BBC Northern Ireland: Four news presenters to step down in 2020

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Arts Correspondent

Image caption,
Noel Thompson, Karen Patterson, Seamus McKee and Wendy Austin are stepping down following a review of BBC News NI schedules and programmes

Four of BBC Northern Ireland's best-known news presenters are to step down from their roles early in 2020.

Noel Thompson and Karen Patterson will no longer present BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme.

Meanwhile, Seamus McKee is to leave Evening Extra while Wendy Austin is to step down from presenting Inside Business.

All have taken the opportunity to stand down following a review into BBC News NI schedules and programmes.

Adam Smyth, head of news at BBC News NI, said they would be missed by colleagues and audiences alike.

"I'm immensely proud to have worked with each of these extremely talented broadcasters," he said.

"They are not only consummate professionals who live and breathe news, but they brought versatility, personality and warmth to their broadcasting roles, making them a trusted friend and guide to listeners."

All four presenters have decades of broadcasting experience on radio and television and have won numerous awards for their work.

Wendy Austin joined the BBC in 1976 and has presented many programmes, including Good Morning Ulster, Inside Ulster and Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4.

Image caption,
Wendy Austin joined the BBC in 1976

She thanked her listeners and colleagues.

"At the start of my radio career, a wise colleague told me, 'when someone turns the radio on, they're inviting you into their home.'

"They want to hear the story you have to tell, or they want to have company, not to be talked down to or shouted at.

"That's what I've tried to do."

Seamus McKee - who joined the BBC full-time as presenter of Good Morning Ulster in 1981 - said his most recent decade presenting Evening Extra had been among the most fulfilling of his time at the corporation.

Image caption,
Seamus McKee said he hoped journalism and broadcasting would play some part in a "new phase in my life"

"I have decided it's time to step back from daily presenting," he said.

"I'm proud of what we've achieved with Evening Extra and I wish the programme well as I start a new phase in my life, in which I hope journalism and broadcasting will play some part."

Noel Thompson began his career at the BBC in 1979 and moved to Good Morning Ulster after presenting BBC Newsline for 16 years.

He said he'd had a fascinating and rewarding four decades at what he called the "world's finest news organisation".

Image caption,
Noel Thompson said he hoped it was "not the end of my relationship with the BBC"

"I feel the time has come to allow a new generation of broadcasters to experience some of the opportunities I have had," he said.

"I hope it's not the end of my relationship with the BBC and that I shall still be welcomed into Broadcasting House from time to time in one guise or another."

Karen Patterson has been a presenter on BBC Newsline, Evening Extra and Good Morning Ulster for almost two decades.

She said she was stepping back from daily presenting to embrace new opportunities.

Image source, Iain White Photography
Image caption,
Karen Patterson said there had been lighter moments in her career but the "4am alarm call was not one of them"

"I wish to thank everyone who has shared my on-air journey so far," she said.

"I have covered the election of two presidents, the mixed fortunes of five prime ministers, the restoration of devolution, the fall of Stormont and, it goes without saying, Brexit in all its forms.

"There have, of course, been many lighter moments, but my 4am alarm call was not one of them!"

'Remarkable era'

Peter Johnston, director of BBC Northern Ireland, said he had immense respect and gratitude for all four journalists.

"Wendy, Noel, Seamus and Karen have been part of BBC Northern Ireland and, in particular, BBC Radio Ulster for as long as I can remember, so this really feels like the end of an era," he said.

"But what a remarkable era it has been.

"Over their respective careers they have guided listeners through countless big events and stories and some of Northern Ireland's darkest days."

BBC Northern Ireland said decisions on who would succeed them as presenters on BBC Radio Ulster's breakfast, drive-time and business news programmes would be announced at a later date.