My friend and business partner Robert Gardner, who
has died aged 35 from lung cancer, was best known for being the man responsible
for televised poker. He was the creator of the idea, the one who sold it to
Channel 4, and the producer of the first three seasons of the cult television
show Late Night Poker.
Rob grew up in
Colchester but he was a fan of Leyton Orient. He spurned an opportunity to be a
big city banker and took up with a modern dance troupe that toured Europe. He
was the lead dancer and it was then that he met Heather, a production manager
for the troupe, who became the love of his life, and with whom he settled down
in Cardiff. His first stint in television came about when he was hired as an
ideas man for Presentable Productions in 1998. Rob's brief was to come up with
a game show that was not a game show, and the seeds for televised poker were
Rob was not a gambler, but he got poker players to open up on
camera like nobody else, because they knew he was in their court. Late Night
Poker came about because Rob convinced a world of hardened gamblers that he was
not going to betray their trust. And he never did.
He always knew what made great television. If Rob
liked it, it would fly: whether it was betting on pigeons sitting on a fence
for his Welsh television series Beat the Bookie, or convincing 50 foreign poker
players to sing different verses of America the Beautiful for his cult series
The Poker Show.
Rob always looked so mild- mannered, in his button-down
shirt and plain blue jeans. But he was the craziest of the lot. He sat there in
front of the Channel 4 commissioner in 1998 with a straight face and told him
that people coming home from the pub were going to love watching poker at 3am.
He saw the drama, he saw the humanity. Rob had gentleness, brightness, a lust
for life, and a creative spirit. One of his greatest non-professional
collaborative creations was a group of male and female footballers with whom he
played with skill, for love and laughs and, just occasionally, to win.
He had unbridled optimism, a lack of prejudice, and a complete
disregard for anything practical. It is not easy to dance through life and have
such an effect on the world without it having an effect on you, but that's just
what Rob did.
He is survived by Heather, and their two children Erin