Even then his political aspirations were obvious. Very much left-wing, he used to sell the socialist newspaper Tribune, albeit not very successfully, around the Glasgow shipyards.
After leaving the Clyde and with hopes of becoming a journalist, it was to Tribune, then edited by Labour politician Michael Foot, that he turned when he arrived in London.
But there were no newsroom vacancies. Foot said he had journalists coming out of his ears and what he really needed was a circulation manager. Using a Lambretta scooter and ensuring personal delivery to all the print union branches in Fleet Street, Macdonald increased circulation by 20 per cent. His top regional sales force consisted of two students in Wales - Neil Kinnock and his girlfriend Glenys.
Macdonald's television debut was with Granada's flagship current affairs programme, World in Action, work- ing two years as a reporter.
The turning point came in 1985 when he was 45. His bosses at Granada suggested he move into management as director of programmes.
Unimpressed, Macdonald chose to return home and became director of programmes at Scottish Television with an understanding he would have a good chance of becoming managing director. At his first press conference in Glasgow, he told reporters he planned to "confine tartan and hay bales to history". His greatest achievement was to retain unopposed the ITV licence for central Scotland with a bid of just pounds 2,000 a year.
It was no miracle. Macdonald spent pounds 2 million optioning every independent producer of consequence in Scotland, so no-one from south of the border could get a toe-hold in the franchise.