|7 Feb 2020|
|Deaths & Obituaries|
|GREGSON, Charles Richard (Ricky) |
Died on 24 July 2019, aged 79.
The following obituary was written by his brother, Stephen Gregson (PH 56-60):
Ricky was born shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, which prompted our father, Jack (Edward John Gregson, Park House 1924-1928), to address him with a deeply felt poem – see below – which was known only to the two of them until a year or so before his death.
After prep schools in Surrey and Salisbury, he achieved, at Tonbridge, enough to gain a place at Lincoln College, Oxford, and graduated with a B.A. in Modern History which he later converted to an M.A. This was useless as a career qualification, so, knowing that he wanted to produce opera, he proceeded to carve out his own path which led him, deviously, to his objective.
Having gained some funds and a few contacts through working at various box offices in London, he worked at Salisbury Playhouse from 1963 to 1966 where he learned backstage and directing techniques, starting in stage management, and progressing to directing an equally young Stephanie Cole – later well known for her TV roles in shows like Tenko, Doc Martin and Open All Hours – in a number of productions; she remembers him fondly for his humour and his scones!
In 1966 he joined the English Opera Group and then in 1967 the Royal Ballet as Stage Manager, returning to the EOG as Staff Producer and Assistant Manager in 1970; here he assisted Benjamin Britten in the premiere of Death in Venice. The strong connections of this group with Covent Garden led to a transition to Staff Producer and Assistant Manager at the Royal Opera House. Over the next decade he assisted in new productions of Eugene Onegin by Peter Hall, La Bohème by John Copley and The Tales of Hoffmann by John Schlesinger, all of which he revived at The Royal Opera House on numerous occasions, Bohème last in 2007. On hearing of Ricky’s death, John Copley noted “Very, very sad news of dear Richard Gregson. He was such a wonderful associate and kept my Bohème in great form for many years. Bless him and RIP to such a gentleman.”
In the early 1980s the Arts Council encouraged all opera companies to make opera more accessible through education departments and lower prices. Ricky moved across to create and manage an Education Department for the Royal Opera alongside his production work, piloting its projects and building a base. His aim was to take opera away from being elitist Opera with a capital O, as parodied by Victor Borge, to becoming ‘Musical Theatre’, which sounded less threatening to the man on the Clapham Omnibus.
During the 1980s and 1990s he was deeply involved with this and travelled the country helping schools to create their own opera, as well as leading courses for adults at Covent Garden and elsewhere. The journalist, Libby Purves, was one of his biggest fans, having attended one of his courses, and he was on her Midweek radio show; one of his projects featured in Blue Peter, whilst another was the subject of a half-hour programme in a series about Mozart on BBC 2. He worked closely with the Metropolitan Opera from New York, and devised courses to help teachers to lead creative musical projects in their schools. One group of schools near Rugby even created its own theatre company as a result, with all positions from actors to stage managers filled by children.
From this, he moved towards freelance productions around the world, and gave more of his time on a voluntary or very low cost basis to numerous amateur or semi-professional groups, notably the Cambridge Handel Opera Group for some 14 years, and gave courses at various Summer Schools. He was also asked frequently to direct revivals of operas at Covent Garden.
At the turn of the century he started to gradually decrease his workload and became very active as a committee member of the Trollope Society, helping to arrange the Celebrazione Magnifica at the Royal Opera House in 2012, and the Bicentenary Celebrations of 2015.
He never truly got over the death of his lifetime partner, Jacinto, in 2010, and dementia started to become noticeable five years later, with increasing social isolation as a result. He remained determined to stay at home and look after his beloved animals for as long as possible, but, sadly, he needed to be in a care home for his last 18 months.
During his career he worked with most of the famous names in opera, but he neither sought nor achieved fame and fortune, and, as with his charity, he gave a great deal of himself, personally and professionally, to famous and experienced performers or amateur beginners alike, and earned much love and respect as a result. This was amply displayed at his very well attended memorial service at St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, where his Tonbridge contemporary and very close friend, Charles Barr (PH 1953-58) was among those paying tribute. He left us finally in a suitably dramatic manner, as his ashes were scattered by some large rockets just before the New Year.
To My Son
My eldest son – perhaps my only son –
We who had hoped and waited for your birth
Now bid you welcome to a cold grey Earth
That greets you with the music of the gun,
And first presents you with a rubber sack
To save your lungs from German poison gas
That you may live to be a man – alas!
And die, perhaps, when Germans next attack.
Oh son, forgive your father’s cynicism,
His earliest memories recall a war
To end all war; - this is no criticism
Of broken faith with those who died before.
But this time, son, keep faith with us who go
To sleep in Flanders Fields, where poppies grow.