Robin Walsh

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Interview Date(s): 
13 Mar 2023
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This interview recorded for the BEHP by Northern Ireland Screen’s Digital Film Archive


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the copyright of this recording is vested in the British entertainment history project. The interviewee is Robin watched the former Controller of BBC Northern Ireland. The interviewer is Peter vile, and the date is the 13th of March 2023.

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And before we start the interview properly, I've been asked to ask you six questions. First is your name.

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Chris and Robert known as Robin Walsh, and the date of birth. Unfortunately, February the sixth 1940

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And the place of birth

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I would suspect the

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birth certificate says Londonderry I call it Derek.

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And your nationality. I'm British. I have a British passport.

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And what awards have any Have you won over the years? Well,

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what a difficult question in that I would have to think

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I'm I collected on behalf of the BBC in Northern Ireland, a judges award from the Royal Television Society, which is a highly prestigious award. And it was for its coverage of the troubles down the years. So that was totally memorable. The journalistic fraternity in Belfast honoured me by

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putting me in their hall of famers adware. So I think that is about it. In terms of cricket. I've had a couple of awards because it's apart from journalism, the grid passion of my life. I have been made a life honoree, member of the Northern cricket union. And I have a blazer next door, which says I'm a former president of the Irish cricket union.

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When we met the first time, it was 50 years ago in 1973. You were the news editor for UTP reports. I was a rather callow youth just out of university, and I was applying for a job with Granada TV. And I, as a student that was watching what UTB did. One thing to remember, is the lunch break, you and your colleagues, you all blink cricket.

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Yes, we were fortunate in the sense that we had a flat roof on you TV. And we used to go and play cricket there. We used a hurling stick as the bat and a rubber ball as the ball. And we used to have memorable games against our dear and close colleagues from ITN who had a porter cabin on the flat roof. And they would come out to play with this. So people like

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Trevor McDonald and I, sir Trevor McDonald, and the former president of Surry County Cricket Club,

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would team up against this with the likes of Gerald Seymour, the

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big selling author.

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So Cricket was a very much a lunchtime break. But it had a disadvantage, because rain never stopped play. But on occasions and bombs stop play. And so from the elevated position of the roof of UTV, we could spot where the bomb went off. One of the reasons why we were on many occasions, first at the scene.

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We were both I think has something in common in that we were both born at a time when there was no television in Northern Ireland.

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And I was wondering when you were growing up? Were you an avid Regulus? That was That wasn't the radio. And the Did you always know even from a very young age, even when you were a schoolboy that you wanted to be a journalist?

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Yeah, I did, actually.

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Mainly because

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my mother and father were avid newspaper readers. Neither of them was in the business, but, but they read papers copiously. And my mother in particular, would listen to the radio ad nauseam.

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And we would after homework had been done.

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We would all sit in the front room in Derry and listen to the radio show many a bulletin I caught. And when I was at grammar school, I was quite keen on panning, panning a few words. Now I may well have spittin

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unused a proposition two and a sentence with, but I quite enjoyed it. So it was no surprise to my parents that I indicated to them that I would like to get into a newspaper. So it was that when you left school, you went from school into papers and out of the little stuff. I, whether I would have been bright enough or not is another matter, but I didn't go to university.

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I wanted to get into journalism.

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And I went to a commercial school where I was taught, shorthand and typing.

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And fortunately, I got a position in as a cub reporter in one of the Belfast Telegraph's weekly newspapers at the time. I think we're talking about 57 The alarm times where I had the good fortune of learning at the fingertips.

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Certainly the fate of Roy Lilly, who was to become a highly prestigious

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editor of the Belfast, telegraph and a great hero of mine.

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And another late, great friend, Edie McElwain, who became a legendary diarist in the Belfast Telegraph. So that's where I started, and I

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got to Belfast and worked in the Belfast Telegraph, chasing fire brigades, taking notes in the magistrate's court.

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And my final smell in the telegraph was doing a thing called the Ulster buns diary by Chichester.

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And it tended to follow the lives of the privileged and the well to do in Northern Ireland.

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And I used to say that the editor was je SARS. And my motto was a Lord of de Kamp je e. Okay.

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So, you then came into television and run about 1965 I think UTV had been going for six years 6465. And as I recall, when it started, it was a very brave venture because it might not have made any money. But the flagship forum was roundabout, which were kind of I think, light features presented by Eva mills and Greg, and the newsroom started in kind of mid 60s. Is that right? Well, it had been up and running. When I went there. My BFI was invited to come along and meet Brom Henderson, who was the managing director, invited by the then news editor, my Uncle Fred Corbett, who's deputy was Bill McLaughlin, literally become the RU C's communications director.

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And it was established, the newsroom were well established. And

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it turned out about a 15 minute bulletin had been a tee time. But it was oh, it was up and running. It was well established. And what was this is all pre 68. And what kind of stories did you cover in those days? Was the new stuff that didn't steer clear of controversy or politics or was it actually quite hard nosed and you had things like the diverse riots, you had the Melvin street murders. I was just wondering what it was like to work in the newsroom in the mid 60s. And behold, it was quite busy. It was quite newsy. There was a lot of political stories about

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the reactions within the Unionist Party. Thompson Neil trying to get reforms through.

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And the opposition he met within the party,

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the birth as it were, of paisleys and

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the Civil Rights Movement beginning to get an act together.

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And the young bright nationalists, late John Hume emerging from university into politics in Austin Kerry says it was a lot happening in the middle 80s I mean, I think we established the troubles as Olga 69 Or maybe the fifth of November 1968 was the was the big civil rights march in Derry.

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But there was a lot happening from the moment I went through the door Review TV, so much so that

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you T V, began a programme called Flashpoint and 1030 in the

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which was produced by the excellent Derek Bailey. And people like David Marlowe and Ivor Mills came and presented it from London.

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And there was a lot of controversy about hence the birth of that programme.

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Did you as you were starting to cover the civil rights marches, the pays the demonstrations and so on.

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What was that? Like? What are your memories of that period?

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My memories of that period, or pretty sharp in the sense

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that dancer began to lurk.

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I can remember being on that famous or infamous bridge,

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Mark March between dairy a between Belfast and dairy intolerant burn toilet bridge. And

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I was at burn Talat

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was the cameraman? And it was, it was pretty scary, you know.

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So there was plenty of that about, you know, marches in Uri Paisley H,

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shouting at civil rights marches and all of that.

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It was a sharp memory of apprehension. Agilent. But I wasn't alone. Well, let's talk about you've faced them. We've gotten some of the members of your crew and so on. But will you ever threatened on those occasions by people from either side?

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I think to go into Protestant areas at the time, was much more difficult.

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Because I think sections of the Protestant community sought that the organisation was on the other side of the nationalists on the side of the nationalist and Republican and therefore when you went up the Shanklin roads, I think that you had to be prepared to run and run fast on occasions. Yes, there was a bit of that. And you had to do that yourself. I had to do that. I remember

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a taxi driver

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used to take us around on occasions, to Protestant areas. He was called Billy 90.

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And Billy 90 lived in Shanklin Road. And he was a driver for fast taxis. And we would ask for Billy 90, because Billy 90 knew everybody up there. And if anyone came to annoy us or whatever, Billy 90 would say they're friends of mine.

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Told over the years you and I know one another when what are the topics of conversation that you've often raised is the courage of the crews, because they will often almost linked together by umbilical cords, sound and cameras and it was difficult for them to run. And as only if you'd like to tell me a bit about the work of the crews in that period and the challenges they faced.

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I don't think I could exaggerate my admiration.

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And I'm talking now about camera man and sound man because back in those days, they were male.

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And all you have to do is visualise

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two or three scenarios.

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Milltown seven cemetery when stone, the loyalist carrying grenades and the gum

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attacks a funeral

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bloody Friday

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Think it people killed in a series of bombings in Belfast? I think there were

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but 100 bombs in the space of an hour and a half.

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The main focus was an Oxford Street bus station.

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Oxford Street happened to be less than five minutes from the BBC, and less than five minutes from UTV.

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I was in UTV at the time.

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Cameraman down very quickly.

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And what he felt

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was pretty horrific.

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Take Bloody Sunday and dairy

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when the civil

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rights marchers

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were shot dead

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by the paratroopers.

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Remember the priest,

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the white Heike.

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All of that the gunfire right in the middle of that war cameraman under sound recordist. And as you quite rightly observed, Peter, they were linked. The Sideman to the camera on was called to get the signs, their mobility was less than fast.

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And they shot, they shot what they saw. And it was up to people like myself, I suppose, to decide what to actually transmit.

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And I used to be of the view, and still am of the view

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that bear in mind 3000 people were killed during the troubles.

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I was always of the view that the more horrific. I eat the numbers game.

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But also, if there was any political attachment to it, significance to it, the more explicit you should be on the portrayal of that violence.

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And that's why I'm bloody Friday.

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You saw the body bags, and your imagination,

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not left to consider what was in those body bags.

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The political significance of bloody Friday was that it heralded the breakdown of talks between the British government and the provisional IRA.

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And therefore, it was not political significance. Apart from the dreadful loss of life.

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We've talked a lot about the importance of news current affairs being balanced, being impartial. But when you witness things like bloody for a Bloody Sunday, and so on, and it's your own community. And I don't mean by that put us in a Catholic but people you know, people you've grown up with people you live with, and you're part of the community. How difficult is it to remain completely impartial? And not in the sense of repeating the news, but how difficult is it to avoid getting emotionally engaged? I think that's a fair question.

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But I think

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it sort of comes naturally. You know, facts are facts. Don't embellish. You don't have to put adjectives to such things as we covered. Just tell the facts stretch.

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And I have no doubt whatsoever, that when we were writing it, we were either angry or

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sorrowful, but you cannot let it show. I mean, impartiality is more than impartiality is more than saying the right words. It's presenting it in a way that does not in any sense, have set a viewer I mean, you cannot be the distraction to the viewer. You've got to be straight, the platform's got to be straight, and then you let the viewer make up his or her mind, but very, very difficult, very difficult.

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Looking back on your days in the UTV newsroom was the most frightening or the most horrific experience that you had

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I actually frightening never really frightened truce to tell.

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I think I think the editing of bloody Friday tax me more than then than most. Some stayed in the cutting room floor. But some in my view, despite the fact that it was six o'clock. This wasn't the 10 o'clock news. This was when children were watching. And okay, you gave what we all called a health warning. Some of the pictures you're about to see will be highly distressing.

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But that was a very, very difficult, very difficult chore.

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I've been faced with a number of individual decisions, which have taxed me tremendously.

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Could you give me an example I'll give you an example which is forever in my mind. And I'm

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not so sure we took the right decision or I took the right decision.

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A very senior

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public servant

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In fact, he was a prison governor.

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He gets honoured in the

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New Year's Honours List

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I receive as one or two other editors received a phone call from

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the Northern Ireland office.

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A couple of days before the announcements were jus, to say that so and so had received an honour,

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would you please refrain from reporting it?

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To which I asked, Well, why would that be? So while we're quite concerned that if it is generally reported, the provisional IRA might wish to see, to give him a gong of the roll a bullet?

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And I said, but surely it will be published in the London Gazette. To which he said, I don't think the provisional IRA read the London Gazette. So do you publish or don't you publish?

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What would you have done, Peter?

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I think I would probably have been tempted not to publish now, while I was tempted not to publish,

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not because of any great, deep seated journalistic thing.

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But I suppose deep down, I was scared, and kiss, if we did publish it. He did get a gong from the version IRA, and the finger would have been pointed at you. So there was a touch of well being for the individual and a touch of selfishness from my part.

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One of the things which UTV reports. I think, if I remember correctly, it lasts about 3035 minutes. And there was a lot of political debate. And you got all the key players were very articulate, Jerry fed and Ian Baden, Bradford, and John, human so on. And you were in charge of this programme.

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On the face of it, I was I think a schoolboy at the time. It all look pretty toxic, and they seem to live with one another. They were shouting over one another. But in reality, they were often friendships. And after the programme, people would go off for drinks or hospitality room together. Did you find that a bit weird? Or how did you cope with that? And how do you deal with all the different personalities?

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No, I find it very rewarding rap they should meet afterwards.

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And you get to know them.

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Some of them indeed were friendly, despite the fact that they were on opposing sides.

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others not so much the case and others not so much the case that they would keep their animosity to themselves and what have you. But I think the most interesting greenroom meeting,

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I can remember was a discussion. We had a new TV of a Friday night,

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recorded of the afternoon.

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And the story was that Loyless in West Belfast, the upper Shankle we're going to have a no go area for the security forces, the counter, the no go area, which had been going on in the Bogside and dairy for months and months and months.

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So I had the bright idea

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of bringing together John Hume, who was then the MP for the bog side.

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And one of the loyalists who was going to have this No Go area starting the next day

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from the uda.

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He led on one condition to the uda man

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and that was that he wear

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a mask, a balaclava. So they would not be identified.

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So I went to my boss and UTV and told him this was a very strong rocking recommendation,

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that the issue was of such public importance that we should allow this.

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To which he agreed. So we recorded at four o'clock in the afternoon, and I went up to this man's house,

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collected him and as we were going up the Elmore road

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Put it on.

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So we get into TV by the back door.

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And I said,

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You'll hardly need makeup, but we best go in anyway.

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And as we were going in John June was coming out. And I said, John, allow me to sort of introduce your atmosphere.

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And John, put the hand out. The mass mark just slapped it away. They went and we had the discussion. It was a very good discussion. It was actually a very illuminating discussion. You know, after which I said, Well, gentleman, let's go up and have a drink. No, it was a Summer's afternoon. So we went up and had a drink. And halfway through the second drink, the masked man said, older houses at Target.

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They get on exceptionally well. And began to see each other's point of view, in a way, which I find quite remarkable, quite remarkable.

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So in a way When Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness ended up not only working together but actually forming, I think, a deep friendship. Were you not that surprised?

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I wonder if

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they had been so far apart, so far apart. It wasn't true. So far apart.

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But at the end of the day, if you believed, as I did, and thank goodness, as many people in a sorority did, that your only way out of their sister talk, you know, and we all know the history of it. We ultimately talked her way out of it. Yes.

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And as John Hume,

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and the masked man,

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had this

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almost inspiring conversation, as I listened,

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did not surprise me actually, that if you talk and talk and talk, the likes of Paisley and McGinnis

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might not only get together, but be friends. So at the end of the day, it didn't surprise me. At the end of the day, as we go through the events that we both lived through in Northern Ireland, we've had some very encouraging moments, when suddenly, people were surprised, the most unlikely people ended up becoming friends and were together. We've also had major setbacks. What do you think when you look back over it all? Was a the thing that most excited you at the time you covered Northern Ireland, and be the thing that most impressed you?

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Well, virtually every day, depress me

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until there were signs.

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And the depression

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was in a deep depression, but I

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I didn't smile going into work, because I realised that day after day, the menu was not going to be very palatable.

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And I began to cheer up.

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Remember it well, but years later, when John Hume began to talk to Gerry Adams, that in my view, was the start of

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we had

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promises well, before that many times. Number of ceasefires, broke down, broke down broke down. But I,

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I was a great fan of John Humes, you know, I can give you my political view. Now, if you want to know, I was a big fan of John Hume. I admired him greatly. And when he got that deeply involved, I said to myself, there's hope here.

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And of course, many would subscribe to the view that the Hume Adams talks were the beginning. The end.

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What you feel if you go back to 1974, and post Sundale, suddenly, you had Jerry FET. And Brian Faulkner in the same cabinet, the same executive, and they seem to be working well together. Does that surprise you? And did you actually feel this is something that is helpful? No. Sunningdale was big yes. saying there was.

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If you had a political point of view, you're you're sort of welcomed, because here were two sides coming together formulae.

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And Sunningdale was was a big deal that weekend.

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And of course

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I hope soon faded.

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When the Ulster workers conscious strike, decided to

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protest in the manner they did

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against Sunningdale, and its collapse was a major setback. I mean, Seamus Mullen was to say many years later of the peace accord, and when it was signed, ie the Good Friday Agreement, shutting down mark to

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slow down as well done, well done. Yeah.

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one of the things that you got to deal with you weren't in the same capacity both in the BBC and UTV in the news is decide how you achieve balance. And I wanted to give you share with you two quotes that I came across recently. The first was we were just talking about the loyalist strike. And Robert Fisk was a respected Times journalist. He wrote in his book the point of no return, which is a chronicle of the 1974 LIONEL strike. The BBC is constant desire to furnish his audience with news sometimes have a slender nature made it seem as though all initiatives in Northern Ireland were being taken by the strikers and the U WC, the postal workers Council, sensing the power they had, as required, began to use the BBC shamelessly. Now, also Graham Ellison, you've mentioned before, he was the managing director of Delta television, and his autobiography, he tells the story of how on a Saturday afternoon, he was in the newsroom, and he answered the phone where your cameras avoids ask what cameras I applied the cameras to cover the riot. Water at what Riot where our regular sources and no reports of trouble Shana find, well, the ride will not start clear Canvas get here. And then Bromley wrote, in retrospect, the anecdote might seem amusing. But how did you strike the balance between reporting the violence and causing it? So if you take the point that both Robert Fisk was making, and indeed Brahmanism was making? It's not easy getting that balance? Right. And I wasn't a news editor. So I never had to deal with that particular thing. But how do you achieve it? What is the answer to both Robert Fisk and to Graham Anderson?

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Well, let me give you the two specific Yeah, that you raise. Brom. Henderson first, you know, Redman, Brom. very affable. Terrific.

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I'm amazed he writes about answering the phone in a newsroom of a Saturday. Because I never saw Bremen on newsroom. I used to see Broman the border and my

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it's pretty nonsensical. What Brahmas say?

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Because the cameraman, when usually turned up when the riot was in full swing, you know? Absolutely. Or there had been a mass protests.

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That turned into a riot. But something substantial, was happening. When the cameraman got there.

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It was fairly quiet when they got there. I can assure you that cameras were not produced.

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They were only produced if the images were of newsworthy nature. And I can give you a guarantee that they all played that game.

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dare I say it

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a doubt that phone call ever came. It's a funny story. So funny story. And I agree that it serves to make a point.

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But I'm not so sure. The general point has the validity that some might think Well, let's take Robert frisks. Let's take fresh, yeah, we're talking about the BBC. But again, he was saying that the BBC was so keen to find stories that they actually almost seem to be maybe unwittingly, this isn't the first Loyless strike, building up the WC and giving them a degree of credibility. Do you think there's any validity to the Fiskars I have no doubt whatsoever that the

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pretty comprehensive reporters of the you WC strike

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did the strike and the strikers no harm.

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I don't think there's any doubt about that. But how do you not report on a deal

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A business

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and you can't get bread.

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You can't get meat.

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You can't get milk.

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You can't get electricity.

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The place was standstill. You know, what was most interesting was that you had a government at the time, which was totally impotent, totally, under Marilyn Reese.

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One of the big plus factors in driving their strike.

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It occurs to me

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were the words of the official spokesman of the electricity service,

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who was on virtually every night talking about we're at the cliff edge, we shouldn't be going over this cliff.

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And it was Doom and despondency. Now, what do you do not have that man on?

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I received a phone call from the then minister for commerce, in the power sharing executive, one, John Hume.

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And John said to me, will you for Christ's sake, get that man off the air?

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To which I responded, John,

Unknown Speaker  36:25  
you're his boss. As Minister for commerce. Why don't you get them off? John say to that conversation ended.

Unknown Speaker  36:35  
So a couple of other things about Robert Fiske, whom I had a huge admiration for, and used to invite them on to UTB reports. On a number of occasions.

Unknown Speaker  36:49  
When we had a Friday night news conference with journalists and a public figure, Robert would have been a regular journalist and that.

Unknown Speaker  37:00  

Unknown Speaker  37:04  
also refers, I think you'll find to a number of magazine programmes, and he puts them into the mix of the newsroom.

Unknown Speaker  37:18  
I am perfectly happy bar one thing, which I'll come to in a moment, I was perfectly happy as news editor and our coverage of the Ulster workers conscious strike. We put our top reporters on it. People like Brian Walker and David Kapur.

Unknown Speaker  37:38  
The one

Unknown Speaker  37:41  
problem, I have thinking back, and maybe we were right.

Unknown Speaker  37:48  
The strikers put out a telephone number. So people could get passes to go and buy certain things.

Unknown Speaker  37:59  
We put that number, right.

Unknown Speaker  38:01  

Unknown Speaker  38:03  
I could give you an argument as to why we did. But I can also hear the counter arguments, you know, very, very difficult, very difficult.

Unknown Speaker  38:16  
Robert, also in his book, it's one of the books I have read. Robert, in his books, talked about how the news did not attempt to look at the political aspects of this. Rather, it was simply this is happening. And that's happening. And this is not happening. That's it. That is a great insult, which is the lit WD flax. Believe flax was a political editor in the newsroom for which I was responsible. And he was on every night, giving a political commentary. And you can take it from me that belief lacks, had a mind that none could be fair, you know. And so all of that, but it was a very difficult time. There's no doubt about it. There's no doubt about it. But I take exception with some of the things that Robert Wright it's interesting that Robert, I would have expected before he wrote the book for him to give me a regatta novel Chuck, but no, it didn't.

Unknown Speaker  39:21  
Before we started talking about this, we were talking about your Titan, UTV, and then I think it was 1974 when you left UTV for the BBC. Yes. Why did you leave? Why did you change goes to the competition.

Unknown Speaker  39:37  
I think

Unknown Speaker  39:40  
the attraction, believe it or not, of radio, as well as television did wasn't attraction.

Unknown Speaker  39:50  
I was also conscious of the fact

Unknown Speaker  39:55  
that when the big political story broke,

Unknown Speaker  39:59  
people would be over

Unknown Speaker  40:00  
Are to the BBC. You know, they just seem that way to me, despite the fact that you TV reports, which ran for 33 minutes every night.

Unknown Speaker  40:13  
Such was the appetite for news. We had three. On one particular week we had three in the top 10. I had sold at six o'clock that's not primetime. Coronation Street, all sorts of big programmes and new TV, a TV.

Unknown Speaker  40:30  
But despite that,

Unknown Speaker  40:33  
radio, the fact that when Hardy came to hearty, the initials BBC, were very hard to beat.

Unknown Speaker  40:44  
And very funny.

Unknown Speaker  40:48  
We had been agitating we journalists, was the management of you TV to get a pay rise along was other journalists throughout ITV.

Unknown Speaker  40:59  
They wanted parity was the BBC Believe it or not.

Unknown Speaker  41:06  
So we all voted, and we had national vote. We voted for strike action. My colleagues and I,

Unknown Speaker  41:16  
it was rejected by the

Unknown Speaker  41:19  
NUJ then uj refused refused. The National Union of Journalists refused to support it because of the narrowness of the majority. All right. And that's why I left the National Union of Journalists. I just thought that was dreadful.

Unknown Speaker  41:35  
Anyway, around this time,

Unknown Speaker  41:39  
an advertisement appears in the Belfast, telegraph,

Unknown Speaker  41:44  
US editor.

Unknown Speaker  41:46  
And believe it or not, and you cannot make this up.

Unknown Speaker  41:51  
I'm called down to Brom Henderson's office

Unknown Speaker  41:56  
where he was accompanied by the programme controller

Unknown Speaker  42:02  
decent man called Sydney Perry.

Unknown Speaker  42:07  
And Brom said, Ah, he said, we've got good news for you. I said, Oh, what's that Brom. He said down?

Unknown Speaker  42:16  
We think we can get round the prices and incomes problem by changing your title, from news editor to head of news. So we would like to offer you a pay increase.

Unknown Speaker  42:30  
And I said, No.

Unknown Speaker  42:33  
I'm glad. Brom, that you've called me down. And I'm glad you've got a copy of the Belfast Telegraph in your desk. Because if you haven't already noticed, there's an advertisement in it for news editor, Northern Ireland. And I'm inclined to apply for it. No, no, I enjoyed all my years and UTB I really did. But I thought this was a change and all of that. So I applied for the job and I got it

Unknown Speaker  43:04  
I think you find the culture very, very different. I find lots of things very different.

Unknown Speaker  43:10  
The numbers game

Unknown Speaker  43:15  
many fewer staff members and UTV me you didn't have to people have one was enough.

Unknown Speaker  43:24  
BBC staffing, much more generous.

Unknown Speaker  43:29  
BJU TV commercial company.

Unknown Speaker  43:33  
BBC having, you know the benefit of a licence fee and not saying they misspent it, but I thought they were generous with it.

Unknown Speaker  43:43  
But the whole editorial approach was the same in terms of impartiality, accuracy, all of that.

Unknown Speaker  43:54  
But there was one difference. Life was much easier a new TV

Unknown Speaker  43:59  
than it was in the BBC. And let me give you an example.

Unknown Speaker  44:04  
If you wanted an interview with the prime minister

Unknown Speaker  44:09  
in new TV, which I did

Unknown Speaker  44:14  
all one dead was to ring up the ATM political correspondent and say here Do us a favour You wouldn't ring up number 10 and see its prime minister. There was a two day two bit Westminster

Unknown Speaker  44:31  
on the Northern Ireland question, lifted the phone rang ITN said any chance of an interview? Could you find out for us was Ted Heath.

Unknown Speaker  44:42  
Lo and behold, day one of the debate, Ted he's

Unknown Speaker  44:48  
I send Gordon burns off to number 10 Downing Street.

Unknown Speaker  44:53  
Who did this fabulous interview was was was Ted he's at one stage

Unknown Speaker  45:00  
earned said to know the Loyalists are saying to which he's exploded and said, You mean dislike lists.

Unknown Speaker  45:10  
The BBC did not get a did not have an interview. And the reason why was that you had to go through a certain mechanism in the BBC, understandably, I suppose, because there were 3040 local radio stations, various TV channels and news programmes. So it had to be channelled through the director of news before a request is made, and therefore that is an impediment. And and so they didn't. So I find that a bit a bit strange and a bit difficult. Which do you think looking back was more you? Where do you feel more at home? The BBC or UTV? Or why was more at home with you TV? Because I had to get my coat off. I mean, I may have been the news editor, but I produced the nightly news programme.

Unknown Speaker  46:06  
I wrote the headlines. Yeah. You know, I helped cut the film, you know, wrote the scripts was a couple of other colleagues.

Unknown Speaker  46:15  
Whereas in, I had to make myself at home in the BBC. I could have gone into the BBC, and just, you know, Routemaster, you know.

Unknown Speaker  46:27  
But what I did was I, I immersed myself to such an extent that once in a while, I would take over the actual editorship of a programme, just to keep the hand and keep the eye on that, that sort of thing.

Unknown Speaker  46:45  
So I involved myself to, I spent the first week of my time in the BBC, convincing people that my name was Robin, and not nanny,

Unknown Speaker  46:59  
Nanny news editor in Northern Ireland, that's what they call the news editor. But anyway, we sorted that a

Unknown Speaker  47:06  
bit. So I find it very strange. But I tell you, I found that more demanding, more demanding,

Unknown Speaker  47:14  
because the pressures on the BBC

Unknown Speaker  47:18  
are incomparably higher. And

Unknown Speaker  47:23  
one of the reasons Yeah, British Broadcasting Corporation. Well, a natural sorry, you're gonna ask me a question. I want to talk to you about because I mean, I've we've bought a TV like you and the BBC. And you're the pressures are much tougher. And there have been a number of instances when one of the things I remember

Unknown Speaker  47:46  
was a famous dinner, anything in the Kolodner. Yes. With Roy Mason. Yeah, I remember it as it were yesterday. Would you like to? I will, no problem. Tell me about it. And being a cricket enthusiast? Yes. I remember Lord swans.

Unknown Speaker  48:02  
introductory remarks BBC. And those I was about to tell you that in his

Unknown Speaker  48:09  
introductory remarks as chairman of the BBC.

Unknown Speaker  48:14  
So Secretary of State, I invite you to open the barley.

Unknown Speaker  48:19  
And messin opened the bowling. He took the sweater off. It took a 20 yard run. And he bowled a succession a night of bouncers at the BBC.

Unknown Speaker  48:36  
Barn Oh out of we sink.

Unknown Speaker  48:42  
Spotlight the current affairs programme, having the previous week done a profile of him having been appointed

Unknown Speaker  48:54  
against his wishes he didn't want to take part in and all of that. So there was an antipathy there for the word go.

Unknown Speaker  49:01  
But he threatened him. Remember,

Unknown Speaker  49:04  
we hold the key to the vault for the licence fee on

Unknown Speaker  49:12  
the Gretton a good of Northern Ireland where there

Unknown Speaker  49:16  
the Lord Chief Justice, chimed in bonzer to head of the army.

Unknown Speaker  49:25  
Three other people.

Unknown Speaker  49:28  
The one person, interestingly, who supported the BBC was the chief was the Chief Constable of the then are you see?

Unknown Speaker  49:40  
And he was very good.

Unknown Speaker  49:43  
They have to report men are very good.

Unknown Speaker  49:47  
At the end of it all.

Unknown Speaker  49:50  
The controller of the BBC in Northern Ireland who was a great hero of mine, led to Francis

Unknown Speaker  49:57  
Deke sent a note

Unknown Speaker  50:01  
To all of us who were there.

Unknown Speaker  50:04  
Um, to me, he asked for a rundown on the number of interviews in the previous six months, we'd done with shinfield.

Unknown Speaker  50:15  
Who was, and that was one of the main arguments of messin too much support for anyway. And so I sat down and did the exercise and got scripts out and what have you. And lo and behold, by a great fortune, the number of appearances of Shin Fein actually matched their popularity at the polls their votes. So I wrote back to Dec.

Unknown Speaker  50:48  
And I swear to you,

Unknown Speaker  50:52  
I called the memo, the Second Battle of Culloden.

Unknown Speaker  50:56  
And that's how I was baptised.

Unknown Speaker  51:00  
And I said, you will be pleased to know, the following.

Unknown Speaker  51:06  
But I did end my memo by saying, I hope this is the last time I will be asked to do such an exercise. Because actually, we shouldn't be getting ourselves into a position of whose turn is it next, it should be guided by editorial principles. So that was the Battle of Culloden, and it was a battle.

Unknown Speaker  51:30  
And then what are other battles? In the BBC? I think, what do you and I, one of the things you and I have in common. We both held senior positions in the BBC in London, in current affairs in the US. And we've also both held senior positions in Northern Ireland.

Unknown Speaker  51:46  
And there have been tensions between the BBC in London, and the BBC and Northern Ireland. And sometimes those tensions were remarkably acrimonious. Often they were very good. But there was acrimonious and there were occasions and things have carried more where lives and so when the relationship almost seemed to break down entirely between the BBC in London and the BBC in Belfast, I think that would be overstating it. I think there was tension all right, you know, real lives. I mean, what a disaster that was, you know, realise was a programme where they put the spotlight put the camera on, Martin McGuinness, Republican

Unknown Speaker  52:29  
Gregory Campbell,

Unknown Speaker  52:31  
pretty right wing unionist.

Unknown Speaker  52:36  
Government got to hear about it.

Unknown Speaker  52:40  
didn't like the idea

Unknown Speaker  52:45  
made that known to the BBC.

Unknown Speaker  52:49  
The BBC did the most remarkable thing.

Unknown Speaker  52:53  
Uniquely, the Board of Governors decided to see the programme before transmission has never been done.

Unknown Speaker  53:06  

Unknown Speaker  53:08  
I'm told the director general to go and make some changes. This is unheard of in the BBC. This was dreadful.

Unknown Speaker  53:15  
BBC journalists went out and strike

Unknown Speaker  53:19  
on and I remember one poster outside the Television Centre where I was working at the time where the BBC stood for Britain Broadcasting Corporation, I EBRI Double T O N, the Home Secretary.

Unknown Speaker  53:36  
And I remember saying to myself,

Unknown Speaker  53:39  
you know, if I were Britain, I would probably do the same thing. I mean, politicians bring pressure to get their own point of view across the propagandists as well. It's up to the BBC to say no, we're not having that go away.

Unknown Speaker  53:59  
And that on a one or two occasions in my experience did not happen

Unknown Speaker  54:05  
and and realised was was a very good example of that they made a couple of minor changes and then transmitted you know,

Unknown Speaker  54:14  
correct more

Unknown Speaker  54:17  
correct more was very difficult.

Unknown Speaker  54:23  
Panorama crew watching and don't remember carry yesterday we useful just to remind our children right to do, right.

Unknown Speaker  54:33  
Panorama, doing a programme about aspects of southern politics, I seem to remember.

Unknown Speaker  54:44  
We get a tip off

Unknown Speaker  54:48  
from the IRA, that there's going to be an IRA roadblock

Unknown Speaker  54:54  
in place and contrary to roll call, correct more. So the BBC go

Unknown Speaker  55:00  
panorama go and film it.

Unknown Speaker  55:04  
The film is never seen, never shown, never planned to be shown.

Unknown Speaker  55:12  
The fact that the BBC had filmed a provisional IRA roadblock, taking over carrickmore got into a double a newspaper, I think.

Unknown Speaker  55:24  
And then it was raised further afield.

Unknown Speaker  55:30  
And it got to the ears of one Margaret Thatcher

Unknown Speaker  55:34  
who apparently exploded. And the House came in on the BBC.

Unknown Speaker  55:42  
The upshot of it was that the film was not shown and it was never planned to be shown.

Unknown Speaker  55:50  
Personally speaking

Unknown Speaker  55:55  
I did not lose too much sleep over the fact that it was not shown.

Unknown Speaker  56:03  
Because it was a stunt. There was no doubt it was a stunt.

Unknown Speaker  56:08  
I had panorama come across this fine or wherever. But I stumped.

Unknown Speaker  56:16  
Anyway, it was not shown.

Unknown Speaker  56:18  
It had unfortunate

Unknown Speaker  56:21  
aspects. In that Roger Bolton, the excellent editor of panorama,

Unknown Speaker  56:28  
I think was moved aside.

Unknown Speaker  56:30  
John BIRT, who was the head of BBC, current affairs television

Unknown Speaker  56:40  
was virtually promised the controllership of BBC One.

Unknown Speaker  56:45  
But that fell apart as a result of carrickmore

Unknown Speaker  56:51  
junk out what did you mean John? Bad? Sorry, John. God, did I say John BIRT? Yes, sir.

Unknown Speaker  56:58  
Well done. John, John, God

Unknown Speaker  57:02  
said was the most unfortunate of of,

Unknown Speaker  57:06  
of situations carried more was painful, painful, inside the BBC, very painful.

Unknown Speaker  57:19  
You then went on, and you were you then at the time in London in the newsroom scenario, and then you became you came back to Northern Ireland as the controller? Yeah, BBC, Northern Ireland,

Unknown Speaker  57:32  
obviously, is a very political job, and lots of juggling and so on. How do you find the job? And how much of it do you think it was? You? Because you were the guy who liked to edit the news. And I think it was Jacqueline, so whoever sleeves, how did you find the job?

Unknown Speaker  57:49  
And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Unknown Speaker  57:52  

Unknown Speaker  57:56  
There came a time when we were making so many cuts, that I find that

Unknown Speaker  58:05  
very troublesome. I already when I first went into the BBC,

Unknown Speaker  58:11  
as controller.

Unknown Speaker  58:14  
I was asked to make cuts and reorganise the place. And first of all, I cut the management by

Unknown Speaker  58:24  
a quarter small management team. And I lost 200 jobs, which we did through volunteerism.

Unknown Speaker  58:35  
The best thing I've ever written in my life was a memo to the then Director General, may chocolate delightful man.

Unknown Speaker  58:45  
And I said

Unknown Speaker  58:48  
if you're out of work in broadcasting in Northern Ireland,

Unknown Speaker  58:53  
it's a very small place, there's nowhere to go. If you want to go to England, house prices are twice the are in Northern Ireland. What can you do for us?

Unknown Speaker  59:05  
He gave me he said not for export. You tell the unions that this is for Northern Ireland only. And he gave me a 25% markup on the BBC. He's very generous redundancy deal.

Unknown Speaker  59:26  
So we had a lot of people going over three years salary and things like that, but the interesting thing was at the time, the BBC

Unknown Speaker  59:36  

Unknown Speaker  59:38  
employing people for 12 months of the year production. Now you know, and I know you know, production and summer was a cutback in production, lead, lead, lead lead spraying. So what we did was we put down but brought back people periodically to

Unknown Speaker  1:00:00  
You know, when when occasion demanded, so that that was done I remember telling the unions that London will now go away, not sat and I remember the union saying to me, you've got that wrong. And so

Unknown Speaker  1:00:14  
I went make in 10, John musta made a very good relationship.

Unknown Speaker  1:00:21  
By $1, John's, probably right. His appetite for saving was insatiable.

Unknown Speaker  1:00:30  
And BUMP BUMP BUMP up. I remember a dear friend of mine who shall remain nameless, occupying

Unknown Speaker  1:00:38  
quite a responsible position in BBC in Northern Ireland coming up to see me one day, and he started to cry.

Unknown Speaker  1:00:47  
There's a man slightly older than me. He started to cry. And he said, tell me if my job is going or not. Um, you know, so it got to the stage where I was an expert in the word servers throughout the night. But anyway,

Unknown Speaker  1:01:04  
so that was out.

Unknown Speaker  1:01:06  
What other aspects for you asked me about high def, but as far as the controller ship is concerned, involving the political parties and what have you?

Unknown Speaker  1:01:19  
Not too much trouble. I remember. The lead David Trimble, being part of a delegation

Unknown Speaker  1:01:28  
coming in was Jim Molyneux, who was the then leader to discuss matters at our invitation, the licence fee was coming up and what have you. So we invited them in Ken Bloomfield, former head of the civil service, who was the national governor. So good with delegation in the meeting, it only started two or three minutes when this young MP David Trimble, said,

Unknown Speaker  1:01:59  
Jim to Jim Morrow, I have a meeting to go to so I just want to say something before I go

Unknown Speaker  1:02:07  
away where you go. And he launched into the most sectarian

Unknown Speaker  1:02:14  
tirade about the BBC. And I never forget one of his phrases. You said you're full of deadly day music, and the Sean's and the Seamus

Unknown Speaker  1:02:26  
and he got up, walk I I remember saying to Jim Mahler know, Jim and parliamentary terms, may I have the right of reply before the member for such and such leaves. And so I've given a 62nd response pointing to four

Unknown Speaker  1:02:44  
trophies we had brought home the previous night from the RTS

Unknown Speaker  1:02:53  
I finished

Unknown Speaker  1:02:56  
and David Trimble almost took the pinches off the doors he slammed it knocked out. So, there was no doubt that

Unknown Speaker  1:03:04  
that sort of feeling existed in certain elements.

Unknown Speaker  1:03:13  
Certain programmes had to be referred to the controller.

Unknown Speaker  1:03:17  
And I remember one

Unknown Speaker  1:03:21  
was a documentary on humour in Northern Ireland. And it was a very good heightened title actually, if you remember, Paisley speech, Ulster says no, no, yeah, it was Ulster says whole whole hope. And it was the place for humour and doorknobs.

Unknown Speaker  1:03:42  

Unknown Speaker  1:03:46  
was one major problem as far as I was concerned.

Unknown Speaker  1:03:50  
There was a marvellous impression of Paisley might forget the name of the Impressionists, but he was absolutely stunning.

Unknown Speaker  1:03:58  
And he put a certain words into Paisley's mice on three or four occasions.

Unknown Speaker  1:04:05  
The word begins with F and there are only three other three other letters. Alright.

Unknown Speaker  1:04:11  
So I rang up the controller of BBC Two, because I think it was an omnibus and BBC anyway, it was on BBC Two.

Unknown Speaker  1:04:20  
I rang we had a conversation about this, and I said, it's not on you know, maybe we just can't do that. Said a tumour. I shouldn't know and I know that. I said told me this. Would you put the F word in the most of the Archbishop of Canterbury?

Unknown Speaker  1:04:38  
He said No, not at all. I said why not? Said because he's got more followers. Anyway, to cut a long story short, it was exercise. Yeah. But I find that difficult.

Unknown Speaker  1:04:51  
But interesting.

Unknown Speaker  1:04:55  
Apart from parts, not add up. Adverb

Unknown Speaker  1:05:00  
A good time. I have got one final question. You've been very generous, you've given us a lot of time. And today

Unknown Speaker  1:05:08  
in a way, what you, your colleagues, both in the BBC and in new TV, and indeed, in London, who were covering Northern Ireland, what you were doing was unique. Because I can't think of an example, where there was a kind of one or two kind of civil war, people getting shot killed, bombs, and so on. And people were watching the same programmes, you know, and there wasn't like one service for viruses, one service for Catholics, and all the things you've been talking about and some of the consequences and the responsibilities that you had.

Unknown Speaker  1:05:39  
And in a way, you and your colleagues had to almost make up a set of rules, as you were going along, that were applicable to a unique situation.

Unknown Speaker  1:05:52  
That's how I saw it from like, the outside. Is that are you so what do you have to begin with? You know,

Unknown Speaker  1:06:00  
you, you sort of made up the rules as you went along? Yeah. I mean, language, you know. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker  1:06:06  
I mean, when you had these statements from the paramilitaries Yeah, like the provisional IRA.

Unknown Speaker  1:06:16  
You hear

Unknown Speaker  1:06:18  
the provisional IRA have claimed?

Unknown Speaker  1:06:22  
They're not boasting, are they?

Unknown Speaker  1:06:24  
The provisional IRA? Admit, you don't feel guilty? Do what's wrong with the IRA say

Unknown Speaker  1:06:35  

Unknown Speaker  1:06:39  
Can you terrorise are the army?

Unknown Speaker  1:06:43  
I used to try not to use the word terrorist.

Unknown Speaker  1:06:49  
Because there's some people in this community who didn't see them as terrorists. I mean, at the start of the troubles

Unknown Speaker  1:06:58  
that were more acceptable than the police or the army, and all that.

Unknown Speaker  1:07:03  
slideshow, Ira gunmen, or IRA bombers who didn't really you know, so I find that whole language thing.

Unknown Speaker  1:07:16  
Interesting, and, and that's the sort of solution we came to.

Unknown Speaker  1:07:22  
We've talked about the portrayal of violence, that that was always very difficult.

Unknown Speaker  1:07:29  

Unknown Speaker  1:07:33  
I believed in interviewing the IRA, but very, very spasmodically. Very, very infrequently. I believed in interviewing Shin fan. It was a it was a legal organisation. It stood at the polls, for goodness sake, you know, yes, it supported the provisional IRA. But you know, there are ways of doing interviews

Unknown Speaker  1:08:02  
on that subject, that people have a right to hear

Unknown Speaker  1:08:08  
the pressure from politicians. Yeah, lots of it. But except it

Unknown Speaker  1:08:15  
I'd be amazed if they didn't. They're propagandists themselves aren't the dyno, the shin fan barn

Unknown Speaker  1:08:23  
when they come down heavy. For those who don't know the shin fan barn was you could not interview Shin fan and a number of illegal organisations from the Loyola side.

Unknown Speaker  1:08:37  
You could not interview them.

Unknown Speaker  1:08:41  
And the BBC was who came up with the idea not me, a man called Richard Eyre, former

Unknown Speaker  1:08:48  
controller of editorial policy, who used to work as a reporter in the BBC in Belfast

Unknown Speaker  1:08:55  
came up with the idea of Alright, we will not use the voices, you know, we'll have Gerry Adams

Unknown Speaker  1:09:04  

Unknown Speaker  1:09:07  
but we won't have his voice, we won't get an actor to voice it that caused all sorts of disruptions. And quite interestingly, it went on for a number of years. didn't do any particular good.

Unknown Speaker  1:09:21  
The violence didn't come down. Nor in fact, did their reaction did reactions at the polls.

Unknown Speaker  1:09:30  
So final question, let's say somewhere in the world, a situation similar to that which we've got in Northern Ireland I've had in Northern Ireland was to occur. And you were contacted by whoever in this country and asked to offer the media advice on how to cover the local situation.

Unknown Speaker  1:09:50  
What one or two piece of advice do you think you'd pass on? From your experience working in Northern Ireland as a senior as a senior journalist?

Unknown Speaker  1:10:03  
Three things I would say.

Unknown Speaker  1:10:05  
Accuracy, accuracy, accuracy.

Unknown Speaker  1:10:10  
be accurate, be as absolutely factual as you can

Unknown Speaker  1:10:17  
and be as impartial as you can, but not impartial between those who uphold the law. And those who deliberately break the law. You have to distinguish.

Unknown Speaker  1:10:31  

Unknown Speaker  1:10:33  
be true to your own instincts

Unknown Speaker  1:10:36  
and be true to factual reporters.

Unknown Speaker  1:10:42  
But us can use what else can you advise? I remember

Unknown Speaker  1:10:47  
going into a room in the BBC in Belfast, and someone was giving a lecture about journalism

Unknown Speaker  1:10:55  
and millions of words on the blackboard and I studied this. And I said, you're missing three words. So on accuracy, accuracy, accuracy

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