Harry Gray

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Henry ("Harry") Gray
1959-06-10-Henry Gray.jpg
Henry Gray reading the BBC Scottish News bulletin, 10 June 1959
Born (1921-12-13)13 December 1921
Selkirk
Died 7 April 2001(2001-04-07) (aged 79)
Selkirk
Nationality Scottish
Education Selkirk High School
Alma mater Edinburgh University
Occupation
  • BBC announcer
Spouse(s) Charles Baptiste
Parent(s)
  • ??
  • ??

"Harry Gray" (born Henry Gray) was a BBC Scotland announcer, newsreader and presenter on radio and television, working full-time for the Corporation between 1956 and 1981.

Early life

Born 13 December 1921, Gray attended Selkirk High School where he first discovered a love of acting. "I was always a performer," he later told the Glasgow Herald, "and if you are a performer you will get up on your hind legs wherever there is an audience — no matter how scared you are. I was in kinderspiels, in school plays, did recitations."

Upon leaving school, he was originally destined to be a designer in a woollen mill, but when the Second World War broke out the mills switched to khaki production which needed no design.

Instead, Gray joined the RAF as a wireless operator, stationed in a little hut at Wick guiding planes home from Norway. He was there when the Duke of Kent was killed in an air crash and remembered all the log books being checked, although there was no record of the flight. In the RAF he went to India and the Far East. At Changi Barracks in Singapore he gravitated, inevitably, to the Garrison Theatre. After demob he joined Dundee Rep.

His father's insistence that he acquire qualifications led Gray to Edinburgh University, where he trained to be a teacher on an ex-serviceman's grant. He became a leading light in the University Dramatic Society, throwing him into contact with people like Rod Graham, later the head of Drama at BBC Scotland, Moira Armstrong, who became a TV director, Jack Ronder, author of The Lost Tribe, and W. Gordon Smith.

Gray had always claimed a broad Borders accent, but "slowly, very slowly, I became interested in speech," he told the Glasgow Herald, "especially when I was allowed to inflict Shakespeare on audiences. You become aware that there is such a thing as received pronunciation — which is something everybody can understand. It doesn't derive from Oxford or southern England. It's a euphonious sound, a pleasant sound. I suppose it's the way Guilgud speaks, or Olivier."[1]

BBC career

In late 1956, after two years teaching, Gray saw a BBC advertisement for a radio announcer and was appointed in place of W. A. Henry, who was moving to other duties.

He was also one of the select few who regularly presented the concerts of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra for BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Radio 3. He was chosen by the SSO to join them on a tour of Hong Kong, an experience that thrilled him.

The BBC captioned his first TV appearance 'Henry Gray', no doubt because it sounded more posh, but he protested and they did not do it again. Years later, though, his friend and colleague Pam Patterson, the senior BBC Scotland announcer, would cap his more extreme utterances with a reproving "Henry!"[2]

When he reached the aged of 60 in late 1981, he was forced to retire from his staff announcer job. Paying tribute to his career in the Glasgow Herald, his BBC colleague Douglas Brock remarked: "In all jobs demanding a high level of creativity, there is a dangerous area where it is difficult to hit the right note and yet so easy to get it wrong. In the years I have known Harry, he never once got it wrong."

Gray was glad to retire to Selkirk and made regular trips to Morocco to enjoy the Arabic culture he loved so much. However, he returned as a freelancer, most notably presenting the weekly morning Greetings Programme on BBC Radio Scotland for a few weeks beginning Sunday 26 May 1985.

Personal life

Gray was ages with his partner, the Renfrew-born actor and director Charles Baptiste.[3] Baptiste spent a lifetime in the theatre as well as appearing in a number of Scottish television and radio dramas.[4] He had parts in two STV soap operas: playing Archie the tramp in High Living and the comical Italian cafe owner 'Luigi' in Garnock Way. He also had a business interest in the Edinburgh gay bar, The Laughing Duck.[5]

The couple's sexuality and Baptiste's mixed race parentage (West Indian father and Scottish mother) led to them being dubbed by colleagues in the BBC Scotland newsroom as 'the Govan Fairy and the African Queen' — although, as Ken Bruce points out in his autobiography, "it was done with affection as they were both much liked".[6]

Baptiste lived with his sister in Renfrew, while Gray lived in a flat six-minutes' walk from Queen Margaret Drive. Baptiste died suddenly of heart disease on 23 January 1981 in the Royal Infirmary, Glasgow, aged 58.[7]

Death

Henry Gray died 7 April 2001. He left no family but was survived by cousins.

References

  1. 'Familiar voice goes off the air', Glasgow Herald, 19 September 1981, 8.
  2. Obituary: Harry Gray (Herald)
  3. Charles Tobias Baptiste, 1922-1981 (Hart Family Tree)
  4. See search results for Charles Baptiste on BBC Genome.
  5. Talking Scot forum
  6. Ken Bruce, Tracks of my Years, Sidgwick & Jackson (London: 2009), 72.
  7. Obituary: Charles Baptiste, Glasgow Herald, 27 January 1981.