Al Needham: Ray Gosling’s natural heir

Al Needham is one of the most gifted writers on the planet. His bawdy, irreverent observations of life in Nottingham have entertained listeners on BBC Radio Nottingham as well as readers of LeftLion magazine over the past decade. But like many talented writers he has the occasional pangs of self-doubt. This seems to be a particular affliction of freelancers who spend far too much time locked away in the garret peddling for work, without even a miserable Christmas do to look forward to.

When Al is not peddling for work he can be found pruning his many Bonsai trees, polishing his Golden Cock with wings (he won this for Todger Talk, the sex blog of the year), or watching episodes of Top of the Pops pre-1984. He believes that culture effectively stopped after 1984 (nothing to do with the book, telly just went rammel) so don’t be surprised to find TV Guides with Jim Bowen and Bullseye scattered around the house. He’s bought them off eBay. You’ve not entered a time portal.

Al exudes charisma and along with Andy Croft, is one of the funniest people I’ve met. Therefore he was born for the Bendigo chapter. William Abendigo Thompson was a flamboyant bareknuckle boxer who would taunt opponents with verse. He turned to prize fighting to provide for his family after the death of his father at fifteen and to save his mother from further time in the workhouse. When he retired he would turn to drink and find himself committed 28 times to the House of Correction.

Previous to Dawn of the Unread I commissioned Al to write about another hard-drinking icon of local legend, Arthur Seaton, the anti-hero of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958). This was for The Sillitoe Trail which was published on BBC/Multimedia platform The Space.. In the novel, Arthur falls down the stairs of The White Horse pub after a skinful of ale and collapses in a heap at the bottom. I was interested in how Arthur would perceive modern day Nottingham, if, on awakening with a sore head, he found himself in the murky present. Al captured this beautifully in four short essays.

James Walker, Adrian Reynolds, Al Needham and Rikki Marr at an editorial meeting on Valentine's Day...hence the prop.

James Walker, Adrian Reynolds, Al Needham and Rikki Marr at an editorial meeting on Valentine’s Day…hence the prop.

In addition to this he also wrote an extended piece about his life story told through pubs. He visited the pubs of his youth, many of which had been frequented by previous generations of his family, and discovered that nearly all of them from the past 21 years had disappeared; becoming Tescos, playing fields, carpet shops and flats. It was an incredibly moving piece that showed how quickly the symbols of his life – the 18th birthday, the wedding reception, the wakes – had been completely eradicated.

This led to a similar commission with Inside Out which is broadcast tonight (BBC1 7.30pm, 17 February 2014) where Al examines the role of pubs in binding communities together. If you watch this short documentary you’ll notice Al’s ability to engage with ordinary people, make them smile, and getting them to talk about things that are important to them. It is a quality that has long since been missing on the screen since the passing of Ray Gosling, of whom Al is his natural heir. I just hope that some commissioning editor out there recognises this because it would be absolutely criminal to let his talent rot, though I’m sure the Bonsai tress won’t complain…

For Dawn of the Unread, Al Needham and Rikki Marr will be bringing Bendigo back to life for a fight with Carl Froch in the spirit of DC Comics Superman vs Muhammad Ali (1978) The chapter is released on 8 October 2014 



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