Angharad 24 was lucky enough to hear from Xavier, a friend of Michael’s, who got to know him pretty well during the late eighties.

Xavier and the others in his group – all now professional musicians – were about 20 years younger than Michael. Michael was very happy to find a younger generation so interested in jazz and blues, and they became friends. He seemed to enjoy the company of younger people, and they enjoyed his.

Michael was a really very nice bloke, who was generous and open most of the time. He was not at all egotistical; rather Xavier thought him self-effacing, and burdened by self-doubt, which probably had a detrimental effect on his career.

When they first met, Xavier had never heard of him, and was only told that he had been in films such as “For Your Eyes Only” and “The Devils” by the others. Michael never spoke much about his films, and didn’t name-drop, though he had acted with some of the best-known actors of the century. He did express frustration at being offered ‘hit-man’ roles, and hoped he would be given a chance to get out of them, but said, ‘nobody wanted me.’

Xavier felt sure that playing a part well meant more to Michael than money or fame.

He loved music and just wanted to learn more. He played saxophone and drums well, but even in music, Mike would have moments where he would say “Oh, I’m no good at this.” Xavier thought he was self-taught, because he would ask for help with reading difficult music.

The whole group loved “Some Like it Hot”, and Michael thought that Marilyn Monroe was a great actress.

He had around three different girlfriends in the years 1989 – 92. He said he wouldn’t have minded marriage but did not want children. Unfortunately, most of the girls he’d been with had wanted them. He liked children, but had no ‘paternal feelings.’

Once, a young female punk walked into the bar where they were meeting, and drank out of a bottle. Michael asked why women thought they had to dress up and behave like men to get liberated, and said these young women didn’t know they were born! His grandmother and mother had lived very hard lives, but they came through it and bettered themselves while retaining their femininity. “My mother always made sure that she dressed nicely and kept her appearance and femininity throughout” (or words to that effect). Nevertheless, Xavier thought Michael was definitely in favour of equality.

Michael had a fierce hatred of Thatcher. He was a champion of the working classes, and Xavier thinks he would have voted Labour.

Xavier and the others knew of Michael’s depression. He told them he could go for weeks on end just not wanting to join the rest of the world, and that at one time he’d had to drop out of a project in the early stages, because he just couldn’t force himself to go to the studio. He also said that making and listening to music soothed him.

Xavier was out of the country and hadn’t seen Michael for about a year when he heard of his death. The whole group were very upset.
Former girlfriend N.B. mentioned that during the time she was with him, 1984 - 87, Michael had jammed with fellow musicians, including Clive Bell.

In answer to my questions about these times, Clive had this to say:

"For about a year or so, Mike, myself, and a few others, used to meet for jam sessions, where we attempted to play jazz; it was very amateurish. We never played outside the
house.

Mike used to play the sax, and sometimes the flute, while I played the piano.

Later, Mike found other more experienced or professional musicians, and for a while even studied jazz with the bass player Peter Ind. But after our first brief moments we never played music together again, although we were friends, and remained so until his death."
The following piece was added to ‘Wikipedia talk’ on 17 November 2011 at 13:53 by someone calling themselves The Runewriter - evidently a Swedish person, sex unknown.

A lot of what they say about Michael is accurate, and not widely known, so The Runewriter had clearly met him, and got to know him. Michael’s former girlfriend N.B. thinks the person might be a Swedish woman called Kerstin, who was living at Michael’s house in Shirlock Road in 1984.

However, some of what The Runewriter says cannot be confirmed.

“In the spring of 1984, Michael Gothard came to Stockholm to stage a minor role in a film called ‘Starman’, where he was originally cast for the title role. However, due to some intrigues, he was replaced by Jeff Bridges.

In the film you can see that the mechanical dolls, supposed to show the Starman taking the shape of a human being, are based on Michael Gothard’s traits. He would have been perfect to embody this alienated personality trying to survive by adapting to the life on earth.

Instead he was to stage a researcher in wheelchair. Anyway the film a year later was promoted with Michael Gothard’s name in capital letters, as if he still was playing one of the leading characters.1

So he had a lot of hours off in Stockholm and went to a performance of ‘King Lear’ staged by Ingmar Bergman at the Dramatic Theatre.2

Michael Gothard was an intellectual man who knew his Shakespeare by heart, and probably he was the only one in the film team who bothered to attend a theatre performance in Swedish. I happened to sit behind him and got the whole story about ‘Starman’, and it really astonished me.

I visited Michael Gothard in London, and learned to know him as a warm, intelligent and humorous character that made original remarks and comments about things going on.

I will never forget what he said about the centre of Stockholm, that used to be a place with old houses – among them palaces from the 17th and 18th centuries. When Michel saw the brutal city renewal from the 70s he would go: "I didn't think Sweden was in the war!" I had to inform him that the stupid Swedes had destroyed their city.

Talking about war, Michael told me he had suffered through the Blitz as many other Londoners, but during those – also to grown-ups scaringly dark years – he was parted from his parents.

Michael Gothard, although working for the commercial film industry, was a culturally critical person, he was a member of the peace movement, he was against nuclear power and politically leftist.

A film he recommended to me from those times was ‘My Dinner with Andre’, not interesting for its camerawork, but for its way of explaining the social situations of actors.

He told me that he in the beginning of his career had been offered a job at RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), and I asked why he hadn't tried this, and I must say I never really understood his answer; it was something about not repeating yourself.
But I thought film actors had to repeat the scenes all the time ...

Before Michael Gothard chose to work with his language as an actor, he had also volunteered as journalist at local papers.3

He was a witty and funny letter writer.

Michael Gothard was a multi-talented person, he played the saxophone, he was also sketching what I remember as abstract pictures, and he closely followed his times, describing himself as a news addict.

Coming from a country famous for its suicides, I also want to add, that of course the cause of death throws its shadow on a person’s life, but it doesn't mean that the life itself was a very dark one. At least Michael and I had a lot of fun together, and I wish our friendship had lasted longer.

What also bothers me are some stories about the less serious parts of the film industry Michael told me. He said actors could sometimes get killed and their death then masked as a suicide or an accident, so they wouldn't have to pay the actor.

Anyway, if he took his life it wasn't an action against us that loved him, it was due to very sad and tragic circumstances. Depression is a disease with as big a risk of death as some severe forms of cancer, and it has to be treated by specialists, sometimes even in hospital. What a tragedy that there was no one there to take him by the hand and lead him to the hospital.”

~~

1 While the mechanical bodies could be said to look like Michael, there is no sign of him in the film. Either his role was cut completely, or there has been a misunderstanding or misremembering by The Runewriter. I can find no trace of Michael Gothard’s name on the Swedish poster for “Starman.”

However, Michael was said to have been in the frame for two other roles in “Lifeforce”: those of the hero, Col. Tom Carlsen (eventually played by Steve Railsback) and Col. Colin Caine (eventually played by Peter Firth) before he was eventually cast as Dr. Bukovsky.

As they posted this many years later, it seems possible that The Runewriter's memory is a little unreliable, and that he or she has got these two films mixed up.

Neither of the two productions were filmed in Sweden, so presumably Michael had gone there during a break in, or at the end of, the filming of his scenes in "Lifeforce."

2 The Ingmar Bergman production of King Lear mentioned by The Runewriter was first performed on 9 March 1984.

3 Childhood friend Baz encountered Michael working as a trainee reporter for the Kensington Post in 1961.
Music was a huge and vital part of Michael’s life – both listening and playing, though as far as we know, he never performed live in public. He is seen playing a flute in “La Vallée”, but mainly he jammed with friends. Sections below contributed by A.S., the daughter of one of his close friends.

Listening

Michael liked classical music and some rock, but his first love was jazz. He loved big band music, and we often went to live performances at the Royal Albert Hall, Michael, my father and me. Particular favourites were Glen Miller, (American Patrol, In the Mood, Little Brown Jug), Benny Goodman (the eight-minute version of "Sing Sing Sing" was one of his favourites, as well as "Hey Pachuko"), and The Syd Lawrence Orchestra.

My father and Michael also loved nightclub jazz and improvised jazz, and one of their favourite haunts was Ronnie Scott’s. They often went up to London.

Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie would all be playing at our home, often seriously loud.

They also loved Astrid Gilberto’s stuff. Michael loved the saxophone bit in the middle of "Girl from Ipanema." I can just see Michael and my father playing along to this: piano, bongos.

Michael also liked “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck, and jazz such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane was often playing wherever Michael was.

A friend of Michael’s told him about this great jazz backing band, “The Blockheads”, and he took me to see Ian Dury & The Blockheads at the Hammersmith Odeon, 1978 or 1979. Michael agreed that they were amazing musicians.

Both Michael and my father liked Dudley Moore's music. He was a great pianist.

Some other vocalists and tracks he liked were Aretha Franklin (“I Say a Little Prayer”), Nina Simone, ("My Baby Just Cares For Me", and “Feelin’ Good”) Jose Feliciano (“Light My Fire”) and Marilyn Monroe (“Some Like it Hot”), and Joan Armitrading.

He loved most of Pink Floyd. "Dark Side of the Moon" – he would sometimes sit outside listening to it and enjoying a drink and a smoke.

I love Genesis. Michael viewed them with contempt, but he took me to see them at the Lyceum in the 1970s, and Wembley in 1985; I suspect he tossed a coin with my father, and lost.

He was determined to hate it, but Genesis developed a quite jazzy sound, especially in live instrumentals, and Michael really liked the live versions of “Los Endos”, the drum duets, “Mama" and "Abacab": he called it "modern improvised jazz".

Michael also took me to a 1977 Yes concert; I suspect that was another occasion when he lost a coin toss with my father. He put “Yawn” in the programme.

Both he and my father went to see The Who with me.

He didn’t generally like pop music, but he liked Elton John's very early albums: “Madman Across The Water" and "Tumbleweed Connection."

He loved Kate Bush’s work: he felt “Wuthering Heights” was so different, and ahead of its time.

He liked Supertramp’s "Even in the Quietest Moments" and “Give a Little Bit”, and “borrowed” my “Breakfast in America” LP and took it to his room in the family home. Woe betide me if I "borrowed" any of his music without asking, but he used to help himself to mine – despite moaning about what I listened to most of the time!

He loved Classical music as well. Some I remember listening to with him are Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Saint Saens’ Symphony No 3 in C Minor, Hayden’s Zadok the Priest, Vivaldi’s Coronation Anthem, and Widor’s Toccata (allegro).

My father was ahead of his time with technology, and introduced Michael to Bang and Olufsen's amazing sound systems; together they chose a fabulous one, which had speakers in virtually every downstairs room.

Although music was very important to him, Michael could find it distracting - especially MY music - if he was trying to concentrate. There were times when he would come flying upstairs and tell me to "turn it down, or put your headphones on!" I couldn't really complain, as Michael bought me a beautiful set of Bang & Olufsen headphones.

Playing

Michael would sometimes play duets with me on the piano, to encourage me to practice. He was a good percussionist. My father had a great set of bongos, which Michael always grabbed when parties were in full swing! I think he may have played the clarinet too, and he played the saxophone later on. I remember him playing “Take Five” on the saxophone. He would get frustrated, and say he was no good, when he clearly was. I thought he was very good at all the instruments he played.

My paternal grandparents had a big old semi-detached house with huge rooms, and loads of space. Michael called them Auntie E. and Uncle G. They thought the world of Michael, and loved seeing him. They were very into music and had an old fashioned pianola which I loved. My grandmother could only play one song, and would proudly sing along to it.

Michael was very fond of Auntie E., and I remember him joining in with music sessions at their home.

My father had a group "The Rockbottomers", which – despite the name – were reportedly not bad. My father played the washboard and brushes, and later the drums; grandpa played the double bass, and someone called "Uncle Dook" the guitar: skiffle, probably. Michael totally fitted in, playing the piano. He wasn't bad with the washboard and brushes either! He sang with my father too; I don't think he could have made a career out if it, but he could hold a tune!

Auntie E. loved "Lullaby of Broadway.” We had one party where, after a few drinks, my father, Michael and other friends sang and danced along to it, which she loved. They were all really good fun, and the parties I remember were wonderful: always full of music and laughter.
I was lucky enough to be contacted by a friend of Michael’s from his teenage years, H. He very kindly provided me the valuable new information and photos below.


‘I came across your website yesterday after seeing a rerun of 'For Your Eyes Only' and was very touched that you planted a tree in his memory.

Michael and I went to the same school, Haverstock Comprehensive in Chalk Farm in North West London, and were in the same class probably from 1953/4 till 1957.

I usually called him Mike or Mick. Michael was a close friend of mine, and was a frequent visitor to our home. My parents always treated him as a member of our family.’

Home

‘He lived with his mother in Gloucester Avenue just off Primrose Hill and I went to his place on a number of occasions.

Both Michael and his mother were very well spoken and she appeared to be well educated.

I always understood that Michael's father died at Dunkirk. Michael was born in June 1939, the Second World War started in September 1939 and the Battle of and Evacuation of Dunkirk took place in May/June 1940.’

When told that Michael’s mother was actually divorced, H. expressed the opinion that:

‘At that time, divorce tended to be frowned upon. It is possible this may have been a white lie told by his mother to explain that his father was not present.

As far as I am aware, I never met Jack Walker [Michael's 'Uncle Jack', who was on the electoral roll for the address, 1952 - 8] and I cannot remember either Michael or his mother ever mentioning him to me.’1

Character

‘Michael always chose his words carefully but he did not appear to be at all shy and was very self assured.

He was always outgoing, and as far as I was concerned I never saw him in a depressed state of mind.’

School

‘I think Haverstock was one of the first Comprehensive Schools in the country, so we were quite lucky in the education we received. All the teachers appeared to be doing their best to give us a good education. I remember our Geography teacher who became our 6th form teacher had to upgrade his qualifications to continue to teach us. He eventually became the Headmaster of another school.

The teachers were very broad minded from a political point of view – so if and when we talked politics it covered the whole gamut.

From memory the uniforms were dark blue with grey trousers and the tie was yellow red stripes.

The school had a house system. I think our house name was Camden.

Michael was a good student and always did well in exams. His good looks always attracted the girls. As far as I was aware, he did not have any particular girlfriends but he was always very popular with the girls, very self assured and confident. He may have had girl friends, but never mentioned them.

He got on well with all his teachers, his peers and other pupils.

During the time I knew him, he did not have any problems with authority.

Michael did not smoke whilst at school. I can't remember ever seeing him smoking cigarettes or anything else. He was too keen on sports and his fitness and health. There were other students who smoked cigarettes round the back of the school toilets.

Michael was an excellent athlete: good in most sports but he excelled in the 100, 200 and 400 yards races.

Sports Day - Parliament Hill Fields

Michael and senior girl at sports day on Parliament Hill Fields at the bottom of Hampstead Heath probably 1954/55.

In our last two years at school in Sixth Form, we both studied Advanced History and Geography. Because the 6th form subject classes were so small each student was virtually given personal tuition.

We were both prefects; I believe the prefects were selected by a committee of teachers together with the Headmaster.

Prefects

Michael and the prefects appointed in 1955/56.

Michael was the Head Boy in his final year at school.

During our 6th and 7th years, Michael and I, together with others, went on three geographical/geological trips together – to Dale Fort in Pembrokeshire, to the Yorkshire Dales to study the limestone areas and to Scotland on a trip from Inverness to the Isle of Skye.

Michael never mentioned his Welsh grandparents, which is strange because, as I mentioned above, we travelled by train to Dale Fort in Pembrokeshire and St David’s together. Maybe he was able to compartmentalise these things.

Dale Fort

Michael with other students at Dale Fort.

Near Aviemore Youth Hostel

Michael near Dale Fort.

Dale Fort 2

Michael and other students from the group who went to Dale Fort.

Near Aviemore Youth Hostel 2

Near the Aviemore Youth Hostel in Scotland, 1956: Michael and another student who was also in our class, and would have been 17 or 18 at the time.


I'm not certain whether Michael did his A-levels or not – probably we should assume he did take his A levels but left shortly thereafter. I do know that he did not stay to the end of the school year.

I'm not certain why he did not go on to do further education.’

Music

‘I had always been interested in music and, in particular, Jazz and took up the drums in my early teens. Michael also started to play the clarinet. Soon we had a group rehearsing at our place just off Primrose Hill.

We often listened to jazz records, traditional, mainstream and modern. On my eighteenth birthday I remember Michael giving me an LP 'Tribute to Benny Goodman' with Jess Stacy and the Famous Sidemen – I still have the LP.

Benny Goodman

I remember one time, Michael, I and another friend went to see Ken Colyer (a leading traditional jazz trumpeter in the 1950s and 60s) and his band somewhere I believe in Camden Town. I believe the gig was either at a Trade Union Club or a Communist Club.’

Dancing

‘Both my parents and Michael's mother were very keen on us learning ballroom dancing and I remember Michael, myself and another friend enrolling to learn to dance at a studio in Baker Street. We managed to learn how to get round a dance floor without any major problems, but I only ever saw him dancing either at school dances or at parties.

As far as I can remember, the only jazz club we went to together was the Ken Colyer gig and we certainly didn't dance there.’

Leaving home/school

‘I was not aware that Michael had left his home after leaving school. One reason for him travelling to Europe may have been that Conscription to the Army was still in place for all males aged 18 years and over and was so until 1960.’2

I asked: ‘Was Michael already forming leftist political opinions at this age?’

H. replied: ‘At the time we really did not get into politics. I suppose one should remember that we were in the middle of the Cold War and the Suez Crisis had just taken place in 1956 and so the population, and young people in particular, were worried about what was happening around them so travelling might not have been so bad an idea.

Prior to 1956 no American Jazz musicians were allowed to play in the U.K. In addition there were quite a few American jazz musicians living in France and other parts of Europe in order to get away from the racial intolerance in the USA and these reasons together with the urge to travel and see a bit of the world may have contributed to his going overseas.

The school actively encouraged students in linguistic studies, and this also may have influenced him in his decision to travel to France. A couple of years prior, [to leaving school] we went on a school trip to Europe.

After leaving school, I became an articled clerk to a firm of Chartered Accountants in the City and continued studying for the next five years. I lost touch with Michael and other members of our group during that time.

In some ways it didn't surprise me that Michael became an actor - when I found out I was really quite proud that I had once known and been a close friend of his.

I heard of Michael's untimely death a number of years ago which came as a huge shock.

Punting on the River Cam

Michael with two other students (also in our class) punting on the River Cam. I can't remember what we doing in Cambridge - obviously a class excursion.’

1 Baz, another schoolfriend of Michael's, who knew him from a few years earlier than H, remembers knowing that Michael's parents were separated, and that Jack Walker was a part of Michael's life.

2 Baz believes Michael failed the medical on the grounds of his poor eyesight.

The creators of this Archive are very grateful to H. for sharing these memories and photographs.

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