To anyone growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, the accolade “Voice of Football” signified one or two key individuals in an age still largely dominated by the wireless. Alastair Alexander of BBC Scotland was one of these names and iconic voices which dominated the Scottish airwaves for a generation not reared on the all-encompassing tsunami of football we have today.
Alastair, one of Inverclyde’s most famous sons, died on March 7, aged 83, in the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow.
One of three children born in Parklea, Port Glasgow, Alastair was intensely proud of his home area. His father Walter, who lived with sight and hearing loss, and his mother Marion, who was born on Skye, were, understandably, huge influences, clearly demonstrated by his subsequent voluntary work with the Rex Blind Parties and a remarkable affection for shinty.
Alastair met his family circumstances head on with a resilience and fortitude marking him out as a thoroughly decent human individual, as well as a consummate professional in more than one area of life.
While he was best known for his broadcasting work, Alastair was also an accomplished and published historian of naval warfare history of the Clyde, penning the book Action Stations! (2009).
He also created the displays at Gourock Railway Station, highlighting the town’s role in the Second World War and the CalMac ships which sailed from there. Together with his book, these are amongst his greatest achievements.
He went to Glasgow School of Art to train as an architect and on to a career in the building industry, while maintaining his broadcasting and outside interests and moving seamlessly in all his different spheres of activity.
Alastair was an active and much respected Scottish Freemason. He was a stalwart of the Order of Royal Arch Freemasons in Scotland. He rose up through the ranks, not only serving his own Chapter, the Prince’s Royal Arch Chapter No 189, but through his ability and commitment to the Order and the exemplary manner by which he discharged his duties, he was commissioned as Depute Grand Superintendent of Glasgow in 1997.
He served as Grand Director of Ceremonies of the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland and was elevated for his service to the high office of Second Grand Principal of that body in 2006. He was held in high regard by many throughout the whole of Scotland and beyond as someone who was a true Companion.
Forty years of Alastair’s life were spent commentating on more than 1,000 football matches and describing bowls, hockey, and athletics for BBC Scotland, as well as the shinty and football.
He first started commentating for people with vision loss at Love Street, Paisley, in 1959. Six years later he asked the BBC for an audition (as one had to do at the time) and was on television the following week. We can all still hear the dulcet tones of the maestro: “It was a peach of a goal on a balmy day in Greenock.” He once proudly said, “It's what I've always wanted to do and how many people can say that they have achieved that?"
He eventually spent 20 years on TV and then 20 on radio, best known for his football coverage, more than holding his own in the illustrious company of David Francey and Bob Crampsey and others.
Alastair took his original inspiration from the great Peter Thomson, whose commentary on a 3-1 Scotland victory at Wembley in 1949, left him spellbound. “It's then I knew what I wanted to do with my life,” he recounted much later.
It was a great privilege to share commentary duties with the great man in my early days as a commentator, beginning in 1984 (just two years into my BBC career) in Oban on a blisteringly hot day. I learned a great deal from him over the next few years and he was fantastic to work with.
Alastair was unashamedly “old school”, beginning with the Home Service and moving effortlessly through the establishment of Radio Scotland, from television to radio, almost into digital technology.
In a nod to his mother’s roots, he found the Gaelic sports coverage on BBC Alba, which he followed avidly, a fascinating addition to his world of sport.
Alastair retained his interest in shinty and its community, often enquiring after some of the legends he admired so much such as Kerr Crawford, Tarzan Ritchie and the Fraser brothers. He also cherished the link with Glenmorangie, becoming a close friend of their Commercial Director, the late Peter Cullen.
Alastair was a great man and is a huge loss to our collective knowledge of our history, sport and broadcasting. Meticulous in his presentation and fastidious when it came to detail, he was a total professional.
The BBC bid him farewell with the traditional microphone presentation in October 2005 when he retired after his final game at Ibrox, having commentated at Celtic Park the previous week.
His mellifluous tones and classic delivery will live long in the memory. The voice encompassed his persona. His friendship counted for even more.
Alastair is survived by his three daughters Shirley, Susan and Joyce, her husband Mark, granddaughter Alex and grandson Callum.
Alastair’s funeral will be on Friday 26 March at Greenock Crematorium, in line with current Covid-19 restrictions, with live streaming at 2pm via this link.
It is anticipated that a memorial service to which friends and former colleagues will be invited will be held when appropriate.
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