Belfast Telegraph

Eamonn Holmes hails UTV 'titan' after producer dies at 95

Rory Fitzpatrick
Rory Fitzpatrick
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

Eamonn Holmes has led tributes to a former UTV producer, describing him as "a titan of Northern Ireland broadcasting".

Rory Fitzpatrick passed away in the early hours of Monday morning at the age of 95.

He was one of the first ever journalists to work at UTV in 1962 and later gave a 19-year-old Holmes his big break on the Farming Ulster programme.

Known in the UTV newsroom for his distinctive red hair and love of a good cigar, Rory Fitzpatrick enjoyed a distinguished career as a producer.

A statement from his former employers said the UTV family was "saddened" to hear of his passing.

His children, along with Holmes and other former colleagues, told the Belfast Telegraph he was "a brilliant journalist" and devoted father.

Eamonn Holmes said he "was a titan of broadcasting within Northern Ireland", who changed his life with his first job offer.

Famously, Holmes initially turned Mr Fitzpatrick down after thinking the £44.44 rate he was offered was too low.

"On my way out the secretary said: 'You've got it wrong - it's per day, not per week'.

"He was a great advocate and supporter of mine and I always think, whatever I'm doing, I owe it all to him."

Rory with his wife Joan 70 years ago
Rory with his wife Joan 70 years ago

Although born in Dublin, Mr Fitzpatrick spent most of his childhood in Glenravel near Ballymena.

Colin Fitzpatrick said his father and mother Joan were both working as newspaper journalists when they married in Glasgow in the 1950s.

"That's because it was a mixed marriage, dad was Catholic and mum was Protestant, and that wasn't an easy thing to do in 1950s Northern Ireland," he said.

They returned to Belfast to work for a number of newspapers before Mr Fitzpatrick joined UTV.

"I remember wonderful stories of the big politicians of the day like Ian Paisley, Gerry Fitt and John Hume.

"After the evening news they would retire to the green room with Paisley having a soda water and lime and John Hume having something stronger.

"In those days even the politicians got a fee, but Paisley's cheque always came back with 'No Surrender' written on it."

Colin Fitzpatrick said his father had been especially proud of producing the series God's Frontiersmen in the late 1980s, which looked at Scots-Irish settlers in America.

"It was one of the first high profile histories of the Scots-Irish, and interesting that it came from a Catholic from Glenravel in Co Antrim.

Eamonn today
Eamonn today

"It was an absolutely huge production, probably the biggest thing UTV ever did."

Mr Fitzpatrick's daughter Moira Townsend called her father "the most amazing, kind, intelligent man with a wicked sense of humour".

As well as a "captivating" ability to tell stories, she said he had an insatiable appetite for reading.

"Most of all, I will remember how very gentle and kind he was. The best man I have ever known (I think my husband Richard will forgive me this!), I loved him with all my heart and will miss him forever."

Jacqui Berkeley, now a producer for BBC Studios in Belfast, was also given her first presenting job by Mr Fitzpatrick.

"Rory brought me into the industry and I absolutely adored him," she said. "He was a brilliant journalist first and foremost, but he was very sharing and was such a great mentor."

Former UTV stars Eamonn Holmes and Jacqui Berkeley
Former UTV stars Eamonn Holmes and Jacqui Berkeley

Peter Morrow was a young farmer when Mr Fitzpatrick paired him Eamonn Holmes on Farming Ulster. He said the producer was "highly intelligent" with a "very young mind" who enjoyed giving new talent a break.

Mr Fitzpatrick's funeral service will take place at Roselawn Crematorium this Saturday at 12 noon.

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