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'Boss in million' inspired generation of journalists

Harry Castles, who has died aged 67, was one of the outstanding journalists of his generation, mentoring many young reporters at Downtown Radio who are now household names in broadcasting.

Born in April 1949 in Lurgan, where his parents ran a shop, he was educated at Lurgan College.

He set out on his journalistic career in 1966, joining the Morton Newspaper group, where he worked on the Lurgan Mail and later Cityweek in Belfast.

As well as his day job, he augmented his income covering local football and other sports for the Weekly News.

Seeking a new challenge, Harry and his late brother for a time operated a travel agency in their native Lurgan, then he moved to Newtownards, where he and his wife Liz - they married in 1971 - successfully ran a late and early convenience store.

When Downtown Radio first went on air on March 16, 1976, Harry was one of the earliest voices heard on air.

He played a key part in developing its fast, reliable news coverage when the Troubles were at their peak and hosted a Saturday afternoon segment notable for his informed enthusiasm on the entire spectrum of local sports and the star performers.

After a time he was attracted to the challenge of a job in public relations, which he performed with his customary commitment to integrity and professional standards.

But in 2007 he rejoined Downtown as head of news. Then followed the most satisfying period of his life.

His Sunday phone-in discussion programme was described on the station's website as "one of the most popular programmes in Downtown's schedule" and his individual stamp and reporting skills ensured his high standards of journalism were widely recognised and passed on to a new generation of reporters, including David Blevins, now Ireland correspondent for Sky News; Julian O'Neill, currently with BBC NI; and Barbara McCann, now a video journalist.

Another former Downtown journalist, Lisa McAlister, now with the BBC, described him as "a boss in a million".

"If it was a quiet news day, Harry would say, 'You did all those extra hours last week - that's an afternoon for the pub with your mate'," she said.

"And away I would tootle for a boozy afternoon with the blessing of my boss."

Louis Edmondson, formerly with the BBC, described Harry as "a lovely, witty, funny, intelligent man who I had the pleasure of having as my boss for all the years I worked on Downtown Radio and a friend then and after."

Florence Ambrose, still with Downtown, added: "I have lovely memories of a great, respectful and kind boss. He is now at peace."

BBC newsreader Anne-Marie Foster said: "So sad to hear this. He was the first to put me in front of a news-reading microphone."

Away from work, Harry loved socialising with his wide circle of friends and was also an enthusiastic sailor.

Over the years, he owned a couple of small boats and enjoyed being out on the water to relax and think.

He was also a keen advocate of integrated education and his children attended Lagan College, where he also served as a governor.

In 2007, having retired, he and Liz emigrated to Andalusia in southern Spain, where they enjoyed a dream retirement in an apartment with views across the Mediterranean to Gibraltar and Morocco.

They recently celebrated 45 years of marriage.

However, in recent times, Harry's health deteriorated and he has now passed away after a period of illness.

He is survived by his wife and children, Darren and Julie, and a beloved grandson, Conor.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph