Tributes paid to broadcaster James Alexander Gordon

They were was as much a part of Britain’s Saturday teatime as Hubert Bath’s Out Of The Blue composition that has introduced the BBC’s wireless programme Sports Report since 1948 – the mellifluous tones of James Alexander Gordon, who died yesterday, aged 78.

The voice of football: James Alexander Gordon
The voice of football: James Alexander Gordon

Gordon had only to say the name of the away club and already you knew the result, if not the actual score. Millions of Britons must have sat, pencils in hand, poised over their football coupons, waiting for the Edinburgh-born announcer to tell them whether it was 1, 2 or X, and already knowing, from the inflection in his voice, that their jackpot dreams had been dashed for another week.

Indeed, it was such a well-known trademark of the man who joined the BBC in 1972 and who, two years later, took over from John Webster to read the football results each Saturday, that comedian Ronnie Barker once devised a short sketch where he read the results but with entirely the wrong inflection in his voice, so when you thought that Wolves had won, actually they had drawn.

Except that Gordon would never have said “Wolves”. It was always the very properly pronounced “Wolverhampton Wanderers”. The way he said it was no doubt sheer poetry to supporters of the Molineux club.

Gordon was seemingly destined to read the football results to an expectant nation. He once told the Edinburgh Evening News: “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’.”

As a child Gordon contracted polio, which meant that he had to wear metal leg supports until he was in his late teens. His career began in the music publishing before he joined the BBC as an announcer and newsreader, mostly on Radio 2, a role in which he continued until the early 1990s.

Gordon also worked as a freelance voice-over artist and it was the cruelest of ironies that a man whose golden voice was his living should contract a cancer that resulted, in 2013, in him having his larynx removed. It was, of course, impossible for him to continue and in July last year he announced his retirement.

In March, Gordon was invited by the SJA to attend our annual sports journalism and broadcasting awards as a guest, with the intention of a special presentation led by one of his former colleagues and friends, our event host, Jim Rosenthal. But Gordon was too unwell to attend.

The tributes since his death was announced have flowed in. Richard Burgess, the 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.”

On Radio 5 Live, Jimmy Armfield, a former England captain turned BBC pundit, said: “I think 5 Live and the football results have lost a friend today … That lovely voice, with the little trace of Scot in it, had the highs and lows just right … He was a consummate pro, he really was.”

On behalf of the whole of the SJA, the officers and committee send their condolences to Julia, James’s widow, and his family.