Gloria Hunniford: TV special covers six decades of trailblazing career

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
BBC NI has produced a new documentary covering the 60 years of the career of broadcasting legend Gloria Hunniford, with a particular focus on how she helped pave the way for other women in her industry.

Produced to mark the Portadown woman’s 80th birthday, Gloria – My Life On TV, the special programme airs tonight on BBC One.

In it Gloria talks about her career, from the 1970s to present day, and also hears from the star’s friends and colleagues including Sir Cliff Richard, Daniel O’Donnell, Eamonn Holmes and Christine Lampard.  

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Speaking to Good Morning Ulster today, the star was played a clip from her early broadcasting career, in which she displayed notable courage when a car bomb was planted outside the BBC building in Belfast.

BBC NI has produced a new documentary on the career of Gloria Hunniford.BBC NI has produced a new documentary on the career of Gloria Hunniford.
BBC NI has produced a new documentary on the career of Gloria Hunniford.

In the clip, she recounted how the head of programmes arrived and warned her that the building had to be completely evacuated.

“And I thought to myself, this building is so strong, I might be better in here than it would be out in the street,” she said in the archive footage. An engineer and the transmission controller were the only other two people who stayed in the building with her.

She added: “When that car bomb went off, it had gone off in an almighty fashion. And this big strong building just shook like crazy and the dust just came flooding out. It was just like a fog in the studio.... [but] we just continued.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

”Since then she has gone on to enjoy a glittering broadcasting and TV career in England. Speaking ahead of tonight’s broadcast, she told Good Morning Ulster: “The team that made the programme have done a marvelous job cramming all those decades into a one hour programme.

”I have to say it is very flattering to have a programme made about your life but it is also overwhelming because when I saw it first of all I was kind of gobsmacked.

”I couldn’t take it all in myself. In a way I kept thinking - oh, I had forgotten about that...Oh, did I do that?

”Her son had commented that the BBC had given her family a great gift for posterity with the production, she said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

”At least there will be no doubt as to how I lived my life and where I came from.”

The programme recounts some of her greatest television interviews, including an interview with Audrey Hepburn.

The Portadown woman told the Hollywood star: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s is just one of my all time favourite movies. Were you honestly able to do that whistle?”The Hollywood star laughed and replied that the impressive whistle in question had been subbed in.

”I would love to say it was me,” Hepburn replied: “I tried so hard. I did get something ...[but] it was more like a squeak.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Reflecting on the interview today, Gloria said of the exchange: “All my Christmasses came at once because still to this day Breakfast at Tiffany’s is still one of my favourite films.”

She couldn’t quite believe she had landed the interview because she spent much of her youth at the cinema watching Hepburn on the screen.

”I saw a lot of movies and I never in my wildest dreams thought that one day she would walk into a set and I would be welcoming her. So that was amazing.”

The programme also recounts her trip to Los Angeles to interview Doris Day, with images of her kicking sand at the iconic movie star on pebble beach in California.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I wanted to be Doris Day,” she said. “It just was beyond all my wildest dreams because I loved her clothes, I knew all the songs [she sang], and in fact I watched Calamity Jane even over this Christmas Holiday, I am that dedicated.”

Yet another Hollywood star she interviewed was Bette Davis.

“She had a caustic sense of humour and really I should have been petrified to interview her at all, but she was amazing, she was caustically funny.

”She was such a legend that the guys working behind the scenes - who had seen it all over the years... in this instance literally the proverbial pin could have dropped and you would have heard it because everybody was in awe of her. So that was an amazing moment.”

The broadcaster also recounted scooping an interview with the Duke of Edinburgh when as a young journalist she travelled with some young people from NI to Buckingham Palace to collect their Duke of Edinburgh Gold Awards.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“And my simple NI logic was if he was there handing out badges he may as well do an interview. So that was a proud moment.”

Other celebrities paid tribute to how she opened up doors for NI broadcasters to make careers in England, with Eammon Holmes calling her “an A-Lister”.

Christine Lampard said: “She had something else, which made her stand out from all of the men, this sea of grey that there was at the time... and she just was a breath of fresh air. She looked different, she sounded different, but she was funny.”

But Gloria said she was unaware at the time how significant her career would be for others coming after her.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I never felt that at the time because it all happened so innocently in a way. I have always been one to love a challenge but at the same time even though everything was given to me and I was very lucky you still have to work hard to keep your luck.”

There was “practically no women around in any kind of key position” when she started.

She paid tribute to Dan Gilbert as being “way ahead of his time” when he gave her a break into broadcasting.

”He took me into the newsroom and said ‘what do you see?’”

She replied: “I see a lot of men pounding away on typewriters” to which he replied: “Well look, remember, you’re not coming in to do the knitting and the sewing and the recipes. Remember you are as good as any bloke sitting in this room. And you will be out on the streets of Northern Ireland doing bombs, bullets and barricades just like the rest.”

:: Gloria – My Life On TV, airs tonight on BBC One at 9pm. 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Subscribe to and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit now to sign up.

Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Alistair Bushe


Related topics: