Dave Rotchelle 1952-2020
“REMAIN CALM...” would have been Dave's wise counsel to anyone inclined to a spot of garment-rending on hearing the terrible news of his death. He said exactly that out loud when chairing a myriad assorted NUJ meetings and it usually worked a treat. Who could resist or insist when they found their incipient rant juxtaposed to his Buddhic tranquillity, benign smile and frankly contrahistrionic headgear?
He and his battered fedora - or sometimes sunhat - purveyed a mild, irrefutable authority via the sort of self-mockery that puts everyone at their ease.
Partly, I think, that came from his pre-NUJ years in showbiz. Lit up by his enduring '60s love of Billy Fury, Billie J. Kramer, The Who (Moon!) and Joe Meek productions, he schlepped the UK's length and breadth as drummer with some of 70s pub rock's finest bontemps-rolling outfits: The Count Bishops, The Rockets and, most almost-famously, The Pleasers - help yourself to their marvellously-mohaired prime (on Cheggers Plays Pop!) here. You may also savour an older Dave still on (a rehearsal tape from their 2010 comeback here; they played the 100 Club, the Marquee and... Japan!)
Here's a thing: Dave really did own and sometimes wear a gold lamé suit... not pictured, sadly, so I leave you with that thought and revert to his union days.
He wandered into professional photography via a largely unreported period - he did remain enigmatic in many ways, drawing a showbizzy veil over his age for instance. All I know of that interim is a summer job at Buckingham Palace. Which may lend some documentary possibilities to his favourite one-liner about how you should never be a name-dropper: "The Queen herself told me that".
The steer came from carefully watching pros shoot The Pleasers and thinking "I could do that if this rock'n'roll malarkey falls through". And so for many years he earned a solid living from newspapers, magazines and the usual pick'n'mix of one-off commissions - even a few for his heroes at Chelsea FC.
He joined the NUJ and LFB in 1998 and, propelled by some inner wellspring of goodwill, so engaged his fellow members that we elected him to everything in sight. Soon he discovered that he loved chairing the branch... and the branch loved being chaired by Dave. He was such an inspiring, tone-setting examplar of grace and decency - while keeping the best of order, naturally.
This excellent-for-all arrangement flourished right through to his election as a Member Of Honour in 2016 (one of only 300-odd in the NUJ's now 113-year history).
However, that period saw the beginning of his health's horrible decline. Over a very few years diabetes, the chief culprit, cruelly robbed this drummer/photographer of strength in his legs, dexterity in his hands and clarity in his eyesight.
But he didn't surrender. With extraordinary stoicism, when diabetes side effects led to a lower-left-leg amputation, he worked like an SAS recruit in the rehab gym to learn how to use his prosthesis and proved such an encouraging presence to his fellow amputees that the doctors asked him back several times to talk with later groups about how to cope. As to future work, he told me he might spin another creative livelihood from doing what he'd always done for his beloved nieces and nephews - he wrote and recorded children's songs and developed ideas for radio shows.
In the end though, the slow tragedy of his illness did grind him down. Despite the best efforts of his sister Trish and brother-in-law John, friends, and professional carers, incapacity and pain broke his spirit. The enforced isolation of the Covid pandemic perhaps put the tin lid on it, as he would say. Convivial togetherness had been his lifelong meat and drink...
Admitted to the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, one more time in October, he died of diabetes, pneumonia and sepsis.
You can read a small avalanche of tributes from NUJers below - but this is a final word for now from Dave's friend of 40 years-plus, The Pleasers' singer/bass player, Bo Benham: "Dave Rotchelle is one of the most straight-talking, intelligent, fair-minded, level-headed, giving, secretive, talkative and kindest individuals you could ever wish to meet."
Dave Rotchelle remembered by his NUJ friends
Dave joined the NUJ in the 1990s as a freelance photographer, his second career following his rock'n'roll years. Immediately he took a full part. Soon he was elected to the London Freelance Branch Committee, then from the early Noughties onwards served - and led - as branch chair or vice-chair for about 15 years. He was also elected to several of the union's national councils, among them Freelance Industrial Council, Photographers' Council. New Media Industrial Council, Disabled Members' Council and the National Executive Council.
This record of inspirational service was celebrated when the union elected him Member Of Honour in 2016. When he died at the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, on October 28, 2020, aged 68 - succumbing after years of grinding illness to various severe conditions arising from diabetes - NUJ members responded with a spontaneous outpouring of affectionate thoughts and memories via Facebook and emails. This is an edited compilation of the commemorations:
PAMELA MORTON (National Organiser for freelances and Wales): Dave was possibly the nicest person I have ever met. We used to love him coming in to Headland House and his kindness in always going round and saying hello and bringing us little treats was always appreciated. He had a lovely way of lifting our spirits and cheering us up and we used to love his recounting his rock and roll years. His chairing of LFB was always done with patience and good humour and I will never forget his masterful negotiations and diplomacy on behalf of the LFB delegation at the Delegate Meeting in 2003 in Llandudno to convince the hotel owner to extend the evening curfew beyond 9pm. What did guests think it was, a hotel? We miss you, Dave, and we will always miss you!
FRANCIS SEDGEMORE (current chair of FIC): Given his striking persona, Dave Rotchelle's passing leaves a bloody great hole in the NUJ, and I shall miss him dearly... Dave had a large part in me playing a more active role in the union. His chairing of what was always a difficult branch to manage was outstanding, and over the years Dave mentored many NUJ activists. This included encouraging young members to represent LFB at DM, where he played the part of a shepherd protecting and guiding his flock. In my later years in LFB I served as branch secretary, and I have fond memories of regular phone conversations with Dave that were largely taken up with gossip and the sharing of hilarious anecdotes. Dave Rotchelle lived a full life, and during his time saw some things. May Dave Rotchelle's memory be a blessing!
NICCI TALBOT (FIC, LFB committee): met him at DM in 2016 and he patiently explained how it all worked to a first-timer, and called to check in now and then. A truly lovely, funny and caring man.
PAULINE COVELL NORRIS: A freelance branch legend.
PENNIE QUINTON (NEC, former LFB Chair): RIP dear Dave - he loved London Freelance Branch and the NUJ - his bonhomie was legend and he made it his business when chairing to lighten the heaviest meeting. He will be greatly missed.
KEVIN COOPER: A lovely man.
NATASHA HIRST (NEC, DMC, FIC, Photographers' Council): Dave was a huge support to new activists including myself when I first became involved with the Union. He was a genuinely wonderful man. I value all the time I've spent with him and I'm incredibly sad to know that he's died.
JENNY LENNOX: The loss of a great character and a kind soul.
HINA PANDYA: Dave Rotchelle was my friend, a warm, welcoming person, always jovial, always encouraging. I remember he was so thoughtful he called me right before my inaugural Freelance Salon (NUJ seminar) in London, asking how I was, was I nervous, wishing me luck. We laughed together when we sat for tea at his house, and over Sunday lunch in the pub, and when I visited him in hospital - he was wearing a parrot on his shoulder (to go with the "wooden" leg!) Dave had the ability to be a gentleman and yet a wry joker, sharp with wit, a rare person his kindness will be really hard not to miss.
ANNIE GALPIN (DMC): We will miss his comradeship and contributions to Disabled Members Council both at meetings and at TUC Disabled Workers Conference too.
JENNY VAUGHAN (LFB committee): Thanks, Dave for your friendship.
JOHN TONER (former national freelance organiser, now Scottish organiser): Dave Rotchelle was a knight errant who adhered to a code of chivalry beyond the capacity of most people. When he found the NUJ, and London Freelance Branch in particular, his wandering came to an end. His genuine concern for, and interest in, other people made him a natural activist, and his talent for conciliation was legendary. He chaired branch meetings in one capacity or another for a dozen years, always with courtesy and always even-handedly. Dave traditionally made new members feel welcome with the line: "You are now members of the biggest branch in the biggest journalists' union in the world." To which I would add: And Dave Rotchelle was the chair with the biggest heart.
KATH GRANT: It was always great to see Dave and talk to him at DM. He was a lovely, friendly person.
BARRY MCCALL (FIC): Dave was a thoroughly decent man who did much good for many people without ever expecting anything in return.
JAMES DOHERTY (NEC): He was a true gent and a great part of the NUJ family.
JOYCE MCMILLAN: Tremendous appreciation for David's service to the Union, and the kindness and grace he brought to everything he did
TIM DAWSON (NEC, FIC, LFB committee): I'm heartbroken to hear that the great Dave Rotchelle has died. He gave years of service to the NUJ as chair of London Freelance Branch... He was also a successful photographer, before which he had a long career as a musician. He was a true friend and had unique powers of conciliation in fractious situations.
ANTON McCABE (NEC, FIC): Dave will be sorely missed
MAUREEN PATON: He was an exemplary chair, so even-handed and focused. And a very nice man, too
TOM DAVIES: Dave was a hugely welcoming and friendly presence at London Freelance Branch, and, as branch sec when he was chair, he was always very easy to work with, even when we had our political differences. He did diplomacy very well. He'll be much missed.
SEAMUS DOOLEY (Irish secretary): A man who always brought an abundance of good cheer wherever he went. Condolences to family, friends and branch colleagues.
JANET AWE: Gosh, so very sorry to hear this. Dave really was a lovely man. He will be remembered very fondly.
AUDREY WITTER: He was just about the loveliest, kindest person I've ever met. Rest in Peace Dave.
DI HARRIS: A lovely man indeed.
FRANCIS BECKETT: I didn't know him well but liked him very much. He was the perfect chair for a fractious bunch of freelance journalists - calm, kind and conciliatory.
PADRAIG BELTON: I'm awfully sorry to hear this news - I also liked him very much, and found him a gentle, kind soul as secretary to his LFB chair. I will miss him.
PAULA DEAR: This is so sad. Dave was such a lovely, kind person:
DEBBIE CAVALDORO: What a great character he was, will be missed
JON HOLDEN (LFB committee: Very sad. I hadn't heard. Will be wearing a fedora in silent tribute.
SAFIULLAH TAZIB (LFB committee): I met Dave for the first time when I joined the branch. He was the chair of LFB committee and I remember him congratulating me on my elevation to full membership of the union. He was not only an affable individual but he was also an adroit chair. Farewell Dave!
ALICE JOSEPHS: So sad to hear this news.
SARA HAQ: Dave was always so inclusive and kind.
SIMON PIRANI: My condolences to Dave's friends and family, and to his extended NUJ "family". We jointly chaired the London Freelance Branch at some point and, like Tom Davies, I found him easy to work with even when seeing things differently.
JEFF TAFF THOMAS: Very sad. Dave was without doubt a totally devoted member of the union.
TONY GOSLING: One of the selfless, witty, old school. Dave will be with me ... for ever.
HUMAA AHMAD: Heartfelt condolences... 2020 is determined to take the best... kindest... humanity-oriented individuals who bring/brought lightness and humour to life... We feel it all the more when the loss is of someone who made this world a "kinder" place!
PETE JENKINS: Sad times. Dave Rotchelle was a lovely bloke, and a good union man.
MARK THOMAS: Very sad. Always very helpful at meetings
ADAM CHRISTIE (NEC, FIC): Two aspects of Dave Rotchelle remain with me fondly. He rarely used people's names; he would call us by our initials. I was AC, Jenny Vaughan was JV and, when Mike (Holderness) and Pennie (Quinton) got together, I remember him joking to me that they would become the HQs. He had a passion for nurturing new members and potential activists and chaired LFB meetings with a patience, calmness, fairness and aplomb that seemed greatly and gratefully appreciated by everyone there. You'll be sorely missed, DR.
PAUL CLEMENTS: This is so strange as I was only thinking about him at the weekend and wondering what he was up to. He was such a gentle soul and I never heard him say a bad word about anybody. Bless his heart.. x
JOHN BROPHY: We should deeply regret his loss
SIMON CHAPMAN (FIC, Photographers' Council): He was always cheerful and looking for a positive outcome in any situation.
PHILIP HUNT: Very sad indeed. I used to play "identify that '60s tune" with him - he always knew the answer. He'll be sorely missed.
GUY THORNTON (DMC): Such a great guy and a real friend, clicked from the first time we meet (goodness knows how long ago). Always got on and he was so cheerful, even when things not going well. We'll all miss him.
LOUISE BOLOTIN: When I joined the Freelance Industrial Council I sat next to Dave at my first meeting. I was terrified - not of Dave, but because I had NO idea what I was doing. As soon as I sat down, he turned to me, said "Wow, you look terrific! I'm Dave, by the way." That was so typical of Dave - he'd never set eyes on me before but paid me a lovely compliment to put me at ease and then he spent much of that meeting whispering to me to explain what was going on so I could grasp FIC's work. Dave was a true gent and I always made time for a natter with him at FIC meetings. I shall miss his smile and sunny nature. RIP.
ARJUM WAJID: The news of Dave's passing away left me deeply sad even though it wasn't altogether unexpected. Dave was a perfect gentleman and such a gentle soul. As LFB chair, his cheerful welcome injected an air of enthusiasm which was very special to Dave. One memory has especially stayed with me and that was Dave joyfully talking about his little niece who he was very fond of and her Christmas present to him of colourful woollen socks which had delighted him.
RACHEL McCORMACK: Dave was so kind and encouraging to me when I was struggling to find my feet again as a freelance after years out of the game. I really appreciated the support and sense of camaraderie I got from the NUJ Freelance Branch, and Dave particularly.
ZAKI DOGLIANI: I joined LFB a few months after Dave stood down as chair. I was introduced to him at the 2016 Delegate Meeting, and it immediately felt like we'd known each other for a while. Committee colleagues had told me just how much they were looking forward to seeing Dave at DM, and I could soon see why. He was an extraordinarily positive presence, instantly interested in me and chatting excitedly about all kinds of things. He knew that I was nervous about speaking at DM for the first time, and offered to read my speech in advance. He was so supportive throughout, encouraging me to continue being active in the branch (I became co-chair a few months later). It was great to see him accept his Member of Honour award and how much it meant to him, and then when he returned to a small number of branch meetings over the next couple of years that brought joy to all of us who knew him. He had some fascinating stories to tell, and I would have loved to have heard more of them. By all accounts, Dave was an outstanding Chair of LFB, and I could immediately see he had that human touch which made a big difference to keeping a young member like myself engaged in the union.
TIM KALVIS: thanks for everything Dave, what you did for the Union was brilliant” – heo only gets to write when his assistant is around...
9 November 2020
GARY LENEY: (NUJ membership department): It was such sad news to hear David passed away. He gave us many memories of his visits when personally arriving in the Membership Department at Headland house on a regular basis, which we looked forward to, with his charm and wit and jokes. He also made us feel appreciated, which we reciprocated. He was certainly a much-respected individual you wouldn't forget in the most kindest of ways, always eager to help, or listen to new ideas. On a personal note he always bought a smile to my face, would also often ask about my family and how we were keeping, as it was clear family played a big part in his life and listening to his stories made for compulsive listening.
SUSAN KELLY: (on behalf of staff at the NUJ in GMB - a collective message): Dave Rotchelle was always a ray of sunshine into Headland House. He'd breeze in with a big smile and a hug for anyone who wanted or needed it and always, always a bag of sweets to share around the office. Old DR as he often referred to himself made time for everyone and would always be there with an invariably bad joke or a chat to lighten the mood or an ear to listen over a cuppa. His unique style, humour and all around good nature will make him sadly missed but always remembered.
We have also received RIPs and condolences from: Michael Preston, Mark Fisher, Diana Peasey, Olga Wojtas, Manuela Da Costa-Fernandes, Aditya Khanna, Jess Hurd, Christina Malkowska Zaba, Michael Fisher, PJ Leddy, Adam DC, Hilal Ustuk, Pierre Alozie, Hazel Dunlop, Richard Palmer, Jackl Fij, Roisin Boyd, Nick Renaud-Komiya, Baris Cimen, Elizabeth Chappell, Federica Tedeschi, Tim Gopsill Liam Cahill, Zav Judd, Sarah Khalil, Andrew Ramsey, Amanda Bucklow, Jim James Mason, John Finn, Rob Coakley, Steve Eason, Steve Platt, Paul Paterson, John McIntyre, Micks Fitz, Anthony McIntyre, Francesca Marchese, Ian Duncan, Padraig Floyd, Fergus Cooper, Brian Pelan, Phil Macgiollabhain, Mick Foley, Rtn Pradeep Kaphle, Max Crow Reeves, Stalingrad O'Neill, Gerry Curran, Imogen Lillywhite, Leigh G Banks, Dave Toomer, Diarmaid Fleming Ronan Quinlan, Yvonne Gavan Harvey, Simon Hinds, John Matthews, Liudmila Self, Tory Blair, Huw Morgan, Chris Balcombe, Riccardo Freggia, Alix Robertson, Brian Morgan, Eugenie Absalom, Andy Collier, Sharon Wheeler, John Fox, Caroline Colebrook, Peter Murray, Josephine Siedlecka, Eleanor Lisney, Charlotte Hughes, Anna Chisnall, Catherine Katy Leuz, Peta Steel-Van Den Burgh, Helen Fowler, Sian Bethan Jones, Nina Tailor, Julia Armstrong, Neil Fairbrother, Drewery Dyke, Manjit Krishna Kaur, Jason N. Parkinson and Sara Lewis-Desmedt.