What is your earliest memory?
Being a boy in London. I remember things like the red buses and the river Thames, stuff like that. I left London when I was really quite young though, so they are very hazy memories indeed.
My father worked for the BBC in London in those days, in Bush House, and he did some part time work for ITV.
So there is a bit of family history in broadcasting.
What subjects were you top and bottom of the class in at school?
Funnily enough, I was very good at what they called ‘divinity’ or religion classes in my school which, for someone who wouldn’t really describe himself as a religious person in any way, and as an occasional churchgoer, is quite surprising.
But clearly I warmed to the subject.
I think almost certainly chemistry, physics, that end of the scale – I didn’t score at all well there.
Did you enjoy studying at Oxford?
It was as I had imagined it would be – a bit of punting on the river and jolly japes like that.
It was sort of quite old-fashioned.
The standard of education was obviously great but I’m not actually a very academic person.
I got through, but I remember it more for the experiences I had as a person than any of the educational side of it.
Your father Roy Bradford was an influential liberal unionist politician and writer. How has he influenced your career?
Well, his sons were a deep disappointment to him compared to all that he had done... No, I jest!
He was a very clever, funny and entertaining man, very generous with his hospitality – there were always people around the house and so on.
But I wouldn’t say he really influenced my career choices. I did all sorts of things before I ended up in broadcasting.
Being a contrary son, I probably wouldn’t have listened to any advice I’d been given anyway – one always wants to do one’s own thing at that age.
I laboured on an oil rig, I dabbled in antiques, I was a city trader in the Lloyds’ Insurance broking centre.
I didn’t particularly enjoy the city trading – it just wasn’t me.
I think I panicked a bit on leaving university.
I suddenly realised that the life of leisure was over and I’d have to do a job and I hadn’t a notion about what I wanted to do.
I had no clear profession in mind.
I wasn’t one of these people who had a vocation, so I was just fuddled in by the careers people into a city job in London.
The awful truth is that I slaved away at it for nine months, then went off on my annual holiday and just never went back.
What was it like working on an oil rig?
It was actually a very memorable time in my life. We worked incredibly hard and got paid with great wads of bank notes.
It was a really Klondike, solitary atmosphere.
But after a lot of hard labour I got a more cushy job doing crane control, telling people what to do over a walkie-talkie. People always say they can’t imagine me working on an oilrig but I enjoyed it.
When did you first make your foray into broadcasting?
In the late 80s and early 90s.
My first job was as a reporter on Good Morning Ulster.
Since then, I’ve taken on many different roles within the BBC.
I was producer on the Walter Love Show, I presented Newsline, I did the Consumer Desk Programme for a while.
Because the BBC is a pretty big place there are lots of opportunities to work on different programmes.
In an early interview for one job in the BBC, which I didn’t get, I was accused of being a dilettante.
I think they meant that I had my fingers in too many pies so to speak.
I arrived at the job I do now by a process of elimination really, having done a lot of different jobs.
Do you prefer working in radio or television?
I have enjoyed both forms but I feel radio allows me greater freedom to really be myself.
You are rather more constrained in television.
I still do the odd bit of TV like Northern Ireland Question Time from Westminster, just to keep my hand in.
What would you say have been the highlights of your career?
It’s very difficult to pick out the highlights. I think the point about the job I do is that it is very different everyday.
That’s a bit of an old clich but obviously news is unpredictable; you never know what the days are going to bring and so that keeps things fresh and I enjoy that. I wouldn’t necessarily pick out any particular event that I remember, say Clinton in Belfast or whatever. Sometimes it’s the quirkier, smaller stories that you get more lasting pleasure out of than the big set-piece news item.
So you resolutely enjoy your job and don’t have any mornings like the rest of us when escaping to Mexico seems an attractive option?
No, when the alarm goes at half four in the morning I think ‘Whoopee it’s great to be alive!’ Especially on a February morning with the sleet coming down. The hard bit about presenting Good Morning Ulster is definitely having to get up so early. It ruins my social life in as much as you can’t stay up late at night. You can try, but you suffer. I used to be a real night owl person but now I am very much the lark, infuriatingly chirpy in the mornings.
Are you particularly interested in the political aspects of news?
Yes. Part of it is because I am from a political family.
I also know socially all the politicians because I do quite a lot of work up at Stormont these days at the Assembly.
I have been around quite a long time and so have they, so from that point of view I read stories about politicians in the paper and I’m seeing them as much as people as politicians. That’s always interesting.
And what kind of insight has that given you into how things work up on the hill? How Paxman-esque does a journalist have to be to get the truth out of dissembling politicians?
That’s a very good question. There’s something of the performance about the Paxman-type interview. It’s as much about performance as it is about getting information from the politician because you can’t force the politician to say anything that they don’t want to say – even if you repeat the question ten times. They will have an answer which they’ve been told by their Press people is the message they want to get out and they will bring round any question you ask to that message and they’re getting very good at it. You don’t really get people firing from the hip these days – they’ve all been to handling the media classes, they’re all very well couched in the ways of the media and how it works. Sometimes, by being Mr Nice Guy you can get as much information – and surprising information out of a politician too – as you might being a ruthless cross-examiner.
Tell us a bit about the time you spent shadowing Jeremy Paxman
When I was doing Newsline and Spotlight it was considered that I should learn a bit more about TV presentation, political programmes in particular, so what better programme to be posted off to than Newsnight.
So I spent a week in London and I basically followed Jeremy Paxman around the place – the idea being that some of his greatness would rub off on me.
And did his greatness rub off on you?
Haha! I’ll let you be the judge of that!
What was the great inquisitor really like?
He was quite crusty. He got a lot of abusive mail which he took quite personally, but I said to him, look, this is testament to the impact you have. He’s really a pussycat behind his belligerent image on camera. I think he plays up to that a bit. He had fond memories of his time here working on Spotlight in Belfast, which really had been the springboard for his career. He took me under his wing because of his fondness for Belfast.
Do you ever slip into your radio voice in everyday casual conversations?
I like to think my radio voice is not a million miles away from the voice I am using now. I think that’s a malady more common to television reporters where they can fall into that caricature of the television reporter reporting everything in that crest-trough television reporting kind of way. I think when I started off in radio I was much more self-conscious about the way I sounded than I am now. I like to think that the voice I use to read the headlines on Good Morning Ulster is the same as I would use to talk to someone over a cup of coffee.
When are you happiest?
You sort of associate happiness in your mind with leisure and time off. But, sometimes, if you are doing your job and it goes well, the interviews go well, you feel you are entertaining and informing people and you know you’re on a bit of a roll – that’s very satisfying.
Where did you meet your other half?
I’m not married but I have a girlfriend of long standing who I met at a knees-up thrown by Sean Rafferty, a former BBC presenter.
Is the glass half-empty or half-full?
Half-full all the time. I am optimistic by nature. I have my gloomy moments but who doesn’t?
What makes you unhappy?
There’s obviously sadness in life and illness and death – the whole dark side of life that one can’t get away from.
Melancholy is part of the human condition and there’s no point in pretending otherwise. You read papers and see TV programmes and people talk about happiness – they’re not happy and they want to be more happy. But let’s face it, you’re not going to be happy most of the time. You’re lucky not to be unhappy, and happiness will just come in little blips every now and again if you’re lucky – so hold on to them while it’s going. I think people expect too much in a way.
What are your pet hates?
People being unnecessarily rude. If you’re driving and you let somebody out in front of you, for example, you expect some kind of acknowledgement and if you don’t get it you just wish you hadn’t let them out in the first place. I don’t like bad manners.
If you could invite anyone to an ideal dinner party who would you bring?
Einstein, Marilyn Monroe and JFK.
Wouldn’t you bring any of your family members along?
Oh absolutely not (hearty guffaws). We had more rows round my family dining table when I was a boy than anywhere else I think.
It was a proper battleground! In the nicest possible way, of course.
What kind of music do you think they play in hell?
Opera. I do not like opera. I love classical music, I just don’t understand opera. I can see some of the arias are pretty, Nessun Dorma and the stuff they use for that famous football programme, but it’s all the bits they play in between and the way they sing. I cannot see the point of opera. I think people are hoodwinked by it.
Which films do you like?
I’m quite easily moved to tears in film. I quite like sentimental films. I cry much more often at films than I ever would in real life. I love those big epics by David Lean like Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia and Ryan’s Daughter. But I have to say I absolutely hate action movies.
Do you have any interesting hobbies or unusual pastimes?
I am always stuck on the hobbies question. I wish I could say I collected stamps or something but I don’t.
What would you say the meaning of life is in a nutshell?
One doesn’t know. I don’t have any profound religious beliefs about what we’re doing or why we’re here. So like most other people I just really muck along as best I can and hope in doing so that I don’t tread on too many people’s toes or try to get what I want at the expense of others.
Describe yourself in five words
I can’t do it in five words! I like to think of myself as an amusing, intelligent person. Does that sound very vain? And I’m spontaneous and slightly unrealistic.
n Good Morning Ulster airs on BBC Radio Ulster on weekday mornings 6.30 – 9am.
From today, Conor will be joined on the show by new co-hosts Mark Carruthers and Karen Patterson.