the architects of the Final Solution, which included the imprisonment and murder of thousands of gay men. Ironically, a month later I was myself in a British prison for being gay".

Stephen said on the Today Programme : "I was arrested and questioned. Apparently somebody had spotted me with another soldier and they'd reported me to the military police. I was questioned for 4 days. I kept denying it because the consequences of admitting to it would have been dire, but eventually after these interrogations we both broke down and confessed. I was court martialed and sentenced to 6 months in prison and discharged from the army with disgrace which was one of the most severe sentences imposed on a soldier".

The Daily Mirror Newspaper reported this as : 'Stephen was accused of gross indecency and faced a brutal interrogation and medical examination after he was found in the arms of a male soldier in 1983'. On another occasion Stephen had said : "I was charged with gross indecency and sent for court martial. There was a lot of abuse from other staff and I was beaten up. All my army friends turned their backs on me. It was horrible". "I served four months. It wasn’t long, but I was in pieces". 

Then : "After being released for prison I made my way back to Manchester - settled down back at home". He said : "At the time when I first came out of the Army I was very low. I was self harming. I contemplated taking my life a few times. There was no help there. I got no support whatsoever. I found it very difficult to cope and over years constantly knocked back, knocked back all the time".

Stephen continued : "I started looking for work. I thought I'd leave that experience behind me now, but it had only just started. Unknown to me, my military record was passed on to New Scotland Yard and I had a criminal record for 'gross indecency', which I couldn't understand because it had been decriminalised in 1967 and yet I had a criminal record for it, just because I was in the Army. I found it very difficult to find work. Every job I went for did a security check on me, a criminal record check and I was constantly refused work. I ended up cleaning, bar work - anything where I didn't have to give a criminal record check".

With a gross indecency sentence Stephen had been classified as a sex offender and said : "I couldn't work in the medical profession, hospitals. I couldn't work with children. I couldn't adopt, couldn't foster. I couldn't serve on a jury. Just everyday things I was denied". Stephen said : "Jobs I applied for and was successful in getting and due to technology over the years more and more companies were starting to use criminal record checks and I was called to the office one morning. He explained to me they'd done a criminal record check which I didn't declare, because a gross indecency conviction was never classed as a spent conviction. It was illegal not to declare it on every single application you applied for". 

"In 2013 the police came to the house demanding a DNA sample due to the 2010 Data Protection Bill where DNA samples were taken with people who had committed serious crimes prior to DNA sampling and I was threatened with arrest if I didn't comply. So I had to give a DNA sample". Stephen said at the time : "This whole thing has brought all this back up. I've moved on from my life. I'm a businessman now. I've been a relationship for more than 10 years now. It's like someone's put a bomb under me".

He said : "I appealed against it and sought help from Peter Tatchell who launched a campaign and eventually my DNA was destroyed the police apologised and they informed me I could apply to the Home Office to have the criminal record taken off me. So I did apply and eventually it was taken off".

Stephen said that as a result of the Government Review he was hoping to get his pension back and "some kind of compensation for decades of misery and hardship".

Stephen is not alone. There are many. David Bonney served four months in a military prison in Colchester in 1995, after being convicted of "homosexual conduct" while working for the RAF as a medic. He said : "I was in my early 20s and like anyone else in their early 20s, I was entitled to a sex life, to have relationships, just like anyone else in the military or in the civilian world. But that's not how they saw it, because I was gay. I was fined for the financial issues, but I was jailed for six months for being gay".

Although he was later freed on appeal, after serving four months, the conviction is still on his criminal record. He said it had a long-lasting impact on his life and : "From the moment I admitted to being gay, I was held in a cell separate to everyone. Handcuffs, going into a cell, treated as if I'd murdered or mugged someone". 

Caroline Paige, Co-Director of  the military charity, 'Fighting With Pride', was the first openly transgender servicewoman to serve in the military and since her retirement, she has campaigned for more to be done to lessen the impact of the pre-2000 ban. Speaking to BBC Breakfast, she said : "It's shameful that nothing has been done to help support them since the ban was lifted. It was 22 years ago, but you have to bear in mind that for some of these veterans the journey has been even longer than that because they were dismissed in the 60s, 70s or 80s and have been living their lives without any kind of support. The review is just the start of what needs to be done".

Apparently the Review will look at : 

* The potential impact the ban may have had on LGBT+ veterans, including the consequences for their future lives

* The accessibility of veterans' services for LGBT+ people

* How to ensure that LGBT+ veterans are recognised and fully accepted as members of the Armed Forces

And, apparently, the Government has said that it will set out how people affected by the ban will be able to share their experiences for the review once an independent chair has been announced.

Will wronged old soldiers like Stephen and David benefit from this Review ? I think not.

Friday, 14 January 2022

Britain has lost, but Scotland made that Giant among 20th Century theatre directors, Bill Bryden

Page views : 333

Bill, who has died at the age of 79 was born, the son of Catherine and George in the spring of the third year of the Second World War, in 1942, at 8 Carwood Street in the town of Greenock near Glasgow. His mother and father were housed in an attic room in the eaves of a tenement building with his older step brother and younger brother and so, in his early years, he lived with and was brought up by his paternal grandparents and Willie Rough his grandfather was a big influence on him. They lived in the bottom two rooms of a two-up two-down terraced house and Willie worked as an engineer in the Clyde shipyard. 

When Bill was interviewed for the British Library in 2009 his interviewer Harriet Devine asked him : "How big was the house ?" and he answered : "It was two rooms and kitchen. There was a sitting room with the kitchen in it and the fireplace. Then there was the parlor and then there was the loo". Harriet then asked : "Bedrooms ?" to which he replied : "That was it. Two rooms and kitchen. Oh no. The bed was a set-in bed. In the wall there was a double bed and you'd closed the curtains and go to bed. The working class, yes ?" Bill said : "At least it had an inside loo. Most people I was at primary school with had an outside loo". He also said he found, at the age of seven, his grandfather's death "devastating" because : "in many ways he brought me up". His father as the mechanical inspector at the bus depot was : "At 5.30 in the morning getting the buses ready for the workers going to work and when he came home in the evening he was buggered. So he just lay there". It was his Grandfather who was : "Full of things to do - go to the football match, see steam trains on the turntable, wanted me to read - not go to the shipyard".(link)

Over twenty years later he paid homage to his grandfather when he wrote 'Willie Rough' which is often regarded as a landmark of Scottish drama. Originally a stage play produced by the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company in Edinburgh in 1972, a TV version was shown in 1976 as the BBC 'Play for Today', with James Grant as Willie. He set it in a Greenock shipyard around the outbreak of the First World War, and put forward a revolutionary socialist view of events of the time and peopled it with the appropriate dialogue : "Ah walked 15 miles tae Greenock tae get a job and ah'm no' going hame without wan. Ah've got tae stay. Ah've got tae show folk what it's like tae live by somethin' ye believe in". Bill said that Willie was : "A very left wing fellow in the shipyards, so it kind of rubbed off on me".

In the first three years of Bill's life, his father was absent from Greenock, serving as a rear gunner in the RAF during the War. Although he was an elder in the local Church of Scotland, he was always partial to betting and Bill recalled : "When he won on the horses or the dogs we all got new clothes". He recalled, with affection, that : "He was the first person to get me interested in the theatre, We had a variety theatre in Greenock - the 'Greenock Empire' and would go every Thursday and for big stars we would go to the 'Glasgow Empire' which was big deal, like the Palladium in London. So we saw Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Bob Hope. We didn't like the English comics, but we liked the Scottish comics and the Hollywood people". He remembered when they saw Judy, she was late to start and they missed the train home and stayed in a hotel in Glasgow. It was 1951 and he was nine years old. Bill concluded that : "There must have been some kind of relationship with the theatre early on". 

In the same year, his family were rehoused outside town in a new housing estate built by IBM in the Spango Valley which opened a factory in the valley in 1954 to manufacture typewriters and other office equipment. Bill was reunited with his mother and father and older step brother, his younger brother having died when he was four or five and Bill was seven. They now lived in two bedroomed accommodation with sitting room, kitchen and bathroom and small garden and he said : "I mean luxury compared to the east end. Luxury".

Bill remembered 'Treasure Island' in his childhood reading : "Scottish stuff. Not Dickens - Stevenson". He said he was bright at primary school and one of the teachers gave him extra reading and spelling and concluded : "So I was always in the arts side of things as opposed to science and mathematics. I finally got an 'A' Level in geometry by learning the book like a part. I learned the geometry book as if it was 'Hamlet' and, of course, I couldn't fail"

By this time he had left Hillend Primary School and was attending the local grammar school for boys, the Greenock Academy and it was here that he had his first taste as an actor and said : "I had a terrible stammer when I was a kid they thought it would be good for me to be acting". Apart from Mabel Irving the drama teacher he also fell under the spell of Mr Jimmy Stewart, who : "Thought O'Casey was 'It'. So the first I knew about a modern play was 'Juno and the Paycock' by Sean O'Casey which we read in class in Scottish accents, no doubt". Perhaps Bill read Johnny's part while another boy played Mrs Boyle : 

Johnny : "I was lyin’ down; I thought yous were gone. Oul’ Simon Mackay is thrampin’ about like a horse over me head, an’ I can’t sleep with him — they’re like thunder-claps in me brain! The curse o’ — God forgive me for goin’ to curse!"
 Mrs. Boyle : "There, now; go back an’ lie down again an’ I’ll bring you in a nice cup o’ tay".
 Johnny : "Tay, tay, tay! You’re always thinkin’ o’ tay. If a man was dyin’, you’d thry to make him swally a cup o’ tay!" 

Another influence on him was the cinema and he recalled : "There was a cinema called the 'Central Picture House' in Greenock and it only showed westerns, so it was called 'The Ranch' and there was 'The Pavilion' which showed Hollywood serials". Grandmother Rough was a big film fan and he looked back and said : "Granny, she was movie mad". Maybe, the fact that, over thirty years later, he co-wrote the Western, 'The Long Riders' with the Americans, James and Stacey Keach, was his homage to the memory of Granny Rough. (link)

"So I'd Go to the movies three times a week. I think I saw in my formative years maybe seven, eight movies a week. As a kid I loved the westerns and I realised that what was in common with the John Wayne movies was that John Ford had directed them, So I realised, wait a minute, there's somebody else in here, apart from the actors, somebody who has a signature".

When he was 16 he joined the local amateur theatre group and recalled that Greenock : "Was a very good place for the amateur theatre because the swimming pool had been bombed in the War and they rebuilt it as the 'Art's Guild'. Therefore, while other amateur theatres were working in church halls and village halls, we had a very well-equipped theatre. So when I entered the professional theatre I was impressed by the scale and standard at Stratford and the Court and Coventry, but I wasn't scared of it because I'd been in a theatre and learned not only acting but about stage management and I started directing with a young group called 'Drama Workshop'. I invented a little company and some of them went into drama school and became actors and writers". Bill recalled that the middle class professionals in Greenock lived in the west end of town and he, with the shipyard workers, lived in the east end of town and said : "When I crossed over, when I went to the amateur drama, it was in the west end of town. So I was a kind of 'counter jumper' in a sense".

In 1960, at the age of eighteen he left school he became a public health inspector with the local council which involved, as he said : "Going to people's houses and finding rats and mice. Luckily the chief in the job realised I was desperate to be in the theatre and let me still be with the Amateur Actors". When he met Peter Hall at the Edinburgh Festival, he impressed the theatre director enough, as a pupil in the master class that he was running, to be invited to Stratford as an “observer” on 'The Wars of the Roses' for 10 weeks. 

Here he saw John Barton's theatrical adaptation of Shakespeare's first historical tetralogy dealing with Henry VI and Richard III and the conflict between the House of Lancaster and the House of York over the throne of England. Directed by John and Peter Hall at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. It was a star studied production with he David Warner as Henry VI, Peggy Ashcroft as Margaret of Anjou, Donald Sinden as the Duke of York, Paul Hardwick as the Duke of Gloucester, Janet Suzman as Joan la Pucelle, Roy Dotrice as Edward IV and Ian Holm as Richard III.(link)

While there, he wrote a proposal for Scottish Television and moved to Glasgow in 1963 to work as a writer and researcher, assisting documentary film-maker John Grierson at STV. Two years later an 'ABC TV directors’ scholarship' sent him to the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, for six months as an assistant director. In the interregnum after the removal of artistic director Tony Richardson and the arrival of Warren Jenkins, he directed his first professional productions – Shaw’s 'Misalliance' and Shakespeare’s 'Julius Caesar', before helping Warren form a company. However, it was his mentor Bill Gaskill, who was director of the resident English Stage Company who had the biggest influence on him and he looked back on his two years as an assistant director at the Royal Court as his “university” before he embarked on his own brilliant career.

When he was Bill's assistant at the age of 21, he remembered a conversation between the 35 year old Tony Richardson had with the 33 year old Bill and said it was the best thing he'd ever heard about the theatre : "Bill was doing all these plays with Edward Bond - not making any money and Tony used to say : "The trouble with you Bill is you've no idea about the politics of showbusiness or the mechanics of success" and that's true". Reflecting on this 46 years later he said : "I knew a wee bit about it and Tony knew all about it. "The politics of showbusiness and the mechanics of success". I thought : 'That's fucking magic' and I was there in Bill's office when he said it".

* * * * * * * * * 

And making it all worthwhile : my Tweet :

and your Replies :

Tim Appelbee : Thank you. A fine article. I was lucky enough to glean some learning from Bill Gaskill and Jane Howell….

roomtobreathe VA : Oh that is lovely,  thanks for sharing!

Paul Chahidi : That's wonderful - thank you, John.

Julien Allen : Thanks John, that’s very interesting.

ruthmedia : Thanks so much. That is marvellous

Jo Abbot : How truly lovely. Evocative too for those of us brought up working class in those times.

Ian Burdon : Thank you. I enjoyed reading that.

Allan Wilson : Thanks for this - very interesting!

Neil Cooper : Fantastic stuff, John. Thank you.

Julie Sanders : Thanks for sharing. That’s great.

Lorna Simes : Brilliant. Thanks so much for sharing.

Brigid Larmour : Wonderful evocation of the life and times of the late, great Bill Bryden

Ian Brown : Very interesting - thank you. Took touring shows to Greenock Arts Guild when I was at TAG

Keith Knight : Thanks John, that’s very interesting. 

Morris Bright MBE : Thanks John. That's lovely.

Badger : That is an excellent piece John. Where did you get your inspiration from?
"The politics of showbusiness and the mechanics of success".

anne liebeck : Very good piece! Golden Days indeed.What a one-off BB was.

Professor Ian Welsh : Good read. Have sent it on.

OfficialTracieBennett : Oh this is wonderful. Thank you so much John.

Elizabeth Karr : Thank you I did enjoy this and I’m going to share it with some friends who knew and loved him too.

Siobhan Synnot : Excellent account of young Bill Bryden by John Cooper


Thursday, 6 January 2022

Britain says "Goodbye" to the much-loved, brave and remarkable Radio and Television Journalist with a zest for life called Gary Burgess

Page views : 169

Gary, who has died at the age of 46, succumbed to his cancer at Jersey Hospice on New Year's Day, after having forged a successful 29 year career as a broadcaster in both radio and television. He invigorated everything he did with his tremendous and infectious joie de vivre, including the way he faced up to and dealt with his terminal diagnosis. 
He was born the son of Linda and Kenneth in the market town of Bury on the outskirts of Manchester in the Autumn of 1975 and was brought up in, as he himself said : "One of those very boring 2.4 children families, in your classic two up, two down". It was here where he recalled : "The first naughty thing I remember being scolded for was going into the back garden and projecting my brother out of his pram by grabbing the handle as hard as I can and catapulting him across the lawn". 

In 1982, when he was seven, the family moved from Manchester to South Africa "Because of my Dad's job at the time and for me my education was quite different because most of the students were born in South Africa. They could speak both English and and Afrikaans, so their second language, the equivalent of learning French in England, was to learn Zulu. I remember 'sawubona thisha', which is 'good morning teacher'. My second language lesson was actually Afrikaans with Miss Ealey. There were just three of us in the class, where we had to learn 'baie dankie' ('thank you very much') and 'tots eens' ('goodbye'). We still used chalk and slates to write our lessons down on rather than exercise books". 

The policy of Apartheid operated in South Africa until the 1990s and so all the pupils in his school were white. Friends later said that witnessing the institutionalized inequality of Apartheid at such a young age may have, as a journalist, cemented his desire to question the status quo and stand up for those who could not stand up for themselves.

Clearly, the move to South Africa had been a wrench and he recalled that : "My friends had gone; the climate was different; the visual landscape was different, but in the back ground was this box playing the radio. My first memory was that every morning the weather forecast ended with the temperature being 29 degrees. It was always 29 degrees. I don't know whether that was true or not, but this consistency of hearing this message coming out of the radio and then the first song I remember was actually a couple of years later it was 1984 - Queen and 'Radio Ga Ga' (link) and its a song to this day transports me back to being this 8 year old in South Africa in the back garden in the sunshine listening to the radio. Suddenly all was well with the world". 

When he was ten in 1985, the family moved back to Britain and settled in Blackpool where his grandparents lived. He said : "I went from primary school to secondary school and it was really at that point that my love affair with radio was cemented. One of my earliest memories is to lay there under the duvet in my bed with my bedside clock radio. This slightly dirty, cream looking clock radio, the red digital clock displayed, but then the analogue tuner and at night as you're tuning along the dial, from this crackle, suddenly, this voice came out of the ether and it was Allan Beswick doing the 'Late Night Phone In' on Red Rose Radio. I'd never heard anything like it in my life".(link)

At the age of eleven Gary moved to Montgomery High School in Bispham and said that at school he was "one of those ridiculously studious pupils who kind of got it immediately, but didn't really try too hard. I was the first in the class to understand long division. I was the one helping the other students out with their fractions and observing what was going on around me and I wonder if that set me up as the sort of person I became ?"

Gary recalled : "There was one teacher at school who effectively set me up for life in terms of media, who I've actually stayed in touch with over the years". Gary was in the first cohort of Mrs Anderton's Media Studies class and had set up the school radio station. In 2020 he said :"She celebrated her 80th birthday a couple of years ago and it was one of the privileges of my life to be able to go back for that reunion and really reflect on what a difference one person can make to another's life".


Needless to say he said : "My parents were devastated that their son, who had these grand ambitions in life, was instead wanting to work on the radio". Having left school at the age of 17, he got a job helping out as the teaboy on the overnight show of 'Radio Wave' which had opened in Blackpool in 1992. He recalled : "I was there from one in the morning to seven in the morning and at seven in the morning went to work in a call centre during the day".

He looked back with affection at his early days : "Radio Wave was based in the upstairs ceiling void of a party accessory room on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Blackpool. It overlooked the train line by Leyton Station. There was a brickies over the road, there was a tile warehouse. It was as unshowbiz as you could get. However, when you went through the doors of reception and up the staircase where there were some gold discs on the wall and you went in to the main office area and you saw the car stickers and all the promotional material for the radio station. From day one there was a real buzz of excitement in the air that people in Blackpool wanting to create something for Blackpool and Blackpool has aspirations of being as showbiz of Las Vegas. In reality it isn't quite like that, but it's great to aspire to. But, my word, it tried to spread the sparkle wherever it went with its road shows, with its presenter appearances, with its entirely unorthodox approach to the output of the radio station. It reacted to what the listeners wanted from day one and melded and changed and developed over time to truly reflect the quirks of Blackpool".

Within a short space of time Gary moved from teaboy to hosting his first show. He was still only 17 years old and he "was as nervous as hell. It was a time when about 75% of the music was on vinyl, about 25% was on CDs the CD players had a knack of skipping. The jingles were played out of of DCS that was the playout system at the time and there was me, this teenager, in a studio on my own with this mixing desk which appeared to be bigger than I was, suddenly attached to the transmitter that was, literally, attached to the top of Blackpool Tower. It was exciting, but bit was also terrifying and of all the songs I could have started with, the Programme Controller said : "You can pick any song in the world. You can have a free choice, first song" and I still, to this day, have no idea why I chose Chicory Tip - 'Son of my Father', mainly because I like the intro of the song".(link)

Gary was clearly attuned to Blackpool which he saw was : "A desperately poor town where there is this veneer of this 'holiday golden mile - kiss me quick- candy floss excitement'. Scratch behind that veneer, there is an awful lot of poverty. There are and awful lot of problems and there still are to this day. At the time, back in the early 90s was no different. So the idea, suddenly of this town having its own radio station, by people from its own town, broadcast from its own town, talking about its own town, suddenly created a disproportionate amount of interest". 

He recalled : "Within a few years, this job came up in the newsroom. So I suddenly developed that overnight interest in the news and I practiced speaking a little bit deeper and I applied to be a journalist in the newsroom and I got the job. It was my first time on the pay roll and the job came with a very low salary. I think it was barely over £10,000, but it was bumped up by the inclusion of a company vehicle". The vehicle in question turned out to be an outside broadcast truck. "It was a  huge Renault van with the aerial and mast on on the roof that was entirely impractical" and Gary went back to getting the bus.

Gary continued to move forward at the station and over the course of the following years he moved back into programming, presenting the 'Afternoon Show' and then the 'Breakfast Show' and "within 9 years of joining the radio station I was the Programme Controller - suddenly in charge of the output of this wonderful radio station, that still to this day means so much to me".

Gary found that this was : "A chance to think outside the box. To think how can we do things differently ? So why don't why don't we take our evening show out every night onto the Golden Mile and make it up as we go along and reflect the excitement of the illuminations ? And suddenly our evening shows were called 'The illuminations Specials'.  Just one example of necessity being the mother of invention. It was also where I got to do things where you would never expect to be able to do a broadcast live : From zip wire a rope, strung from the top of Blackpool Tower, 517 feet high going right down, over the Promenade over the electric wire that powered the tramway. I remember having this radio mic and gaffer tape on my hand so I wouldn't drop it. It probably wouldn't pass the risk assessment these days, but if you ever wanted 2 minutes of someone screaming out loud, in a force 9 gale, well that's exactly what we achieved that day". 

"For me, one abiding memory is at the time setting a world record for the longest breakfast show - 76 hours. I started at 6 o'clock on a Friday morning. I finished at 10 o'clock on the following Monday morning and over the course of that weekend we raised tens of thousands towards a local cancer unit that was being built. Cracking radio. By the end of it, absolutely knackered but it ticked all those boxes of : engaging with the audience; of them caring about what you were doing, but also of being able to make a difference in the community in a truly tangible way". 

In 1999, at the age of 24, Gary was diagnosed with testicular cancer which had spread, but after a course of successful chemotherapy, he said that "all was well with the world".

In 2001, at the age of 26, the Wireless Group, who were the owners of Radio Wave gave him the opportunity to move to Warrington to work in the radio station, 'Wire FM', based in an old school building on the outskirts of town where Chris Evans had once been a pupil. He recalled : "It was there that I presented the afternoon show and programmed the radio station and it was my first chance to go into a radio station as the Programmer. In the years gone by at Radio Wave, of course, to some I was always the teaboy done good". In his new management role, ne made the mistake of sending out too many memos until he was given some honest feedback which made him realise, as he said : "Managing is not about processes. It's about people". 

He was next moved to Scotland where the Wireless Group had a radio station called 'Q96' which broadcast to Paisley and Renfrewshire which had stopped serving the audience it was licensed to serve. He said : "The Radio Authority picked up on this issued a 'yellow card' warning and my job was to get on the train go to Glasgow, which is where the studio was based and effectively shut down and restart this radio station in 5 days. Its exactly what I did at the time they rebranded it as 'QFM' " He "turned the radio station into a really 'local' radio station that loved and cherished and shouted about its area".  Two weeks later the Radio Authority remonitored the radio station and recognized the dramatic transformation. Gary said : "We' given back the local radio station to those whose radio station it was. I was so proud of that". 

About 6 months after turning around 'QFM'  he accepted the offer from 'BBC Radio Guernsey' to join it as its Breakfast Presenter and Programme Director. He said : "From working in commercial radio newsrooms and doing these 3 minute bulletins on the hour, with short clips, I was suddenly presenting this three hour, all speech, breakfast show, albeit in a small radio station in a small island, but this is an island with its own government. So effectively it is national radio for the island and you are interviewing government ministers, the Chief Minister - effectively the Prime Minister and opposition members of the parliament as well. It was a steep learning curve, but very interestingly. My forensic mind my lawyerly mind from my school days, suddenly came into its own, like never before and I developed a reputation for quite forensic, precise interviewing, where every word of every answer from that minister mattered. I'd be listening to pick up on the nuance or the wiggle room in their answers and this was something that hadn't really been done in the same way at the radio station. It wasn't quite : "What would you like to tell us minister ? But there definitely there wasn't a culture of having a go, of holding them to account and I felt that was my obligation as the breakfast presenter on this public service broadcaster. And, my word, it made people sit up and take notice".

Gary said : "A few years into my time at BBC Radio Guernsey,  across the corridor  in the same building was ITV Channel Television and they said : "There's a job as reporter coming up. Are you interested ?" Gary declined because of his "passion" for radio and the fact that "the immediacy of radio trumped television". On the third occasion they asked, he said there was a : "Niggle in my mind which said : "You might regret it if you don't try it". 

Gary found that : "TV was a whole new world for me. It was daunting. A bit like radio does, it had its own internal language and jargon that I didn't understand in my early days". When he started he "was effectively presenting radio reports with pictures painted over the top" which didn't work. He learned that : "television is picture led and you use the voice over sparingly not to describe what the viewer has  seen, because the viewer has seen it, but you use your voice over to add context and understanding to those pictures".

He said : "One of things I learned for myself early on was to treat the television camera in exactly the same way I treat the microphone in the radio studio. I've always treated the microphone in the studio as a good friend. So I'm always talking on a one-to-one basis. I also automatically know if I need to add an explanation around a person or a subject". He said he needed to make sure he was talking to just one person when "talking down the barrel of the camera". He also developed the habit of occasionally looking away from the camera. "When I'm delivering live six o'clock news, I would just glance away quite naturally into the middle distance, because its how we all talk to each other and it just feels much more natural. So I talk to the camera as a friend, but I also just glance away from time to time to make it feel the most natural thing in the world".

In 2015 it was found that cancer tumours from 5 years ago had returned to Gary's lungs. However, after their removal with surgery, once again he said that "all was well with the world". Unfortunately, he said that in : "2017 I suddenly became, very quickly, unwell. I was barely able to function. I couldn't think straight. I couldn't see straight. All my mojo had been removed". Off work, it took 286 days for Gary to be given the diagnosis of 'Myalgic Encephalomyelitis', known as 'ME', it was a variant of chronic fatigue syndrome. 

He recalled : "Some days I would have no more energy than to go to the bathroom and do my ablutions and go back to bed". Gary had suicidal thoughts about how he might end his life and said that it was :"A very dark time in my life and one where that inner reserve of resilience was used like never before. Every last drop was need to get through that time".

After 18 months he said he was : "Able to work one day a week and began back at ITV News doing a couple of shifts a week and it was a joy to be back because I was getting me back. Back doing the job I loved and over time these two shifts eventually became three shifts and that was my limit". In his personal life Gary and his husband Alan, who met in 2014, held their civil partnership in March 2018 and were first to convert to a same-sex marriage when the law changed in July that year. 

Then in 2019 Gary's cancer returned and he had to undergo : "What is called 'salvage chemotherapy'. In effect 'last chance saloon chemotherapy'. It had spread all around the area between my heart and lungs. It was grueling three months of chemotherapy - hair falling, out projectile vomiting". However,the tumours shrank and he was able to return to work, just at the start of the pandemic. Then : "A few months later, a scan showed the tumours had come back and the situation was as bad as it could be. In November 2020, the oncologist breaking the news to me that there was no treatment left ana I had 6 to 12 months to live". "Nothing prepares you for that moment where the oncologist, who in normal times would be sitting face to face with you, but because of this pandemic, was on a video call on my iphone, was breaking the news to you that the cancer was back that there wasn't a treatment available and its entirely possible I am now living the final year of my life". 

He said : "Receiving that news is followed by this strange emptiness. This silence. My husband Alan and I sitting on the settee, collapsing into each others arms. Crying our hearts out. That whole body shaking cry, like you've cried before and very quickly you realise there are practical thing you have to do". One of those thing was to tell his father by phone and said : "To have to ring your dad, to break the news to your dad, that his son may be dead in the next 6 to 12 months is one of the cruelest things I've done in my life. It's the only time I've heard my dad cry. It is one the hardest things I've ever had to do and it really brought home to me how cruel this last year has been for so many people a story that I'd been reporting on as a journalist and tried to show empathy. Suddenly I had this understanding beyond imagination to the real time, real life consequences."

Gary was : "Very clear from the start that I didn't want the return of my cancer, my 6 to 12 months diagnosis, to be 'the elephant in the room'. I was very keen to talk about it. So I shared it with my friends. I wrote a blogpost ( Gary's Chemo Diary : link ) that got shared all over the place and quite overwhelming, to deal with all of a sudden, these thousands of messages from friends and strangers near and far".

In the post he published the day after he was told the terminal news, he wrote : 'Hearing you're going to die is odd. It's a strange other worldly experience, to think there may only be one more birthday, one more Christmas, one more wedding anniversary. I'm not dying. I'm living. It's just that I've got less of it to do so my obligation is to make it matter more'.

Gary was keen to share his story and said :"I'd been gifted the opportunity to tell this story of what happens in the final months because I think there is still this taboo around death and so I wanted to make it as easy for my friends and family and other people as well to talk to me about it. But also very quickly to make them realize that life has to go on". 

He said : "I don't want to spend everyday moping. I've been gifted the opportunity, indeed the obligation to spend every day living in the most wonderful full colour way I can and that includes all the ordinary stuff. If you can't think of the right thing to say, get in touch and tell me you can't think of the right thing to say, because that 'is' the right thing to say and is the start of the ability to have that conversation".

Gary, who in 2021 was nominated as 'Journalist of the Year' at the prestigious Royal Television Awards and awarded the rarely presented 'Silver Seal of Guernsey' by the island's Bailiff in the same year. As a columnist for the Jersey Evening Post was also named 'Community Champion of the Year' in the Pride of Jersey Awards. He continued to work until August in that year said : "I genuinely feel like the luckiest person on the planet. I've been gifted this awful news about my own health, but I've been gifted such clarity about the road ahead. If people can look back over my life and indeed, in my dying days if I can look back over my life and think : "D'you know what burgess. On reflection, you were a good person and you made a difference. I'll take that". 

In a statement written for release after his death and published by ITV, Gary wrote :

'It's time for me to hand over my microphone and keyboard for others to do the talking about me, so let my final words simply be 'thank you'. Every person in my life has, in their own way, helped me live my best life. That'll do'.

ITV News Channel Television paid him this fulsome tribute.

* * * * * * * * * * 

In grateful thanks to Gary's 2020 podcast on 'RADIO MOMENTS Conversations' which I recommend as a lasting testimony to his life, work and character and without which this post would not have been possible.

On a personal note, much of what Gary said about his illness resonated with me. Five years ago, having been diagnosed with Stage 3 bladder cancer, my initial reaction was similar to Gary's. I underwent a course of chemotherapy, nowhere near as grueling as Gary's, to shrink the tumours. Then, in a five and half hour operation, my bladder was removed and part of my colon to create a stoma linked to my kidneys. Since then, I have had clear CT scans on a yearly basis.