Northern Ireland news

Veteran BBC presenter Seamus McKee tells of listener complaints over hunger strikes as he retires from full-time broadcasting after 40 years

Seamus McKee will reflect on his life and career in broadcasting, and sharing favourite music with listeners

VETERAN broadcaster Seamus McKee was deluged with complaints "from all sides" when he traded his teaching career for a BBC microphone during the 1980s hunger strikes.

He will reveal his steep learning curve during a cosy Desert Island Discs-style chat with fellow BBC presenter William Crawley in a special New Year's Eve edition of BBC Radio Ulster's TalkBack programme.

It will be the last in a series of Christmas specials which begin tomorrow and devote a hour each to four of the station's old guard who recently announced they will be stepping away from daily presentation.

Wendy Austin, Noel Thompson, Karen Patterson and Seamus McKee will all reflect on their lives and careers in broadcasting, and share some of their favourite music with listeners.

Mr McKee's picks included a U2-penned Roy Orbison track She's A Mystery To Me, Kate and Anna McGarrigle's Dancer With Bruised Knees and Seamus Heaney poem set to music The Given Note.

His reminiscences include his beginnings when he would juggle carrying out radio interviews with his role, starting a family with his wife Brenda and working an English teacher at "St Patrick's, Knock as was".

Arriving at the school the morning after one broadcast the grounds-keeper advised him "Don't give up your day job".

But give it up he did, having been recruited by producer and later author Martin Dillon, and it was something of a baptism of fire.

"I had a decision to make and it was a five-days a week offer of a job. It was a big decision - to this day I'm not quite sure why I made it."

Mr McKee had been offered a job in a school straight out of university by a former teacher who had recently been appointed to a headmaster role.

He will tell Mr Crawley that the faith of people like Mr Dillon during his career was a major factor in his enduring success.

"When I started it was the hunger strikes and you had to be exceedingly careful what you said, and if you got it wrong very, very quickly people let you know that you got it wrong and you were of course made aware of getting it wrong by both sides, by all sides, which is very much the story of our job.

"But it was difficult. It was quite a beginning in broadcasting full-time."

When Mr McKee moves away from his previously rigorous level of broadcasting next year he will have been at the BBC for almost 40 years, having been one of the faces of the flagship Good Morning Ulster programme for nearly 30 years before a decade on the drivetime Evening Extra show.

The influence of Holocaust survivor Helen Lewis, who he met through his dancer/choreographer wife, and his lifelong love and defence of the arts will also be explored during the conversation.

"I am passionate about creativity, the importance of the arts, how artists, musicians, dancers, they all helped contribute to finding answers in this place long before the politicians did."

After Ms Austin's Christmas Eve interview it will be Noel Thompson's turn on Friday.

He also marks 40 years at the organisation and since 2012 has presented Good Morning Ulster and BBC Northern Ireland's Spotlight Special following 16 years as anchor of the Newsline programme and 16 years presenting Hearts And Minds.

Karen Patterson will talk about her broadcasting and newspaper career on Monday December 30, having started in the County Down Spectator in Bangor and spent time on Downtown Radio before moving to the BBC nearly 20 years ago and presenting Good Morning Ulster for more than a decade and Newsline for more than nine years before that.

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