Jimmy Gordon: An appreciation by Bernard Ponsonby

STV's special correspondent remembers the broadcaster's first political editor and Radio Clyde founder.

Jimmy Gordon: An appreciation by Bernard Ponsonby St Aloysius' College

Lord Gordon of Strathblane – Jimmy to all who knew him – was part of a gilded era of graduates at Glasgow University, was the first political editor of STV, founded the groundbreaking Radio Clyde in the early 1970s and went on to become a successful businessman and civic leader.

In a career and life that bristled with diversity, he carried himself with a mostly quiet, steely determination. The boy from Maryhill had a sharp mind,developed and honed at his beloved alma mater. He had a classless quality that was transparently genuine and it helped evoke affection and gratitude in equal measure.

At Glasgow University his chums included the former Labour leader John Smith, the former first minister Donald Dewar, the former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell, the current Labour peer, Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale, ex-EU Commission representative Ken Munro and the broadcaster and journalist Donald MacCormick.

And there were many others too, all distinguished and all elevated from a time in the 1950s when the term ‘golden era’ seems inadequate in marking the civic contribution of such luminaries.

A member of the Distributist club at Glasgow, (it was decidedly Catholic in its tastes), it was somewhat obscure. Fellow student Len Murray recalls: “It got its ideas from Hilaire Belloc and G K Chesterton. I don’t imagine either of us had any clear idea of what the party stood for apart from advocating three acres and a cow for everybody.”

He was really at heart a man of the Labour mainstream. He unsuccessfully contested East Renfrewshire in the general election of 1964, coming up short against the redoubtable Tory incumbent Betty Harvie Anderson. Defeat was sweetened, however, by the return of a Labour government after 13 years in opposition.

Gordon ended up at STV, which went on air in 1957, serving as the station’s first political editor (1964-1973). He brought a natural authority to his broadcasting and was calm and reassuring on screen.

In 1966, Gordon was approached by the then-Celtic chairman Bob Kelly. Would he be interested in chronicling on film the club’s efforts in the upcoming season? The project coincided with Celtic’s annus mirabilis. All of the iconic footage from Lisbon 1967 was shot under Gordon’s stewardship. This lifelong Celtic man also had a share in a southside public house with the team’s manager, Jock Stein.

But his enduring contribution was to the broadcasting landscape and it came with the founding of Radio Clyde, which went on air on December 31, 1973. The station trail-blazed formats and became a launchpad for journalists and DJs alike, many who would quickly become household names and many who would distinguish themselves after their Clyde training.

The HQ, initially near Anderston bus station, was a place of fun and frequent anarchy but it was also a production line of seriously good programming. In those days Clyde was truly pioneering and it caught the spirit of the audience it served. No broadcaster has truly reflected the spirit of Glasgow in the way that Clyde did in the early years.

Former Clyde and STV journalist Fiona Ross recalls that the station was “a radio experiment that engaged listeners of all ages and classes and fostered a sense of community”. She adds that the initial idea of Clyde was treated with derision by many experts, but: “Jimmy in his quiet, understated way, proved them wrong and not only built the most successful station in the UK but literally changed the concept of radio forever.”

Jimmy Gordon was the leader of this venture which he did with charm, kindness, good humour and sharp insight. He was effectively chief executive from 1973-96 before chairing Scottish Radio Holdings from 1996-2005, steering the company through fundamental regulatory change and expanding and entrenching the Clyde brand.

The experience led to wider business and civic interests. He was a member of the Scottish Development Agency (1981-90), chaired the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (1983-89) as well as Visit Scotland (1998-2001).

In 1997 he was ennobled as Lord Gordon of Strathblane. Photographer Paul Hampton once asked him what it was like to be a Lord. He got a very Jimmy Gordon response. “Ach, it just means you get a half share of a coat peg.”

He was a regular attender and contributor to the upper house, serving on the Communications and Digital Committee for six years. Fellow Labour peer Lord Foulkes records that he was “a fine man and a good colleague”.

Jimmy Gordon founded the Jubilados, a body of Glasgow University graduates whose purpose in life was confined to having two dinners each year – one in London and one in Glasgow. The aim was to get together and reminisce, “an activity in which Jimmy graduated with honours”, according to Len Murray.

Most of the social media posts recall that he was indeed a good man. He also made a difference to those he employed and he made a great contribution to his native city by redefining her broadcasting ecology.

There was something quietly reassuring about Jimmy Gordon. For a small man he managed to have a commanding, comforting presence about him. Employees knew he was on their side and whatever decisions he had to take he took for the benefit of the greater good.

He did all this whilst remaining effortlessly grounded. In temperament he was as far removed from the image of the stereotypical media mogul as it is possible to be. He was a wise counsel to all who sought it.

His life was well lived and enriched by the blessings of success and family. He would have traded success for family any day of the week.

The last word should, therefore, go to his family. In a statement released yesterday they said: “Of all the roles he had in his life, the one that brought him most pleasure was being ‘papa’ to his four grandchildren, with whom he was, frankly, besotted.”