When I was at the Brighton Colour out of Space festival recently (see below - too tired to post more links!), I received a phone call to inform me that my dear friend Mervyn Gould had died from a heart attack a couple of days before, linked apparently to his diabetes problems. I had only spoken to him on the Tuesday that week and taken a rain check (a phrase he would have hated! - 'An Americanism, dear boy!') on meeting him the next day because I was busy. We agreed to convene on my return to the manor... this was not to be... Up until today I have not felt up to the task of writing about such a larger than life, irascible yet lovable, loyal, smart, wonderfully idiosyncratic person... But his passing needs a humble marker or two - at the least... Today, his friends came together for his funeral in Loughborough, vicar in attendance - as would be appropriate for Merv - yet oddly no hymns - and three wonderful eulogies were delivered that sketched out the variety, the depth and breadth of the man, his working life in theatre, academe (his years in the department he dubbed 'Stress and Trauma' - English and Drama - Tee Hee - situated on the university campus of God's Little Acre), his energetic involvement with the Mercia Film Society. Further - what stood out was the affection that people had for him... Earlier, I had a phone call from a mutual friend who could not attend the funeral due to geography and work - he sent me an email which I was supposed to read out to the assembled... Due to the circumstances of the wake this proved to be impossible - people scattered across bars and no focal point - Merv would have loved the confusion: Fair Week in Loughborough, a Beer Festival on the premises, although the landlord kindly gave us precious space on an insanely crowded day - and Friday the 13th, for the superstitious. (Include me in, to reverse Samuel Goldwyn - the succession of stupid accidents/fuckups earlier today is beyond mere statistics). But Simon's comments deserve a wider audience - they convey the essence of our friend far better than I can achieve. So here they are:
For those who know me, my profound apologies for not being here in person, since family commitments make it impossible for me to get away from Cardiff for this sad day. It was with great regret that I heard about the passing away of Mervyn Stockbridge Gould. A great leading light of the theatrical scene has gone out for good and remains forever dark. Of course, if he were here, he would be telling me off for using the word ‘light’. “It’s a lamp or a lantern, you stupid boy” would be the cry, for which misdemeanour I would almost certainly have to pay the price of the next round.I had the delightful experience of learning the technical workings of the stage under Mervyn’s tutelage at the Department of Anguish and Trauma at Loughborough University in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. I also have it on good authority that it was Mervyn himself who coined the very term, which is still in use today. I also believe he is responsible for the term ‘shabby-genteel’.
There were a couple of us who steered clear of the bitchiness and backstabbing that came with actual performance of drama and tended to take on all the technical and back stage work on a regular basis. Mervyn was always delighted when a student came forward in this way, since it freed his time up and gave him an opportunity to check on the flow levels of the hand pumps at the ESB bar.
Incidentally the ESB building at the University did have a small technical and lighting capability, which fell under Mervyn’s due care and diligence. It was on just such a mercy errand for a ‘special bulb’ with Mervyn that I discovered the ESB was the only bar on campus which still served beer from old fashioned jug handled glasses. These special bulbs required much diligent care and attention.
After university, I spent several years working as a stage lighting technician for a number of theatres including Nottingham Playhouse (which Mervyn lauded) and for a number of touring rock bands (which Mervyn derided as “new –fangled skiffle”). I would not have done this were it not for his support and guidance, and the all important three-fold rule of theatrical timing:
"Never forget, Black, that there are three vitally important times in this business: Opening Time; Closing Time and with appropriate brevity in-between ‘Show Time.’"
Mervyn remains forever in our memory – a light house in a sea of mediocrities, and one who sadly must remain bright only in our memories. Please raise your special bulbs to the last and finest example of the old school.
Well - closing time appoaches and the parting glass... One of the sadder ironies that I was made aware of earlier tonight was that Mervyn had just paid off the mortgage on Gould Towers at Blackbrook Court recently and would have had consequently enjoyed a reasonable measure of financial security in his property investment. He would have had a good few bob in his pocket... if he had been spared - which was a gag we had between us, old battered bohos that we were. In a year that is marked by much personal loss, I leave it to Simon's eloquence above and the last stanza of Yeats's 'In memory of Major Robert Gregory' below which expresses my feelings better than I can, sat here high up in the beatnik hovel reclension of the poet's tower, looking at the foul weather outside, storm and rain rattling the windows, surrounded by my ghosts, calling up my dead:
I had thought, seeing how bitter is that wind
that shakes the shutter, to have brought to mind
All those that manhood tried, or childhood loved,
Or boyish intellect approved,
With some appropriate commentary on each;
Until imagination brought
A fitter welcome; but a thought
Of that late death took all my heart for speech.