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UTV sell-off plan leaves Gloria Hunniford feeling sentimental

By Margaret Canning

Published 26/08/2015

Gloria Hunniford
Gloria Hunniford
Gloria Hunniford in a DeLorean during her UTV heyday

Ulster broadcasting legend Gloria Hunniford has said she feels "emotional" about her time in UTV as a sale of the TV business nears.

Ms Hunniford started her media life as a production assistant at the launch of UTV in 1959 and said she owed her career to the training and experience she gained at the independent broadcaster.

She said she had started out as a production assistant in the days when everything was broadcast live.

"I learned behind the scenes what was expected of anyone on screen, so I learned skills that I use every day of my life," she said.

UTV Media plc this week confirmed it was in talks with a buyer - believed to be ITV - for the sale of its TV assets, which include both the television station in Belfast and it new channel UTV Ireland.

UTV Ireland was established in January but has disappointed its parent company with low viewing figures for many of its programmes. The company said it expects UTV Ireland to make a loss of £11.5m this year.

UTV is still based at its familiar headquarters at Havelock House on the Ormeau Road, but there has been speculation that a future owner of the TV business may wish to locate it elsewhere.

Ms Hunniford said she would be saddened if the TV operation moved out of its long-term home.

"I would be very sad to see the demise of Havelock House."

The TV presenter left UTV after marrying Don Keating but returned in 1969 as a presenter of Good Evening Ulster. She left three years later to become a presenter on BBC Radio 2.

"On Good Evening Ulster we were giving the news, all the bombs and bullets day in, day out.

"(Producer) Brian Waddell said we should give the news what it was worth, so that could mean 12 minutes of half-an-hour of the bad news. Then the rest of the programme was current affairs, competitions, celebrity guests, and viewer interaction.

"I have great emotion about Ulster Television and BBC Northern Ireland because that was my training and my learning curve."

After the Belfast Telegraph revealed the proposed sale on Saturday, a statement by UTV on Monday said: "The board of UTV Media plc notes the recent media speculation and confirms that it is in discussions regarding a potential sale of its television assets. Discussions are ongoing and may or may not result in such a transaction being agreed.

"A further announcement will be made when appropriate."

UTV was the first commercial TV channel in Ireland when it launched in 1959. It has been in local control since then.

UTV Media plc became one of the most successful media companies in the UK and Ireland, with a radio division, TV and new media divisions.

The new media division was cut when it sold its half-share in property website PropertyPal, and it also sold its jobs website Recruit NI to Independent News and Media, owner of the Belfast Telegraph.

Its radio business is made up of two divisions, Radio Ireland, comprising Belfast-based station U105 and eight channels in the Republic, and Radio Great Britain, made up of talkSPORT and 12 local stations.

For revenue, Radio GB is its healthiest division, with sales of £13.3m in the three months to the end of March this year, compared to Radio Ireland revenue of £4.7m and TV revenue of £11.8m.

UTV will reveal its half-year results on Friday.

Belfast Telegraph

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