Belfast Telegraph

Malcolm Brodie's World of Sport

Pioneers of the small screen made a lasting impression

By Malcolm Brodie sportseditor@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Memoirs came flooding back this week as I read "Brum - A Life In Television" - the autobiography of Dr Brum Henderson, first managing director and later chairman of Ulster Television for I was privileged to have played a small role in the sports output after the opening transmission in October, 1959.

Memoirs came flooding back this week as I read "Brum - A Life In Television" - the autobiography of Dr Brum Henderson, first managing director and later chairman of Ulster Television for I was privileged to have played a small role in the sports output after the opening transmission in October, 1959.

The late Ernie Strathdee, former Irish rugby international and member of the immortal 1948 Triple Crown team, who later tragically died in a Belfast hotel fire, was appointed sports presenter.

He invited me as the then Belfast Telegraph football correspondent to contribute straight-to-camera Irish League previews, conduct interviews and generally "give a hand" as he put it.

Those were joyous if embryonic days in what Brum then considered "the crazy gamble of television" but which eventually turned out to be an amazing UTV success story.

They were hair raising days, too, as we were all rookies to the small screen thankfully prompted, guided and honed by the dignified S E Reynolds (The Colonel) who had joined UTV as a producer from ABC.

He was the master craftsman to be followed by Mike Kent, John Shultz Conway and Ulsterman Derek Bailey, now a distinguished internationally acclaimed director.

It was a team with no internecine strife, no egotism but total camaraderie.

Brum, driving force behind the fledgling station, initiated the idea of Roundabout, a magazine programme similar to the BBC's Tonight, which dealt with a melange of current affairs and a brief slot allocated on Fridays to previews of local sport.

The presenters were Anne Gregg, an attractive 19-year-old with amateur acting experience, the polished Ivor Mills, a young music teacher, while Ernie, who handled the sport invariably had to battle for crucial extra minutes with the producers and the assistant, none other than Gloria Hunniford, whose job was to time the programme.

The studio at Havelock House, a former hemstitching factory, which had been the billet during the Second World War for troops engaged providing smoke screens on the Albert, Queen's and King's Bridges, as camouflage against German air attacks, was unbelievably small.

There was the legendary cameraman, Sean McGaffin, who on a single day filmed and interviewed the captains of eight Irish Cup teams resident in all parts of the province.

When he returned with his film rolls in those opening tense months shortly after the first transmission they were rushed to George Craig's house in Joy Street and developed in a bath.

Here we had television in the raw. Craig was the still photographer who, to make his subjects feel at ease, would say: "Now this one is for the sideboard!" They were quite a pair.

When I watched Adrian Logan and his cameraman, the inimitable Albert Kirk, one of the great Ulster media characters, operating at the World Cup in Japan and South Korea, my thoughts turned to yesteryear and how things had dramatically changed.

Interviews could now be staged in a hotel lobby, the film cut and edited by machine in a bedroom and then taken to a studio for instant transmission to Belfast.

We had no autocues in 1959 and the early sixties. A minute is a long time on television and it was a feat to memorise the various Irish League matches and other sports events without gazing down at the script.

If you have a momentary blank don't hesitate, extemporise and just plough on was the Strathdee rule.

One of the first sports programme was an in depth analysis of Belfast Celtic who had withdrawn from football in 1949.

There were behind-the- scene moves to invite them to return, and indications were that just might happen but it was not to be, killed stone dead by "The Troubles." Celtic's departure left a void which has never been filled.

Sports personalities from many nations were studio guests while the contributors included the late Robin Thompson, captain of Ireland and the British Lions, George Glasgow, Norman Kernaghan, former Belfast Celtic and Ireland winger, local journalists Bill Rutherford and Syd Maguire.

We would come off the air elated when things had gone well or deflated if there had been a cock-up but, fortunately, that didn't often happen.

Then we would retire to the pub affectionately called "Dirty Dick's" around the corner .

What fun and laughter we had - what memories.

Those were the days.

Belfast Telegraph

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