ONE of the most distinctive and recognisable voices in British broadcasting has hung up his microphone after more than four decades, aged 77.
Edinburgh-born James Alexander Gordon has retired from his legendary slot reading the football scores on BBC Radio Five Live’s Sports Report.
With a trademark voice, whose delivery often made it possible for fans to predict the fortune of their team simply from the inflection, recently underwent surgery to remove his larynx after being diagnosed with cancer.
It has left his voice no longer strong enough to broadcast, forcing the 77-year-old into retirement.
James, who contracted polio as a child and had to wear leg supports until his late teens, officially retired from the BBC many years ago, but continued as a freelance.
He discovered his talent in a cupboard more than 60 years ago, where he would practise reading the results.
In a previous interview with the Evening News, he said: “Dad used to get really irritated by football announcers when he was filling in his pools coupon, because the intonation in their voices misled him.
“So I decided to gather all the results on a Saturday before he checked his coupon, and I would go into a cupboard with a torch and some kid-on radio equipment, and 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’.”
While most of his mates enrolled in the navy, James fancied a career in the music business and bussed it down to London.
A talent for the clarinet was not deemed suitable credentials for a job with a major record company, but after doorstepping a few labels he was taken on as a record plugger for the likes of James Last and Bert Kaempfert. A chance meeting in a London pub with a BBC producer resulted in James being hired by the corporation, first as a newsreader, then as a sportscaster.
There was commotion in the studio after he delivered the results on his broadcasting debut in 1974.
His boss went berserk when he heard James’s distinctive vocal style, and threatened to sack him on the spot for damaging the Beeb’s image. However, complimentary letters poured in over the next week, and it was the start of a career spanning 40 years. James still seeks out Falkirk’s result first on a Saturday, and decades of living south of the Border have not diminished his enthusiasm for what he calls “the old country”.
A self-deprecating man, he always acknowledged the irony of being a “familiar voice, but a non-face”.
Exposure on the BBC’s World Service has given James international recognition – tapes of his work have been used to instruct aspiring Swedish sportscasters, so his legacy on the sports scene will be preserved long after his retirement.