Tuned into a lifetime of learning;People;Profile;John Gray

15th March 1996 at 00:00
John Gray embodies lifelong education. He retired from Radio Scotland 18 years ago and now in his seventies has been called the grandfather of community radio.

At least once a fortnight he leaves his home in Edinburgh to travel to Pitlochry where he trains volunteers at the community station Heartland FM. Glasgow beckons when he has to attend meetings to help shape media modules for the Scottish Vocational Education Council.

Back at base he is likely to have a lecturing commitment at a local college. Typically making light of his efforts he comments: "I like to bring young people on."

Mr Gray began his career in broadcasting in 1937 when he joined the GPO's film unit as an assistant sound recordist, going on to work with John Grierson. He moved into radio work, becoming a war correspondent and later a London-based senior sub-editor on the European News Service.

He worked on both sides of the border throughout the rest of his career, latterly being responsible for a wide range of feature and documentary radio programmes produced in Scotland, a position he reached, he says casually, "with no qualifications whatsoever".

The son of Sir Alexander Gray, an eminent professor of political economy, he found that academe could do little to foster his joint interests in electrical engineering and the arts. A stage management course at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, self-tuition and work experience proved more valuable.

He has ensured that Scotvec's Higher National units in radio production "are designed so people can, straight away, be a useful member of a small radio station, or an assistant in a larger station".

Of the first-level National Certificate media modules, which are popular in schools, he comments: "There should be much more clarity between courses which are essentially for the media and those that are about the media. There are very few, however, which are effective as vocational units."

As far as employers are concerned, even the advanced units offered by colleges have shortcomings. "Industry and education are still miles apart," he concludes.

One promising interface is between community radio stations and further education. Mr Gray is prominent here, too, as president of the Scottish Association of Small Scale Broadcasters. Stations can provide training and work experience, with the colleges doing the paperwork and verifying assessments. "That could be very exciting," he says.

John Gray is also an inveterate supporter of the arts, spending 18 years on the board of Scottish Ballet. Now he chairs Salvo, the arts lobby body. His lifestyle is not so far removed from his younger days when BBC staff were expected to play a part in the community they served as broadcasters.

But he recognises that times have changed. Young people be warned: "When I went into the media it was a profession and a vocation. Now it is just another cutthroat industry."

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