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Jim McDowell and the Sunday World go together like beer and banter

Jim McDowell talks to the Irish News ahead of the launh of his new book Picture by Hugh Russell.

Jim McDowell and the Sunday World go together like beer and banter, it's hard to imagine one without the other. With his booming Belfast accent and an intonation that reveals his Donegall Pass origins, he is arguably one of Northern Ireland's most famous journalists, however, McDowell says he prefers to be called a 'hack' rather than a reporter.

And that colourful career has now been captured in his memoir, The Good Fight; a fast paced entertaining reflection of working in the newspaper industry during a unique time and in extraordinarily dangerous conditions.

His Irish News column `Dome of Delight' covered the often poisonous, Belfast city council meetings, when it was at the time the only place in the city where the parties met to thrash out differences.

But his career began as a rookie in 1969 with the Belfast News Letter, the same year Northern Ireland's Troubles started. He later went on to serve 25 years as editor of the Sunday tabloid.

Known for exposing senior paramilitary figures, the paper's staff were under constant threat - crime reporter Martin O'Hagan was gunned down by the LVF in 2001, the offices of the paper were fire-bombed and McDowell has had 21 official death threats over the years.

He jokes he could have "wallpapered a room" with the number of threats he received in his career. Despite this he says he doesn't regret printing articles about men who would have had no problem killing him or harming his family.

"Those stories, even the ones that put my life in danger had to be told," he said. "That was my job, that was what I did, it is what I do".

His natural ability to deliver a story, whether that be while standing at the bar of the Duke of York, in Belfast, that now has an upstairs room named after him, or on the pages of the Sunday World have amassed him a loyal following.

Those who have earned column inches in the paper for the wrong reasons hate him while those who have grown up reading the Sunday World, and indeed the young journalists he has helped and mentored over the years, hold him in the highest regard.

His book discusses both friends and foes, from the people he has worked with and admired over the years to the beating at Belfast City Hall's Christmas market in 2009 when he was attacked by a loyalist mob.

Among those he met and challenged along the way were LVF boss Billy 'King Rat' Wright, Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair, the Shoukri brothers Andre and Ihab, and the big spending drug dealers of the late 90s, most of whom were wiped out by the IRA's cover group Direct Action Against Drugs.

Does he think those within the various paramilitary organisations he's challenged over the years will buy the book? "When my book Godfathers hit the shelves, the manager of Easons rang me one day and said 'McDowell there's more of these books being stole than sold' the bogeymen were sending in the wee hoods to nick them."

"That probably sums up my audience", he jokes.

"When I started writing this book it was about the stories I've covered, but the publishers came back and said they wanted the story of my life, a memoir.

"I laughed, I'm from the Gasworks, what would I know about a memoir that's too posh for me.

"I never expected when I started out, a working-class lad, people looked down their nose at people like me wanting to get into journalism, but it was in my blood it was all I ever wanted to be.

"I loved newspapers, the feel of them, the smell of the fresh ink, and to end up the editor of a paper was beyond my dreams," McDowell added.

** The Good Fight is published by Gill Books, priced £14.99.

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