Much loved voice of BBC’s Saturday soccer results service
James Alexander Gordon: February 10th, 1936 - August 18th, 2014
James Alexander Gordon, who has died aged 78, possessed one of the best known and best loved of voices on British radio. For almost 40 years, he was the man whom generations of football fans heard reading the Saturday afternoon football results on Sports Report, first on BBC Radio 2 and more recently on 5 Live, and to an audience around the globe through the World Service.
His voice became synonymous with the programme as a variety of presenters, among them Peter Jones and Des Lynam, read out the day’s headlines before adding: “But first, a full check of today’s classified football results, read as always by James Alexander Gordon.”
Gordon, or “Jag” as he was affectionately known, developed a style all his own. “Manchester United,” he would say with an eager upwards inflection suggesting the home side had won, before adding “five”. Then he lowered his voice to indicate bad news for the next team: “Liverpool, nil.”
Listeners may have almost felt they knew him, and his popularity with fellow broadcasters was a key factor in ensuring his longevity as a BBC announcer. Seemingly ever cheerful, always wearing one of his array of trademark colourful bow-ties, he was first appointed to the BBC in 1972 as a news and continuity announcer as the network sought to expand its range of regional voices.
Born in Edinburgh, he was brought up by adoptive parents who owned a public house, anupbringing very far from that of the public school brigade who had once run the BBC. Contracted polio When six months old he contracted polio, and he said it was during the months he spent in a hospital bed that his appreciation of radio began. Unable to play sport, he had a limp, and learned to walk with raised-sole footwear.
He told the Edinburgh Evening News that he had arrived at the intonations which indicated home wins, draws and away wins while still young. The results were followed particularly keenly in an age when many checked their football pools coupons through listening to Sports Report – including his own father. He was irritated by announcers’ voices creating false expectations, so his son would collect the results and take them into a cupboard with a torch by way of mocked-up radio, with what struck him as greater success. “When I did my first broadcast, Dad cried and said: ’The wee bugger’s finally done it.’”
Leaving school without any great academic achievements, he nevertheless had talent as a musician. He earned a living playing the piano on board cruise ships, and then as a promoter of artists such as the bandleaders Bert Kaempfert and James Last, trying to secure for them all-important radio airplay.
Once on Radio 2 himself, he read the news and presented a variety of programmes, before being asked one afternoon in October 1973 to “nip across to the sports room and read the classifieds”. Nervously, he did so – in the manner that was to become inimitable. Banter and storytelling For several years, he shared reading the results with others while continuing to deliver news on Radio 2 and Newsbeat on Radio 1. But gradually he made the results spot his own and became an integral part of the Saturday team, loving the banter and storytelling in the BBC Club or the pubs close to Broadcasting House where broadcasters and production staff would unwind after the programme.
After taking redundancy from the BBC in the early 1990s, Gordon continued to work as a freelance, recording numerous voiceovers and company videos while continuing to read the classifieds.
He had never planned to retire, nor had the corporation any intention of moving him aside, but throat cancer affected his mellifluous voice and last year he underwent surgery and suffered the removal of his larynx.
When it became clear that he could no longer continue, the former Radio 4 newsreader Charlotte Green took his place.
He is survived by his second wife, Julia, and by a son, David, and two granddaughters, Molly and Martha, from his first marriage, which ended in divorce.