I’ve been the National Playwright in Residence for LGBT History Month since 2014. I have written some history plays and I have commissioned other people to write them. We’ve dealt with a police raid on a drag ball in 1880, the scandal created in Bristol by Georgian sodomy trials and the reanimated corpse of a forgotten trans pioneer. We’ve never dealt with anything like Ray Gosling.
Ray Gosling chaired a meeting entitled ‘Homosexuals & Civil Liberty’ in Burnley Central Library on 30th July 1971 at 8pm. The local press comment on how well he chaired a confrontational meeting at which the atmosphere was described as ‘electric’. This meeting is now becoming viewed as the birth of the civil rights movement for gay men in Britain. And I’m dramatising it in a new play called, ‘The Burnley Buggers’ Ball’. So, I have to find Ray’s voice.
Dramatising something that is in living memory is new ground for LGBT History Month. I can talk to people who remember the meeting, people who were at the meeting, and even, in one case, people who actually spoke at the meeting. I can’t speak to Ray though. But there is a wonderful legacy to draw from, the documentaries, the radio programmes and, of course, this archive. Ray’s papers in relation to the meeting and his diary for the period have been provided (by the wonderful Clare Tebbutt), perused and duly considered. I even have a member of the cast who met Ray. She was a big fan of his work and when she approached him and was unable to focus her appreciation into specific adjectives in relation to specific programmes, was witheringly dismissed by Ray in a textbook example of how not to respond to a fan.
After many hours listening to him present material, I have to say, of varied quality, I’m struck by several things, conclusions of my own that form the characterisation of the Ray that I have written. He was very principled and cared about ordinary people. He didn’t suffer fools at all and always thought he knew best, even when he palpably didn’t. He was a bit of a blagger and a lot of a visionary. He probably wasn’t very easy to like, but he would be someone you respected, someone who would teach you valuable life lessons, someone you would always remember. His judgment may have been off sometimes and he may have drunk too much, but there’s a fire, a kind of nobility and a strong instinct for what’s important in life and what’s at the core of people. That’s the Ray I’ve written anyway. I think I’ve chimed some of the right notes at least, and I hope that readers of this blog will come the performances to judge for yourselves.
‘The Burnley Buggers’ Ball’ is performed as part of a double-bill with ‘Burnley’s Lesbian Liberator’ for LGBT History Month 2017. Performances at Burnley Central Library are 18th and 25th of Feb 2017 at 12 noon and 2pm, lasting around 80 minutes. Tickets are FREE and available on Eventbrite. The showcase performance is at the Martin Harris Centre, Manchester on 24th Feb at 7.30pm. Tickets are £8/£5 concession on the door or at http://ow.ly/DTWK307a4S8. A final free performance is at Bluecoat in Liverpool on 4th March at 5.30pm, tickets again through Eventbrite. Updates on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using @stephenmhornby @inkbrew and/or #burnleyplays