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Eamonn Holmes: I almost blew my UTV career

By Eamonn Holmes

Published 20/10/2015

Eamonn’s first job on Farming Ulster
Eamonn’s first job on Farming Ulster
Eamonn co-presenting ITV’s Telethon
Mike Nesbitt at UTV in 1994
Gloria Hunniford’s job at the age of only 21

Getting a job at UTV was the most amazing happening in my life. Without that, nothing else would have happened. When people ask me what my big break was the answer is always the same. Rory Fitzpatrick, who's over 90 now, took the risk and gave me the farming report aged 19 and then, when I was offered a full-time job, I nearly lost it before I began.

I asked Derek Murray, the director of programmes, how much it paid and he said they'd give me the NUJ rate of £44.44. Well, I worked that out at £160 a week, about £2,000 a year, and I was on £3,000 a year at Ulster Business magazine. I thought, "Do they think I'm stupid?"

So I told him it wasn't enough. He said "What?" and I said it was less than I was earning.

So he said, "Do you like sport?", and phoned Terry Smith on the sports desk to get some weekend work and there was me thinking it was extra work for the same money. It didn't add up.

So I said: "No deal, sorry. I've just bought a car for £500 and I'm about to get engaged." He couldn't understand who I was, turning down an opportunity, at 19, to be on screen with a major broadcaster. "Och, get out," he said.

So, his secretary Ruth was escorting me to the door and she was saying that they'd loved me at the audition and asking what went wrong and I was explaining that they must think I'm stupid offering me £44 a week, when I was on £3,000 a year.

Well, of course, Ruth said: "That's £44 a day!" I nearly wet myself. I went out and called Derek from a call box and told him I'd made a mistake and I was sorry - I'd thought that building was the way ahead, but I now realised it was agriculture...

The line went really silent; then he said: "You start on Monday."

I'd nearly talked myself out of my biggest break ever and the most exceptional learning curve and experience. I was luckily attuned to TV and found it relatively easy.

I worked really hard and did so all the way, but I didn't get far until my hero and mentor, Jackie Fullerton, took me under his wing after about six months.

He didn't like me at first - couldn't be bothered with me, maybe. I remember one day him pointing at the phone, telling me to answer it and I said: "I didn't go to journalism college to be your slave."

"Really?" says he. "Do you think you'd get put straight through to Dickie Davis (former ITV World of Sport presenter)?" I said "No". "Exactly," said Jackie.

I learned a lot from him and from News at UTV. I learned how to behave and speak in front of the camera and write as I speak - a lot of people forget that when writing.

I have many at UTV to thank, but Rory and Jackie are right up there. When Gloria Hunniford left in 1982 to go to Radio 2, the BBC offered me the weekly Spotlight job. I'd gone home for lunch at mum's and the phone rang - it was Brian Waddell and Derek Murray asking to see me in the office. I thought I was getting the sack, but when I got there Derek started pouring the Black Bush. I didn't even drink then.

"What's all this about you going to the BBC?" says Derek. I said I thought it was time to move into current affairs and he asked: "What would make you stay?"

I thought it would be ridiculous to ask for Gloria's job, but that's what they offered me, at 21. That made me the youngest editor ever in ITV, the BBC or Ireland.

It was an amazing leap of faith by them in the middle of a war situation. I interviewed all the major protagonists; we were 10 years ahead of other programmes.

They made the most amazing investment in me; it was fantastic work experience. There were raised eyebrows when I went to Sky News, coming from soft focus GMTV, but there was no difference from what I'd done in UTV - still isn't.

People like Colin McWilliams, Colin Beattie and Ivan Martin were great to work with and I'll always remember Derek Murray taking me aside one day and saying: "You're very good, but don't let it go to your head. If it all goes tomorrow, you have to fall back on your trade and be a wordsmith." Good advice.

I was at UTV from 1982 to 1986, when I was poached to Manchester. We were such a strong community there in a very intense war situation. There was great camaraderie. The focus was on Northern Ireland.

I don't know what the ITV buyout will mean. The day UTV changed from being a limited company to become a plc everything changed.

In broadcasting you evolve or die. Who knows what news broadcasting is going to be like in the near future. Two-and-a-half minutes?

But I know I have to be thankful that I worked at UTV at the most amazing time in TV history.

Belfast Telegraph

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