Belfast Telegraph

Sorrow and disbelief at BBC NI as colleagues break sad news of Stephen Clements death

BBC NI headquarters on Belfast’s Ormeau Avenue
BBC NI headquarters on Belfast’s Ormeau Avenue
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

Even for some of the hard-bitten veterans in the BBC newsroom in Belfast, it was the breaking story that brought tears and a numbing sense of disbelief yesterday.

For the announcement that Radio Ulster's 'new boy' Stephen Clements who always seemed to have a smile on his face, had died at the cruelly early age of 47 was greeted with incredulity and stunned sadness.

The devastating news at lunchtime was confirmed in a statement relayed to Broadcasting House staff by BBC Northern Ireland Director Peter Johnston.

He said: "We are sorry to bring you the sad news of the passing of our colleague Stephen Clements.

"Our thoughts are with Stephen's family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time."

One journalist said: "The silence and sorrow that descended on the building was quite remarkable. We've all lost friends and colleagues before but there's usually some sort of warning or expectation about their passing. No-one was prepared to hear that Stephen had died suddenly."

On Radio Ulster presenter Stephen Rainey stood in for his namesake on his morning show and there was no inkling for listeners that anything was amiss.

Stephen Rainey made no mention of his colleague's passing and continued to play requests for people who rang into the programme.

The 11am and noon news bulletins passed without any reference to Stephen's death.

"The last thing anyone would have wanted to feature in the Stephen Clements show was Stephen Clements' death," said one source.

But at 1pm the bombshell dropped on the lunchtime news bulletins in the middle of the Talkback programme. It fell to newsreader Anne-Marie Foster to tell listeners that Stephen had passed away. Arts correspondent Robbie Meredith read a report giving the few details that were available about the sudden death.

At the end of the bulletin a subdued Talkback presenter Mark Carruthers said: "We have had some very sad breaking news in the last few moments. The BBC Radio Ulster presenter Stephen Clements has died."

Robbie Meredith was enlisted again to take part in a more in-depth interview about what had just happened and he went on to pay tribute to Stephen who he said joined the BBC in September last year to take over the mid-morning Radio Ulster show from Sean Coyle.

He talked of how Stephen had been an enormously popular and distinctive presenter who was "part of many people's days" on his breakfast show with Q Radio before switching to the BBC.

After the interview, producers played the reflective Sting song Fields of Gold before returning to cover the cut and thrust of the day's news agenda.

Hugo Duncan was the next presenter on air and the normally upbeat and jocular host was clearly in a state of shock over the loss of his "very good friend" and colleague.

He told listeners: "It's a very sad day."

He said that Stephen had only been at Radio Ulster for four or five months but had already made many friends and knitted into everything at the station.

"We are going to miss him big time," he added. "So we are going to take the tone of the music down for a while and think about him and his wife and his children."

Hugo encouraged listeners to phone in with messages of condolence and it's understood switchboards at Radio Ulster were inundated with calls from distraught fans.

Throughout the afternoon radio and television producers met to discuss how to cover a story which had broken on their own doorstep about a colleague who was so close to so many of them.

"Obviously Stephen was relatively new to the BBC in Ormeau Avenue but he was a very friendly guy. His death came like a bolt from the blue, " said one employee. For the main radio news programme of the day Evening Extra, Stephen Clements' death had become the lead story.

Presenter Conor Bradford interviewed the DUP leader Arlene Foster who said she was a huge fan of Stephen's from his earliest days on Q Radio. She said: "He had the capacity to reach out of the radio into everybody's hearts. We all loved the way in which he communicated with people."

On BBC Newsline at teatime presenter Donna Traynor appeared visibly moved as she read her link to the main news story about Stephen's death.

Included in the programme were interviews with BBC staffers and former colleagues of Stephen's from Q Radio along with a statement from the presenter's brother Gavin who said his family were devastated but appealed for privacy in the wake of the death of his very public sibling.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, contact the Samaritans on 084 5790 9090, or Lifeline 080 8808 800

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