I met Doug Gordon in the mid-seventies. He was a news reporter on the Sunday Times. It was Doug who suggested that I apply for a job as a columnist on the then great broadsheet.
The Sunday Times in those days was a unique and often bizarre blend of tabloid journalism and serious political analysis. Tertius Myburgh, the editor, called it ”quali-pop”.
Myburgh referred to the “craft” of journalism and how “we” could make our “craft” a socio-political force in South Africa.
It worked. The Sunday Times had a readership of some four million.
It snagged the serious attention of local politicians, international statesmen and some of the best political analysts from South Africa and abroad, all of whom jostled for space in the paper’s opinion pages.
Politically? Myburgh said we were ‘extreme centre.’
To be a journo on the Sunday Times in those days was to have a job with kudos. There were high standards and everyone was hungry to get the story.
Doug frequently worked with photographer Renier Botha. At one stage they shared a flat in Oxford Road. They were both obssessed with their work. Nothing existed when they were ‘on a story.’
In 1975 an Israeli consulate security guard took of the building in Fox Street, Johannesburg and held its occupants hostage while the police and army units massed outside.
The siege lasted 21 hours. Doug reported on it hourly. His dedication and commitment to the assignment were the stuff that journos would speak for years.
Doug Gordon. Pics by Renier Botha.
They were the power pair. They called themselves Batman and Robin.
In addition to the hard news stories he covered as a senior reporter, Doug was writing a weekly column about the fantastical adventures of Grondo John – Grondo was a loose anagram of Gordon – in the Thursday Daily Mail. His editor, Kate Lee Marshall, became one of the characters in his comic strip-like adventures. She was Gypsy Lee Kate.
He also wrote music reviews, screenplays and a movie review. There was even a novel, if memory serves.
Doug simply lived to write.
Doug also had the rare ability to spot a burgeoning talent and showcase it with a story.
Then he would sit back with a beam of approval as he watched his protégé take off for superstardom.
He came into the newsroom one day buzzing with excitement about a young guitarist, Trevor Rabinowitz. He believed that Trevor and his band would do great things with the music producer Patrick van Blerk.
He was right. He literally ‘birthed’ the SA supergroup ‘Rabbitt.’
Trevor Rabin, to this day has a musical career with Yes. It is his virtuoso guitar solo we hear on “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”
When Doug wrote about pop music he predicted and shaped trends. He introduced us to Steely Dan, Jefferson Airplane, Bonnie Raitt and Eric Clapton. He was a natural fit to interview Tom Jones, Rod Stewart and strings of world-class entertainers who came to Sun City.
Doug was extremely hip. A hipster before the term was invented. He gave me Patti Smith’s first album Horses. He had written copious notes on the record sleeve that were every bit as poetic as the lyrics to her songs.
He was over 6 foot tall and walked with a swagger.
As a young reporter I thought he was impressed with fame, beauty and riches. When I got to know him better, I realized that it was how fame, beauty or riches were achieved, that fascinated him.
When the paper flew him to Gstaad to interview Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton he never stopped talking about her purple eyes.
He was always surrounded by beautiful women – models, actresses and young reporters. He was funny and quick with the one-liners.
When Elvis Presley died he wore black with a black armband. He was something as rare as unicorns – a journalist with compassion.
He invariably ended up becoming life-long friends with whoever he interviewed or worked with. Melanie Millin-Moore is just one friend who started out knowing Doug as a journalist contact.
The Doug Gordon I knew was an impeccably moral journalist.
He was aware of everything, knew everyone and was generous in sharing his contact book. He had a strong work ethic and respected others that did too.
To work with Doug Gordon was always a learning experience and always fun. Things sparkled and fizzed when Doug was around.
You can’t get better than that.
I send these words – and my deepest condolences from America.
RIP Grondo John aka Douglas Gordon Margach.
To Brenda and Matt
In the gospel of Matthew we read
Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted.