Elizabeth Chats With…Gordon Sparks

Gordon Sparks is the Breakfast Show presenter on BBC Radio Devon; his face and voice are very well known in the South West of England. When I first met him, he was presenting the Early Show and he interviewed me twice last year when I presented Pause for Thought. Our chats, both off and on air were great fun; Gordon has huge enthusiasm on all sorts of subjects, including sport (of course), photography and travel. So I thought it would be a good idea to turn the tables and interview him for a change.

Gordon, welcome to the blog and thank you for finding time to come and chat with me. Let’s start at the very beginning (as Julie Andrews would say); what is your earliest memory — and how old were you at the time?

My Dad was secretary of the Plymouth Argyle Shareholders Association throughout my life until he passed away. That’s where my love of the club began. I remember he took me to a reserves match when I was about five-years-old. Oddly, I recall that the former Irish international goalkeeper Pat Dunne was in the Argyle team that afternoon. But I remember the match more for the fact there was an almighty thunderstorm at half-time. As a boy, I was always afraid of thunder, and I remember making my Dad hide with me under the main grandstand.

What was your favourite subject at school — and which was the lesson you always wanted to avoid?

Don’t talk to me about woodwork and metalwork! I had no intention of ever taking any skills that I wasn’t designed to learn into a working life. I dropped both subjects after the third year and the only thing worthy of taking home in those three years was a lopsided ashtray. Why on earth would they make 13 year-old boys create an ashtray?

I used to love Maths and English, but had a special soft spot for technical drawing (If it still exists as a subject, its probably called something else, now). I was always pretty good at calligraphy and took to technical drawing and using those huge, angled desks with the thrill of starting something new on a sheet of A3 paper.

How would you finish the sentence “not a lot of people know…”?

…I have flown a plane. During my school days, I was a member of the 2336 (Plymouth) Air Training Corps. Apart from the itchy uniform, it was great fun. My first ever flight was in a huge Hercules aircraft and I was told I created a new RAF record for filling the number of sick bags. Fortunately, I now love flying. An understanding of aircraft was gained in a two-seater Chipmunk, and after a couple of flights, I was able to fly the plane for a few minutes. I will never forget the pilot telling me to have my hands on the controls, followed by the words: “You have control.” I had to reply with: “I have control.” After the reverse process meant the pilot was back in charge, I remember the relief at still being alive.

Where is your favourite place on earth — and why?

Apart from Plymouth? Cleveland, Ohio. I first visited several years ago to work on radio shows from there and Memphis on the 25th anniversary of the death of Elvis. Cleveland is the home of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I have always been a fan of American Football, but didn’t really support a particular team. But on that visit, I went to watch the Cleveland Browns. It has now become an obsession and for the last few years, I have been to their first two games of each season. The fixtures for 2017 have just been released so I am planning my next trip in September. Some of the team at the city’s promotions department helped with that first trip, and they are now great friends. Cleveland is very much a blue collar city with a work hard, play hard attitude. But the people are REAL Americans. Nothing like botox-injected people trying to be something they’re not on awful American TV shows.

How do you relax?

Sport. Whether that’s watching Plymouth Argyle or Plymouth Parkway in the SW Peninsula League or sport on TV (I’m afraid I have every sports channel available to man, including the American channels). Mainly, it’s football, cricket and American Football on TV. I also pay a couple of visits each season to Taunton to watch Somerset and have been lucky over the last few years to watch an England Test Match at Lord’s. I also have an annual season ticket to see each American Football match played at Wembley and Twickenham (there are four this year). Despite all that sport, I do work sometimes. Honestly.

If you could change one law, what would it be?

The drink driving law. It should be absolute zero. A sip of alcohol, and you shouldn’t drive. Aside from the obvious fact that a zero rule would bring down deaths and injuries on our roads, the law would be much clearer to everyone.

Describe your ideal menu — and where would you like to eat it?

I’m going to bend the rule on the question, here. My starter would be the homemade minestrone soup at the Positano restaurant in Plymouth. There’s everything in it! So much so, that it’s almost a meal in itself. That would keep me going until I jet off to Harry Buffalo in Cleveland, Ohio, for buffalo meatloaf on a bed of herbed mashed potato. Buffalo meat is cheap there, sweeter than beef and less than half the fat of chicken! For dessert, I would have a course at The Chancel in Plymouth. A great restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere where I would finish my meal with their divine cheesecake.

What would be in your ‘Room 101’?

How long have you got? Manchester United, Miranda Hart, Russell Brand, lager, Pittsburgh Steelers, planks of wood and slates that replace plates in restaurants, man buns, rap music, TV commercials, celebrity TV shows that contain no celebrities, snow and ice, Brussel sprouts, misused apostrophes.

If you could meet one person from history, who would it be — and why?

Isambard Kingdom Brunel. I have always been fascinated by his vision of the Great Western Railway and everything that goes with it from Box tunnel to the Royal Albert Bridge together with his plan to link the railway to a steamship terminal in Plymouth that would transport passengers to America.

If you could take part in one television programme, which one would it be?

Mastermind. I think I could crack it, simply because they allow any subject now. Back in the day, it was very high brow and I like to think my general knowledge is up to standard. My specialist subject in the first round would be Status Quo singles. For the semi-final I would choose the history of Plymouth Argyle, and for the final, keep it to a subject with a small range of knowledge required (Can you tell I’ve planned this?) and go for Fawlty Towers.

How did you get into radio?

By accident. As a 16-year-old, I was on holiday in Jersey. The hotel had its own radio station and the only person who operated it was ill. The receptionist was frantically asking if anyone could do the daily show, advertising events and playing records on the radio station that was available in guest bedrooms. I loved it, and coincidentally, when I got home, Hospital Radio was looking for volunteers. That led me to volunteering to get my foot in the door at Plymouth Sound, which was a truly local commercial radio station. After many happy years, I was asked by the then editor at BBC Radio Devon if I would move. I was doing Argyle commentaries as well as the Breakfast Show at Plymouth Sound, and he told me the BBC had secured exclusive commentary rights and wanted me to bring my audience from the commercial sector to the BBC.

I gave up commentary at the end of last season after 32 years in total. I now host the Breakfast Show each weekday and am so lucky to do my dream job. I’m surrounded by a brilliant team that look after me, and am proud to call them great friends as well. We tackle serious issues, have plenty of light-hearted moments and hopefully give our listeners a great start to the day.

Thank you Gordon for that fascinating and fun interviews. Readers, you can catch Gordon on BBC Radio Devon each weekday morning between 6:30 am and 10 am.

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