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Broadcaster who started out on Irish daily dies aged 72

Graham McKenzie pictured with Margaret Thatcher in the late 70s.

An Irish journalist who started his career on a regional newspaper and covered the trial of the last man to be hanged in Northern Ireland has died aged 72.

Graham McKenzie was one of the leading Northern Irish journalists of his time and started his career on the Belfast Telegraph, later working for BBC Radio Humberside in the 1970s.

His sister Marianne recalled that even as a boy he used to sit at the kitchen table at his home in Ballygowan, County Down, pasting letters cut from old magazines onto his pretend front page.

Graham was so determined to join the editorial staff of the Belfast Telegraph that, after leaving Royal Belfast Academical Institution, he took a temporary job as a messenger at the newspaper.

Eventually transport manager Ben Whyman spotted his potential and got him an interview with then joint-managing editor Jack Sayers.

Graham was then given a position on the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph, a former sister paper to the Bel Tel, where he learned his trade before joining the staff of the daily.

He covered the 1961 trial of the last man hanged in Northern Ireland, Robert McGladdery, in Downpatrick Courthouse, where he watched Lord Justice Curran don the black cap to sentence him to death for the murder of 19-year-old Pearl Gamble.

After several scoops during his time as a Bel Tel staffer, Graham moved to the Daily Express, where he built a reputation as a journalist with a nose for a good story.

Later, when the Troubles were at their height, he joined the BBC at Broadcasting House in Belfast, and had a distinguished career which led to him becoming head of radio news.

Robin Walsh, former BBC controller in Northern Ireland, said: “Graham was a well-respected journalist everywhere he worked. He loved the buzz of working to deadlines.”

Another colleague, journalist Ivan McMichael, added: “He was a pal you could definitely say was born to be a journalist.”

Graham’s funeral took place at First Bangor Presbyterian Church. He is survived by his wife Mildred and sister Marianne.