The Guy with the X-Factor
I first met Gary back in 1975 when HMK were signed to Atlantic Records. I was a director of Atlantic Records advertising agency and we worked closely with Dave Dee. We did a photo shoot for the band and I met Gary for the first time. Although I was a "suit" he and I got on well. We lost contact when HMK moved to Micky Most's RAK Records and I didn’t meet him again until 1980, although I had followed the band's career. It was pure coincidence that by then I was involved with Continental Records in Norway and Gary had teamed up with Casino Steel who we represented.
About a year after that we took over Gary’s management and I spent a lot more time with him.There were definitely two sides to Gary. The guy with the "X factor" when "X" still meant seriously good, the showman extrovert. He played the "cheeky chappy" in public, a bit "Jack the Lad". In private he was a surprisingly well read and quieter individual. Outwardly he displayed a supreme confidence in his own abilities but in the beginning he demanded a lot of himself. He was a perfectionist in the studio. Inwardly he sometimes expressed doubts about his abilities and like many talented people was occasionally insecure.
The release and success of "Ruby" gave him great pleasure. It was ground breaking at the time and we had labelled it Punk Country although it soon became the genre "Rig Rock" (as in oil rig). He was proud of everything he did in Norway and he and Cas put a lot of effort into the four chart topping albums we released there. "Ruby" is a favourite of mine as is "People in Love". The track I still play regularly in the car is "That's How The Story Goes". For his own later recordings it was obviously with Casino and the band. Norwegian musicians are a very talented bunch and he appreciated their professionalism as well as the fact that they know how to have fun on tour!!!
Gary also had a great respect and regard for Kirsty McColl with whom he had worked in UK and would have been proud to think that other successful frontmen regarded him as an influence on them. For all his larger than life exterior he could be remarkably modest and it is unlikely that he would have criticised anybody, but would almost certainly have commented on the fact that few have had the sort of learning curve that he did. Personally I would certainly wonder if in 30 years time any of them will have the sort of loyal following he still has.
Gary loved his family and close friends and spent time with them when he could. He didn’t relax easily but enjoyed spending time in Norway or on the occasional holiday in Spain. The early 80’s were a very busy time for him with all the success in Scandinavia and the filming of "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet". With the first series Gary handled the fame the show brought him very well. His character was extremely popular and so was Gary. As a result was asked to do all sorts of personal appearances and interviews. He also did a great series of humorous beer commercials. He loved the recognition, the fun that went with it and also the good that he was able to use his fame for to benefit others. It was different for series 2. Prior to the start he had admitted his drug addiction to us and we had been working very hard with him to help him to kick his habit. He worked incredibly hard to beat his problems and wanted an opportunity to tell his fans his story as a warning. Unfortunately, when the punishing film schedule started there were other issues and we also found we were contractually bound to a ‘No individual publicity’ clause. Only stories approved by the studio were to be allowed. We had to put on hold the negotiations we were holding with a major national paper to publish his life story. The various pressures built up and the rest is history. In the end his fame became a curse that was used against him.
I still laugh at an incident in Spain when we were filming the second "Auf" series. The days shooting included scenes with a new convertible Bentley. Everybody was on the location site except the director and producer who were keeping everybody hanging about. The car, complete with chauffeur, was sitting doing nothing. Gary told the chauffeur he needed cigarettes and would he drive him to get some. That was the last we saw of Gary or the car for almost two hours. He had been swanning around Marbella, top down, shades on, dressed in character and getting the "star" treatment everywhere he went. He eventually came back happy and laughing despite the severe telling off he was given. It seems strange now to think that only a few weeks later he would be dead. From day one of the original script readings for "Auf" Pat Roach and Gary formed a friendship. Who can say what the chemistry was, but the friendship was real. In a way Pat became a big brother, confidant, and supporter of him. It was a mutual thing. They were both positive normally happy people who just ‘clicked’. The only time I ever saw Pat cry was at Gary’s funeral. In future years, whenever Pat and I talked about Gary, he would always say "What a waste, what a waste".
As you can imagine, with the massive success of "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet", the world had opened up for Gary in many ways. We had a new recording contract in the UK with Magnet Records and were in the studio between filming. Scandinavia was still big for him and I had a number of script ideas on my desk that had been sent for his consideration. And of course the "Auf" series would continue, sadly without him. On the personal front he had plans for the drugs charity and other charity work. Gary was an incredibly generous person with his time and would frequently accept invitations to support some charitable cause or another. We regularly had to change his schedule because he had promised to visit a hospital or special needs school. It was a very private part of his life, but one that gave him tremendous satisfaction.
I specifically remember one occasion when I had mentioned to him that an acquaintance of mine was fund raising for a unit for children with learning difficulties and had asked if it was possible to have an autographed photo or album sleeve for their charity auction. He signed a couple of items and casually asked me when I needed them. On the day of the event he called me and said he needed to get to the studio north of London and please could I collect him and drive him there. I explained that I would need to be back in time for a commitment I had and he said he would be happy for me to collect him early and he would find his own way back. When he got in the car he was carrying a bag that he put on the back seat. As we approached Elstree he said "You can forget the studio, I’m coming with you to the auction". It would be hard for me to describe the delight and happiness on the faces of the kids, the families and supporters when he walked in with his bag containing an assortment of T-shirts, albums and photographs signed by the "Auf Wiedersehen" team.
That was Gary. He loved surprising people. He didn’t want a lot of fuss, but knew that his presence meant a lot. Gary had a sign off, almost his ID, that I heard so many hundreds of times during the years I worked with him. It was the last thing that he had said to me over the ‘phone the day before he died...
"CATCH YA LATER".
*My special thanks go to John for taking time to speak to me*