Monday, 1 September 2014

MINISTER OF INTONATION

James Alexander Gordon died last month. I interviewed him for When Saturday Comes back in the early 1990s. That interview formed the basis for this short tribute to the great man which appeared in the excellent Newcastle Benfield v Guisborough Town programme a fortnight ago.






For three decades or so James Alexander Gordon, who died earlier this month, was as much a part of the Saturday tea-time ritual as the breezy Sports Report music, cakes from Hill’s the Bakers and your Dad popping out to get the sports gazette and coming back mysteriously smelling of ale.

James Alexander Gordon’s voice was clear and resonant with a hint of tweedy Edinburgh. Immaculately intonated, clear and definitive, it was the sort of voice that suggested plus-fours and scotch broth.

James Alexander Gordon – anything other than the full name just doesn’t seem right – was the first person I ever interviewed. That was way back in 1992 when he’d been reading the football scores – in those days on Radio Two – for eighteen years.

In real life James Alexander Gordon didn’t speak with quite the same deliberate inflection. His accent was noticeably more Scottish, too. He told me that it was what had got him his job in the first place.

‘Radio Two was just starting up and they wanted to get away from the stuffy BBC style. They decided they wanted a Scotsman on the network. I was working behind the scenes as a researcher at that time. They took me on for a week’s trial. There were some people who were not keen. They felt there would be listeners in other parts of the country who couldn’t understand what I was saying.’

It says something for the pace of social change that an organization that once found James Alexander Gordon barely comprehensible now gives gainful employment to Robbie Savage.

In 1973 James Alexander Gordon first started using his cultured tones to disseminate across the globe the joy, misery and numb agony that is a 0-1 home defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

‘Jimmy Kingsbury, the presentation editor, was reading them in those days. One afternoon he said to me, ‘I think you ought to do the scores’. I looked at him as if he was mad. I thought ‘I can’t do that’

Kingsbury gave him several days of intensive training. ‘He said that the person listening to me should know what the result was going to be almost before I gave it to them. If it was a 4-1 home win the listener should know that without hearing the numbers’.

The result? That dreadful limbo when you knew your team had lost, but hadn’t quite had the miserable fact confirmed.

Asked if he ever felt the groans of the nation upon his neck James Alexander Gordon laughed.

‘Of course you have got your fanatical supporters. But the person I’m aiming at is the little old lady somewhere in County Durham who is checking off her pools coupon. And I read the scores clearly and with that inflection to help her get it right.’

It seems an image typical of the man and of the time. Now most people get the results via the Internet or SMS and old ladies in Durham do the lottery.

James Alexander Gordon told me that he often got requests for tapes, not just from aspiring broadcasters but from more unusual sources too. ‘I send them quite regularly to a university linguistics department in Sweden. They use them to teach students English.’

Now this charming man is sadly gone and it is comforting to think that in Malmo or Gothenburg there are people who – through his guidance - speak our native tongue in a manner that lets you know what they want before, they, actually, say it.

 

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