James Alexander Gordon: An Obituary

By Jack Peat 

At 5pm on every Saturday for as long as I can remember I have tuned into the radio to hear the voice of James Alexander Gordon.

The passing of a man whose dulcet tones have become synonymous with the classified football results will deeply sadden many fans of the sport who, like me, will recall with nostalgia sitting in a car as the hot air blew from the heaters after 90 minutes on the terrace as the classifieds were welcomed with the familiar BBC signature tune. A stalwart of sports broadcasting, the passing of James Alexander Gordon and the sense of familiarity one associates with his name makes it a strangely personal bereavement.

His intonation when pronouncing the names of the clubs to indicate whether a match had ended in a home win, away win or draw is something every football fan has, at some point, attempted and usually failed to imitate. For a win there would be a sense of inevitability in the tone of his voice, racing through the home team before slowing to a steady pace for the losing away team. An uptick in his voice for the home team would indicate a draw as he did a double loop on the names before levelling on the score, and finally the away win, which almost seemed to rattle him as he spoke. He was almost electronic in his delivery, rarely, if ever, making a mistake.

Born in Edinburgh in February of 1936 he spent a large proportion of his childhood in hospital after being paralysed with polio. He once recalled in the Edinburgh Evening News how his father used to get irritated by football announcers when he was filling in his pools coupon because the intonation in their voices misled him. So one evening he gathered the results on a Saturday before his father had checked his coupon and headed to the cupboard with a torch and some kid-on radio equipment and proceeded to read them out “in a way I thought was more realistic”.

“When I did my first broadcast, Dad cried and said ‘the wee bugger’s finally done it’”, he said.

He joined the BBC in 1972 where he became an announcer and newsreader, a job he continued to do until the early 1990s. In 1974 he replaced the first reader of the classifieds John Webster, broadcast first on Radio 2 before the show was moved to Five Live. In 2013 he had surgery to remove his larynx in after being diagnosed with cancer which left him with a voice too weak to stay on air.

Richard Burgess, head of BBC Radio Sport, said: “James was an iconic radio voice, who turned the classified football results on BBC radio into a national institution. He was also a true gentleman, who was loved and admired by his colleagues. He took enormous pride in his work and I know he was greatly touched by all the tributes he received upon his retirement last year.”

Very few people, he continued, would ever be ever be able to say Wolverhampton Wanderers with quite such mellifluous tones.

James Alexander Gordon, 10 February 1936 – 18 August 2014

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