Belfast Telegraph

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A brand so dear to hearts of local viewers

By Don Anderson

Published 26/08/2015

Let's get one thing out of the way first. UTV is not disappearing.

It has merely announced that it is putting the television side of its business up for sale, but for most people this announcement has been a bombshell.

After all UTV is the most watched channel in Northern Ireland; it exudes on-screen confidence and success. For a great many, television is UTV. For goodness sake, without TV, most of its very name disappears.

UTV does not do sentimentality when it comes to business decisions.

For years the company has been making far more money from its radio stations than from television. That is the trigger.

But sentimentality is what it has spent decades engendering in the hearts of its large and intensely loyal audience.

'It's your TV' was the branding, seared repeatedly into subconscious of so many. Everywhere else in England and Scotland, the branding is ITV, more impersonal and much less hooked into the local audience.

Only Ulster has on-air announcers like Julian Simmons. Simmons' introductions to Coronation Street are mini comedies on their own, with his James Young impression harking back to splendid theatre memories in Belfast.

There's nothing like it on GB television. Simmons epitomises the unique bonding UTV has created.

Small wonder that Mike Nesbitt, a UTV anchor before he became a politician, issued a statement with an underlying tinge of betrayal.

He knows that UTV is the station of ordinary everyday folk who, I'll wager, don't like the idea of it being sold off, notwithstanding that the business has been owned by far-away investors for a long time. On air, it is their station.

You could write half-a-century of local history based on the adventures of UTV since its black and white beginning on Halloween 1959 when a big TV was 17 inches. It reported the Troubles with distinction.

Its presenters became household names and many will recall with affection names from the past such as Jimmy Greene, Gordon Burns, Maurice Smith, David Dunseith, Leslie Dawes, Colin Baker, Derek Murray, Gloria Hunniford, Ian Hill, Brian Baird, Adrianne McGuill, Ivor Mills, Jackie Fullerton, Helen Madden, David Mahlow, James Boyce, Gerry Kelly - to name but a few.

All we can hope is that whoever or whatever buys this TV station knows they take possession of a special entity. If it squanders that goodwill, it might be up for sale soon again.

Don Anderson is the author of 50 Years Of UTV, published by Gill and Macmillan

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