Lord Gordon of Strathblane obituary

Political editor of STV who went on to become the first managing director of Radio Clyde

Jimmy Gordon, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, who has died aged 83 from Covid-19, was a pioneering force for good in the history of commercial radio, setting standards for others to follow, with a keen understanding of what a mass audience would embrace.

He was the first managing director of Radio Clyde, which went on air as the New Year bells welcomed in 1974. It was the third legal commercial station in the UK. Unlike Capital and LBC, it was an instant success, commanding a 70% audience share within its west of Scotland catchment area.

For those who feared commercial radio would equate to a diet of pop interspersed with adverts, Gordon gave the perfect riposte. Radio Clyde was exuberant and intelligent. His background ensured that a sharp news operation would balance music, that it would be the go-to station for political debate and that young talent would be fostered.

Fiona Ross, Clyde’s first political editor, recalls that everyone – from office cleaner to company chairman – called the managing director “Jimmy” as he prowled the station’s headquarters in Glasgow, encouraging staff and seeking opinions. He was, she says “the perfect boss”, a view echoed by many whose careers he launched.

Even as a peer of the realm in his 80s, Gordon exuded qualities of agelessness and classlessness. He thought the House of Lords “a great place” and personified its best aspect – an individual who brought largely apolitical expertise to the political process, specialising in media and associated technologies, with which he kept closely abreast.

Gordon was born in the Maryhill area of Glasgow, his father, James, a shipyard clerk and his mother, Elsie (nee Riach), a teacher. He won a bursary to St Aloysius college, the city’s private Catholic school, and went on to Glasgow University. That, as he always acknowledged, was the transformational phase of his life.

He became part of a talented circle that included the future politicians John Smith, Donald Dewar and Menzies Campbell. Gordon discovered a talent for debating and was part of the team that secured the Observer Mace for Glasgow in 1957. The following year, he was president of Glasgow University Union.

Gordon went straight into broadcasting for the BBC but was quickly headhunted by its commercial rival, STV. He could easily have followed a political career and in 1964 stood in East Renfrewshire where, in a ritual familiar to aspiring Labour politicians, he was soundly defeated by the formidable Tory MP, Betty Harvie Anderson.

Greatly preferring broadcasting, Gordon became STV’s political editor in 1965. In a diversion from his day job, the board of Celtic FC asked him to make a film about its history. This proved prescient as 1966-67 proved to be the season in which they became the first British club to win the European Cup. Virtually all the archive footage of the momentous final in Lisbon comes from the film Gordon directed.

He remained at STV until 1973, when the station, then part of the Thomson empire, joined a consortium that won the west of Scotland commercial radio franchise. Gordon was asked to lead the project and the core of his team, both editorial and technical, came from STV though, as Ross recalls, “none of us knew anything about radio”.

He took a hands-on approach to running the station, supported by outstanding professionals such as Alex Dickson as news editor and Andy Park as head of entertainment. In spite of domestic success, he later recalled, Glasgow remained “a dot on the map” for London advertising agencies so Gordon drove an expansionist policy, acquiring virtually all Scotland’s other commercial stations while leaving their local identities untouched.

By the 1980s, he had become a panjandrum of Scottish public and business life and an admired figure in broadcasting throughout the UK and Ireland, where Scottish Radio Holdings acquired stations and newspapers. He was recognised in 1984 through a Sony special award for services to radio.

A great Glasgow patriot, his public roles included chairing the city’s new Scottish exhibition centre from 1983 as well as spells on the Scottish Development Agency board, as trustee of the National Galleries of Scotland and chair of the Scottish Tourist Board.

Gordon was not politically aligned during his media and business days but became a Labour peer in 1997. One of his roles was to chair the advisory group on listed sports events on television, which helped stem the flow of major events to Sky, while not being as restrictive as critics wished.

Characteristically, Gordon’s style was pragmatic and consensual, commanding great respect in the Lords, where he remained active until his death.

He is survived by his wife, Anne Stevenson, whom he met at STV and married in 1971, two sons, a daughter and four grandchildren.

• James Stuart Gordon, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, broadcaster, businessman and politician, born 17 May 1936; died 1 April 2020


Brian Wilson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Maurice Roëves obituary
One of Scotland’s finest actors who played tough guys, steely villains and stalwart military figures

Toby Hadoke

22, Jul, 2020 @4:54 PM

Article image
Lynn Faulds Wood obituary
Presenter of BBC TV’s consumer rights show Watchdog who went on to become a campaigner for bowel cancer patients

Anthony Hayward

26, Apr, 2020 @12:21 PM

Article image
Ian St John obituary
Scotland and Liverpool footballer who later became a popular broadcaster, particularly in the ITV show Saint and Greavsie

Julie Welch

02, Mar, 2021 @1:50 PM

Article image
Denise Coffey obituary
Actor and comedian who invested her many stage and screen roles with incomparable zest and cheek

Michael Coveney

28, Mar, 2022 @2:35 PM

Article image
Lyn Macdonald obituary
Journalist and author who chronicled the stories of veterans from the first world war in books such as They Called It Passchendaele

James Holland

21, Apr, 2021 @1:16 PM

Article image
Edith Macarthur obituary
Stage and screen actor who played Elizabeth Cunningham in the Scottish TV soap opera Take the High Road

Anthony Hayward

07, May, 2018 @1:45 PM

Article image
John Myers obituary
Innovative and dynamic broadcaster who went on to become a leading figure in the commercial radio industry

Maggie Brown

19, Jun, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
Rab Noakes obituary
Singer and guitarist at the heart of the Scottish music scene who was a founding member of Stealers Wheel and wrote songs for Lindisfarne

Robin Denselow

21, Nov, 2022 @5:57 PM

Article image
John Fraser obituary
Stage and screen actor known for his roles in The Trials of Oscar Wilde, The Dam Busters and Tunes of Glory

Brian Baxter

11, Nov, 2020 @5:37 PM

Article image
Lord Maclennan of Rogart obituary
Last leader of the SDP who oversaw its merger with the Liberal party in the late 1980s

Dennis Kavanagh

19, Jan, 2020 @1:13 PM