Monday, June 07, 2004

I offer up to you this tribute. I offer up to you this tank park salute.

Today I heard of the death of an old colleague.

I haven't seen Roger in seven or eight years and yet it was still a shock. He was quite the most extraordinary character I have ever met. My life was better for knowing him.

I first met this man when, at 20 years of age, I got my first journalism job on a weekly free sheet. He worked out of the same office as me, writing for another weekly in the same group.

In many ways the job could have been seen as something of a come down for him. In his time he had been one of the sixties' beautiful people, mixing with the stars from the Beatles to Elvis, from Liz Taylor to Dean Martin. As showbiz editor of Titbits he had been a bit of a jet setter. But he applied the same efforts to his current post and, while his nostalgic tales were frequently aired, you never felt he was disappointed by the way his life had gone.

He was larger than life. Imagine a slightly more camp Peter O'Toole. Very well spoken, very loud and with a laugh that would turn heads from hundreds of yards away.

His paradox was that while he was always very different, he could get on with anybody. He was much loved by all. Roger was a drinker and during my time working with him I accompanied him to various, less-than-exclusive, watering holes. As a young, eminently middle class, fearful hack I was often concerned about my own safety. At first, even more so, because I felt that this loud, camp individual would surely bring us unwanted attention.

He almost always did become the centre of attention. Yet he managed to charm everyone. From local hardmen to old grannies, everyone loved him. He didn't really fit in anywhere, yet everybody accepted him. He lived in the Teams area of Gateshead. A pretty rough patch but Roger never had a moment's bother.

Our work local was the now departed Barley Mow in Gateshead. I drove to work in my battered old Ford Fiesta but most nights the car would remain in the pub car park as I was talked into yet another session.

Although I look back at the pub with fondness, what I remember most about it was the smell. A heady mix of old chip fat and lager. It being Roger's second home, he too had more than a whiff of the Barley Mow about him. For him, every night was a party, every lunchtime was three pints long.

On each payday he would cash his pay cheque and hand over the money to the Barley Mow. In return they would keep his pint glass filled. The landlady, Sue would also mother Roger a bit. If he looked a bit unwell then she would enquire as to when he had last eaten. Sometimes it would be two or three day earlier. She would cook him something and make him sit down and eat it.

The Barley Mow remains the only pub I have ever frequented that would have my "usual" waiting for me on the bar when I entered. My usual of course being chip fat-flavoured lager. Roger would hold court amongst the regulars and every night was a lock in. Something that impressed me no end.

There were some raucous evenings. I remember one time when the whole place was jam packed at one am and singing along to the jukebox. It was "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" by Dawn, as I recall. It was a comical sight. Roger was conducting us all, bringing in various groups of regulars for each verse and chorus. Then he would command us to "take it down a bit" and we'd whisper the next couple of lines, quietly clicking our fingers like some cheesy cabaret act.

More recently my dealings with Roger have been in my PR capacity. More often than not I would send him press releases with a shamefully short email. Roger would always try his hardest to get me best coverage possible.

I read in the papers that his current local has replaced his barstool with lilies. Elsewhere tributes from publicans to hardnosed hacks have labeled him a "true gent" and a "beautiful man".

Roger was a beautiful person. He drank too much. He smoked too much. He stropped out of the office on numerous occasions, but he was beautiful.

He was accepted for what he was by everyone. He was loved by everyone.

He will be missed by all.


Love, light and peace,

BykerSink

I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.