Barry Cowan was one of the leading faces of BBC Northern Ireland news and current affairs during the worst of The Troubles in the 1970s and 1980s. He was much-respected by broadcast colleagues and by politicians. Born in Coleraine, County Derry/Londonderry, Barry was educated at Ballymena Academy and graduated in physics from Queen’s University, Belfast. His broadcasting career began in the early 1970s with the BBC, where he was a studio manager. But the man who would eventually become a formidable on-air talent quickly moved into reporting and presenting. In 1974, he became the main anchor on BBC Northern Ireland’s flagship current affairs/news programme, Scene Around Six.
In the late-1970s, Barry went down south to join RTÉ as a presenter on the station’s new TV current affairs flagship, Today Tonight. He would later return to BBC Northern Ireland where he continued to play a major part in current affairs output.
Barry was the original presenter of BBC Radio Ulster’s TalkBack programme when it launched on 8th September 1986. A few months after the programme went on air, Barry wrote about his experiences on the programme in BBC Northern Ireland’s In Focus magazine:
“Until then journalism had always been about serious things – the Anglo-Irish Agreement, strikes and civil disorder, politics and parsons. All that was to change as Talkback launched me into the alternative world of loopies, loonies and lost causes more at home in The Sun, the Mirror or the Star than The Times, The Telegraph and The Guardian. The serious stuff is still there but it’s the tabloid tattle that sticks in the mind.”
Among other BBC Radio Ulster programmes that Barry presented are Good Morning Ulster, Evening Extra and Seven Days.
Barry died in hospital on 16th June 2004 after a long illness. He was 56.
Speaking after the announcement of Barry’s death, BBC Northern Ireland controller, Anna Carragher, said: “I am deeply saddened to hear of Barry’s death. He was one of the great broadcasters in Northern Ireland over the last three decades and combined huge knowledge of Irish and Northern Irish life in politics with a penetrating intellect and a quick wit. I have known Barry since we were both students at Queen’s in the late-60s where he was one of a generation of wonderful broadcasters including Nick Ross, Seamus McKee and Sean Rafferty. He will be much missed.”
Former head of news and current affairs at BBC Northern Ireland, Keith Baker, said: “When I joined the BBC in the 1980s Barry Cowan was already a legend. He lived for live broadcasting, that arena of the unpredictable. He was a superb interviewer – always dogged and determined and always with the interest of the viewers and listeners at heart. We are all better informed about Northern Ireland through Barry’s work over the years.”
Video Clips on the Internet
Here we present a selection of video clips featuring Barry which we found on social media sites or have made available from our own archive. The clips are presented here for additional reference. Inclusion of a video does not constitute an endorsement of the hosting site/channel/user. If you find any broken links below or are aware of an additional clip(s) which you believe may be a useful addition to this profile, please get in touch with us via our Contact page.
PICTURED: Barry Cowan (1980). SUPPLIED BY: Paul R. Jackson. COPYRIGHT: Unknown.