Belfast Telegraph

BBC's Noel Thompson on damaging effects of reporting Troubles as he prepares for retirement

BBC veteran looks back on career as he retires at 64

Broadcaster Noel Thompson
Broadcaster Noel Thompson
Noel in the early days of his time at BBC NI

By Staff reporter

Veteran BBC NI broadcaster Noel Thompson has opened up about the psychologically damaging effects of reporting the Troubles.

Popular presenter Noel (64) is retiring from the BBC after four decades.

In a revealing hour-long interview with Talkback presenter William Crawley to be broadcast at noon today, Thompson looks back at his time with the broadcaster and speaks frankly about his experiences during the worst days of violence here.

"I genuinely believe that we all have a little bit of post-traumatic stress disorder," he said.

"When we think of the things that we had to do... you get a phone call at 2am telling you to get away down to the Tyrone border.

"You get down to the Tyrone border at three in the morning, and there'd be a body wrapped in a bin bag at the side of the road.

"We often got there before the police and the Army did and we saw things and came across things that do have a lasting effect on you - there's absolutely no doubt about it."

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He recalled two Troubles events seared into his memory.

"I was on air on Good Morning Ulster during the Drumcree period and there'd been the fire in which the little Quinn children perished," he said.

"We started off, we didn't know anything about the fire, just that there'd been this terrible, terrible family tragedy. And then at eight o'clock we got the chief inspector in charge and he said: 'This is a murder inquiry.' We interviewed lots of politicians, and I remember Monica McWilliams of the Women's Coalition - I think she was the last to be interviewed, this was all happening during that terrible time of tension around Drumcree - said in a message to the men: 'Go back to your homes and your children.'"

The funerals of the victims of the Omagh bombing also affected him deeply.

"I think there were 10 funerals that morning," he said.

"We had a couple of clergymen in the studio that morning.

"I was very, very affected by it.

"The news editor sent Wendy (Austin) in to see if I was OK.

"I'm not looking for sympathy, but I definitely think that these things have a long-term effect."

Thompson also recalls covering key moments in recent history including the Good Friday Agreement and the visit of US President Bill Clinton to Northern Ireland among them.

"It was a fascinating process to watch, people beavering away to find some form of compromise that would enable things to move."

In today's interview Thompson talks widely about his life, touching on his love of music, the famous people he has interviewed and his exciting plans for a post-BBC NI future.

"I have loved every minute of it. I've had an extraordinarily fortunate career and I give thanks for it every day," he said.

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