In early 1977 I was working as a development officer with Belfast City Council preparing local communities for the new leisure centres then being built.
So how did I get from leisure centres to broadcasting?
As so often in life, I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
My brother Danny (left) played for the Down gaelic football team in 1968 — he was the goalkeeper when they won the All-Ireland that year.
In the mid-1970s Leslie Dawes, who was UTV’s sports editor, needed a new GAA correspondent and began scouting around.
I was still living at home with my mother, as was my brother Danny, who also had curly hair and a beard.
When Leslie (right) came up to our house I assumed he was looking for Danny. So Leslie opens up with: “Would you be interested in doing a bit of part-time presentation on GAA?”
“Certainly, Leslie,” said I. When I had closed the door it dawned on me what had happened — he thought I was Danny!
But the more I thought about it the more I became convinced that Leslie Dawes
would not make a mistake like that. The following week I travelled to Belfast for the audition. To my surprise and delight, within minutes of leaving the studio Leslie offered me the job.
But in UTV (as elsewhere) the closed shop meant that a union could prevent anyone working merely by denying them union membership.
Catch-22: I couldn’t do the job unless I had a union card, and I couldn’t get a card unless I had a job.
The net result was that, after about six months at UTV, I was blacklisted by the
NUJ. The management were forced to take me off the screen. I was furious.
And so it was that in early 1978 I made an appointment to see Colin Creighton, owner of the Down Recorder.
I told him I was prepared to work for nothing. Colin was somewhat taken aback, nevertheless he agreed, even throwing in £10-a-week “petrol expenses”.
I was in!
Then towards the end of 1978 something happened that would push open the door to the world I had been seeking — television.
Gloria Hunniford was presenting a two-hour programme on Radio Ulster before UTV pounced and brought her from the BBC to start a new television programme called Good Evening Ulster.
It was to be a ground-breaking, new-style six o’clock programme.
I knew there would be vacancies for reporters and so I applied.
As it turned out, I was called for an interview which lasted about 30 minutes during which time I hardly opened my mouth.
For some inexplicable reason I was offered the position there and then, starting in January 1979.
The grand plan was coming together sooner than I thought!