Nifty Fifty

A businesslike look back at UTV

Hugh Oram

“It is my privilege, my rare privilege; in fact it is my unique privilege to be the first person to appear before you on Ulster Television.” These were the first words uttered by Sir Laurence Olivier in Ulster Television's inaugural broadcast at 4.45pm on October 31, 1959. Now a book, 50 Years of UTV, has been produced on the TV company's later years.

The book is written by Don Anderson, a respected broadcaster and journalist in the North who has worked for the BBC down the years. But his close ties with the Beeb has not stood in the way of him doing a remarkably impartial profile of the North's commercial TV station. Anderson has treated UTV's upsides and downsides with shared respect.

The early days of UTV were more interesting. Getting the initial bid together, with filmmaker Bill MacQuitty playing a central role, is absorbing. So too are the tales of how the fledging station cut corners to stay on the air. When UTV started up, the pioneers were out in force, including Gordon Duffield, a journalist hired as publicity manager.

Later, Duffield set up his own PR firm, one of the first media companies to operate on an all-Ireland basis. But the bad old days in the North are recalled with the story of Frank Brady, the man recruited as UTV's first chief engineer. Although Brady boasted a wealth of experience with ABC Television in England, he was a Catholic from Co Meath.

In those days, anyone from south of the border looking for work in ‘Norn Irn'had to get a permit and there was pressure from some quarters against Brady being appointed. Anderson also covers the advertising side well. It is hard to imagine that close on 50 years ago, a 15-second spot during the early evening news bulletin, cost all of

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