FOR many of us, the smooth tones of Walter Love’s commentary on the scores and bands and Orangemen that make up the Belfast Twelfth of July parade each year represent the only voice we have ever been used to hearing talking about this major Orange event in our lives.
The veteran broadcaster, who worked for the BBC for 20 years before leaving to work as freelance in 1978, has been at the helm of the corporation’s Twelfth coverage for “certainly around 20 years or possibly a little longer”.
Yet the Belfast born man, who now resides in Downpatrick, where he is a keen member of his local historical society, says that each year brings an occasion that is still unique, and with that comes fresh challenges each time.
Indeed, there is no better man for the job. Walter’s experience in the world of TV and radio stretches right back to 1958 - although technically, one could almost say that he was actually 11 when he started out, after an appearance on Children’s Hour in 1946.
More recently, he presented Love in the Afternoon, and from 1988 until 2006, he was both producer and presenter of Love Forty every Sunday afternoon.
Famously a huge fan of jazz, the MBE recipient - he was awarded the honour in 1998 for his services to broadcasting - he has also presented regular programmes on the subject for the BBC for over 40 years.
“I am semi-retired now, I still do quite a number of things,” says Walter, who’s 78 but doesn’t look or sound a day over 60.
“I honestly couldn’t put an exact date on when I started doing Twelfth coverage, but it was certainly around 20 years ago, or possibly a little longer, so it’s quite a lengthy attachment to it.
“They (the BBC) were looking for somebody to act as linkman and commentator on the Twelfth and I was chosen to do it one year and it’s stayed with me.”
Ironically, Walter reveals that he “learnt one very good lesson” after his first broadcast - he was told that he talked too much!
“I did a lot of television in my career, but I’d mainly been a radio person, and radio people tend to talk quite a bit - because you have to.
“In television, and particularly with something as colourful a spectacle like the Twelfth, the pictures are the important thing. It’s a very colourful event, it’s a very big event, and so you need to, as they describe it in the business, allow the pictures to speak for themselves.
“So really the commentator in television is adding a little bit of information, not telling the viewer what is obvious, but is filling in a little bit of background, and allowing the sounds from the spectacle to speak for themselves.”
Walter says that to some extent, the role requires a little improvisation in terms of feeling your way as you go along in the beginning.
But he reveals that there is a “very good system” in place that makes the job of deciphering lodge from lodge, and band from band, a little easier.
“There is a running order of the procession of the lodges and the bands that is provided for the BBC, and it means that you’ve got a background reference to the bands,” he says.
“I would study that document before the broadcast and make a note of any interesting points about individual lodges or bands which are worthy of comment. Then if the band or the lodge appears on the screen you have that information readily available just to fill in a little bit of detail.
“I sit in that little box at the junction of Dublin Road and Ormeau Avenue so you can see through the window all that’s going on. But actually what you really need to be commentating on is not what you can see through the window, but what you can see on the screen, because that’s what the viewer sees.
“I also make a few notes beforehand of discussion points. This year I’ll have a historian with me, Dr Gavin Hughes, so if there are historical points of interest, I will have made a few notes of those beforehand, and if it’s relevant, bring him in on the discussion, and that again provides a little background information.”
He adds that what will be of particular note this year is the fact that 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast, so the city parade will take on additional significance.
Walter says that the BBC coverage of the Twelfth has evolved and progressed from its early days, when two cameras were taken down to an office on the corner of their building and connected by cable back up to the studio, relaying black and white images of the parade to homes across Northern Ireland.
“It was probably very primitive by today’s standards,” he says.
“The programme has evolved so we now have a reporter, Helen Mark, down in the street in Bedford Street, talking to people in the crowd and very often meeting people who are overseas visitors watching the parade.
“We also use an outside broadcast point in the country; it will be in Magherafelt this time, with Ralph McClean there giving the contrast between the big city parade and the country event, which are different in character.”
It all sounds very organised and professionally prepared for - but I cannot help but probe Walter to see if he can recall any ‘unscripted’ moments caught on camera; any little unexpected scenarios which may have tested Walter’s commentating prowess to the utmost?
“There are lovely what you call ‘cut-away’ shots, which shows people in the crowd, and families very often will position themselves opposite the BBC; it’s a chance maybe to appear on television, and sometimes you get kids who are maybe yawning or falling asleep or whatever,” he replies.
“I don’t think I can remember anything very strange happening. The one worry I suppose, is that it’s a very wet or windy day.
“We’ve been very lucky actually, certainly on the majority of occasions, it’s been a good morning, where the colours of the banners are shown to their best advantage. Normally it runs pretty smoothly.”
To deliver such a perfectly informed, interesting presentation of the Belfast Twelfth must surely require a certain level of genuine enjoyment on Walter’s own part, and he confesses that he does find the experience to be a pleasant one.
“I think it’s interesting to hear the comments of overseas visitors who are in Belfast for the very first time for the Twelfth, and are amazed at the colour and the spectacle and the scope of the parade,” he says when asked to try and pinpoint what he likes most about it.
“It takes a long time to pass a given point so it’s a very big event and that provokes some very interesting comments from overseas, visitors people from America, New Zealand, Australia, and from various parts of the continent too.
“Looking down Bedford Street towards City Hall, with the Linenhall Library as a backdrop, if you like, you get a great perspective on the extent and the colour of the event, and that always appeals to me.”
**Join BBC Northern Ireland for live coverage of the Belfast Twelfth procession from the city centre with commentary from Walter Love and Dr Gavin Hughes on BBC One Northern Ireland on Friday, July 12 at 11am.
Helen Mark will be in Belfast city centre with spectators and Ralph McLean will present coverage from Magherafelt.
And in the evening Helen will present a round-up of the day’s events on BBC One Northern Ireland at 10.35pm with background reports from Ralph McLean and Claire McCollum.