Obituary: James Alexander Gordon, broadcaster, 78

James Alexander Gordon. Picture: BBC
James Alexander Gordon. Picture: BBC
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Edinburgh-born James Alexander Gordon, the BBC’s legendary football results announcer, has died, aged 78.

His familiar tones were heard reading the classified football results on the radio every Saturday afternoon for more than 35 years.

And his voice was so distinctive that students in Sweden were told to listen to him reading the football scores to practice their inflexion.

James – known as Jag to his friends – was born in Edinburgh on February 10, 1936, the son of a farmer. But his mother died in childbirth and James was brought up by adoptive parents who owned a public house in the Capital.

He contracted polio at just six months old. “They did not know what it was and when my mother took me to the doctor they said it was just a chill. It was only when my mother got me home that they heard about a polio outbreak in Glasgow.”

He was paralysed, unable to walk or talk for many years.

He attended various special schools and spent much of his childhood in and out of hospital.

He learned to pronounce many words from RAF wing commanders recuperating in the same hospital after the Second World War.

He read voraciously from the age of three, everything from Dickens to the theatre reviews in the papers.

And his interest in broadcasting began when his father got him an old radio set. He said: “I would sit and read the football results and the news. I was about eight with a speech defect.”

In an interview with the Evening News, he once recalled: “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’.”

James left school without any great academic achievements, but developed real talent as a musician and earned a living playing the piano on board cruise liners, and then as a promoter of artists such as the band leaders Bert Kaempfert and James Last, trying to secure for them all-important radio airplay. He joined Radio 2, reading the news and presenting a variety of programmes, before being asked one afternoon in 1973 to “nip across to the sports room and read the classifieds”. At first, he shared the task with others but gradually made the results spot his own.

He only retired last year after being diagnosed with throat cancer.

He died early on Monday at the Sue Ryder Duchess of Kent hospice in Reading, after battling cancer. He was married to Julia, with a son, David, and two grandchildren, Molly and Martha.