BBC’s man files last piece

Wil­lie re­tires af­ter 35 years with broad­caster

The Galloway News - - END OF AN AREA - Stephen Nor­ris

The re­gion’s air­waves just won’t be the same any more af­ter vet­eran BBC jour­nal­ist Wil­lie John­ston un­plugged his mic for the fi­nal time on Fri­day.

It was a poignant mo­ment for Wil­lie – also a fa­mil­iar face on TV’s Re­port­ing Scot­land – and it co­in­cided with the open­ing of new BBC re­gional of­fices at Palmer­ston Arena, Dum­fries.

Wil­lie’s last day at work was one of mixed feel­ings – and brought more than 35 years of ser­vice with the na­tional broad­caster to an end.

He said: “I have no great plans ex­cept to take it easy. There are three grand­chil­dren to spend time with, a big gar­den to look af­ter and places to go.

“I will miss some as­pects of the job and will cer­tainly miss some great col­leagues. I have been very lucky that way. We’ll just see what the fu­ture holds.”

Af­ter a suc­cess­ful trainee­ship, An­nan man Wil­lie be­came a reporter with the Dum­fries and Gal­loway Stan­dard in 1977.

But a phone call in 1983 from the pro­ducer set­ting set up the BBC’s new com­mu­nity ra­dio ser­vice, Ra­dio Sol­way, changed ev­ery­thing. Wil­lie said: “At the Stan­dard I did much of its sports cov­er­age, in­clud­ing, of course, re­port­ing on the mighty Queen of the South. I was that prover­bial fan with a type­writer.

“Could I do sports pre­views on Fri­days and re­sults roundups on Mon­days for the Sol­way Re­port morn­ing news pro­gramme, I was asked.

“I said yes and be­cause, for some bizarre rea­son, Ra­dio Sol­way opened on a Fri­day, I was on the first broad­cast from the BBC’s shiny new Elm­bank stu­dio in Lovers Walk.”

Un­for­get­table mo­ments have pep­pered Wil­lie’s ca­reer.

The 60-year-old said: “My main fo­cus was news and sto­ries didn’t come any big­ger than De­cem­ber 21, 1988. I was about to go for pre-Christ­mas drinks cour­tesy of Gretna FC when, just af­ter 7pm, the phone rang.

“A for­mer news­pa­per col­league who lives near Locker­bie had seen a huge fire­ball. Some­thing big had hap­pened.

“In­stantly, my plans changed. I jumped in the car, col­lected equip­ment I thought I might need from the stu­dio and headed to Locker­bie.

“When I got there at eight I’d heard a ru­mour that a mil­i­tary plane had crashed.

“The ut­ter chaos and ap­par­ent huge scale of the dam­age sug­gested oth­er­wise but, even so, when some­one said it was ac­tu­ally a Pan Am jumbo the re­al­ity was hard to process.

“I can still see the fires, smell the smoke, taste the avi­a­tion fuel.”

Wil­lie’s role changed in 1993 when Ra­dio Scot­land dis­pensed with com­mu­nity sta­tions and he be­came TV and ra­dio reporter for the re­gion.

Big sto­ries in­cluded the Sol­way Har­vester tragedy and the dev­as­tatat­ing 2001 footand-mouth out­break.

Over­seas as­sign­ments fol­lowed – to far-flung places such as the USA, Poland, Ro­ma­nia, Sri Lanka and Pak­istan.

And lat­terly col­leagues nick­named Wil­lie “gal­lus grandpa” for his dar­ing ex­ploits in­volv­ing ev­ery­thing from zip­wires to a hu­man cat­a­pult.

He said: “I sur­vived these ad­ven­tures and lived to tell the tales – but now I have reached the last. For the past 35 and a half years it has been my priv­i­lege to be the BBC’s man in Dum­fries and Gal­loway.

“But also – and just as im­por­tant for me – to be Dum­fries and Gal­loway’s man in the BBC.”

Chang­ing of guard Wil­lie is bow­ing out as lo­cal HQ changes

Hang­ing up head­phones The BBC’s Wil­lie John­ston

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