A Gallery to Play To: The Story of the Mersey Poets

By Phil Bowen | Go to book overview

2
Roger McGough
1937–1958

'…keep your head down…'

Less than a mile north of Bootle, Liverpool's most lugubrious outreach, the arid suburban plain of Seaforth spreads monotonously along Bridge Road, heading northwards to Waterloo, before reaching the more desirable expanses of Litherland and Crosby. Bordered by the drab waters of the Liverpool-Leeds canal, it was in this distinctly unpromising location that on 9 November 1937 Roger McGough was born in a three-up three-down at 11 Ruthven Road, close to, but the wrong side of, 'posher parts over the hill'.

The sounds of tugs' foghorns on the Mersey were early memories. They also stimulated images and ideas that were to remain important throughout his life. Snuggled up in bed, these sounds were warm and reassuring to the young McGough, but also mysterious and exciting; both a coming home and a going away. Wartime Liverpool meant nights spent in shelters, foraging for bomb fins in the yard, uncles coming home from the war. It meant hiding in a small room under the stairs in a cot with his sister Brenda, born in 1939. Later it meant collecting bottle tops for the war effort the debris, the paraphernalia, the insignia of war when 'all men wore uniforms' or were either away on service or home on leave. His father, Roger Francis McGough, was one of seven brothers, and young Roger's many uncles would turn up at all hours, often with exciting presents, would talk, smoke Woodbines and stay up late into the night. Cupboards and drawers were filled with bayonets, cap badges, and .303 rifles; the noise of the sirens, the drone of the bombers and the desperate flashing of searchlights trying to find them.

Roger's mother Mary, formerly McGarry, also came from a large Roman Catholic family. One of twelve, her lively teenage sisters would later teach Roger and Brenda how to jive, samba and waltz. McGough Senior had made a private arrangement for his family to evacuate to Chirk in North Wales to avoid the bombing but after three months Mary, worried about her husband,

-15-

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