FORMER BBC Ireland reporter and resident of Donaghadee, David Capper, has died at the age of 91.

Though he was raised in Belfast Mr Capper had deep connections to Donaghadee, dating back to childhood holidays spent in the seaside resort.

Later, in his first job as a reporter with the Newtownards Chronicle, he lodged with the Trimble family who had close links with the lifeboat service in Donaghadee.

With the help of their connections he reported on the Princess Victoria ferry disaster in which 135 lives were lost in the North Channel in 1953.

Mr Capper spent five years on the Chronicle’s reporting staff before emigrating to Canada where he worked for the Vancouver Star and one of the radio stations there.

He came home a couple of years later and edited a newspaper in Portadown before taking up a position with BBC Northern Ireland in 1961, where his son, Chris, also later worked after cutting his teeth at the Spectator newspaper.

The rich tone to Mr Capper’s voice made him a popular radio presenter but he also did well on television, and was a familiar face as a reporter and host of Scene Around Six.

Chris Capper says that his dad’s job changed beyond recognition during his time with the BBC.

He explains, “He told me when he first started with the BBC they would lead the bulletins with stories like, ‘Outbreak of apple blight in Co Armagh’. It was quite a change by the end of the Sixties. 

“He was there on Bloody Sunday and later gave evidence to the Saville enquiry and he also covered Bloody Friday.

“He told me that when he was covering that he bought two bottles of brandy, one for his crew and one to give to members of the fire service and other emergency services to fortify them through the grimness of the aftermath of Bloody Friday.

“He had an argument with the BBC bosses because he said, ‘We have to show the horrible aftermath of these bombs and not sanitise the pictures’.

“They did show stuff they had never shown before and if you see pictures of the time … well, he remembered that one pretty well.

“There was so much of it in those early years of the Seventies but it was just something he did, that was the job.”

Mr Capper also played a key role in the BBC’s coverage of the Falklands War, his Irish passport enabling him to join the broadcaster’s reporting team in Buenos Aires.

Indeed, Mr Capper was the first reporter to break the news that the Union flag was flying over Port Stanley. “He was pretty chuffed about that,” says Chris.

Mr Capper’s last big story for the BBC was the Enniskillen bomb in 1987, after which he decided it was time to retire, in 1988.

Says Chris, “At that stage he was Ireland radio correspondent and he was working hard, covering the whole of Ireland, north and south, and I think he felt he had had enough of racing around and covering stories in the dead of night.”

Adam Smyth, Director, BBC NI, this week paid tribute to Mr Capper’s work for the organisation, commenting, “BBC Northern Ireland has lost a journalistic icon. David was the epitome of impartial and courageous reporting in the public interest.

“He was an eyewitness to some of the most harrowing events of The Troubles, including Bloody Sunday, and could be fully relied upon to provide a trusted account of what he saw.

“Many senior figures in local journalism also have David to thank for passing on his considerable skill-set to junior reporters starting out in the industry.

“Our deepest condolences go to David’s family circle.”

Chris says his dad would have been pleased with that tribute, explaining, “He would have described himself as a reporter first and foremost, not a journalist, and the job of a reporter is to go and report the facts, find out everything you can.

“He was very old fashioned about that, he was a great believer in the BBC and its standards of impartiality and accuracy and was very proud to work for the BBC and those absolutely were his values too.”

As a father, Chris says his dad was ‘great fun’, adding, “He had a great sense humour and was a very enthusiastic, lively man.”

Outside of work, Mr Capper had many interests and on his retirement he moved to his beloved Donaghadee where he lived in one of the Coastguard cottages along the seafront.

He had a passion for narrow gauge steam railways, a love of music, local history, golf, rugby and the sea.

He had an extremely active retirement pursuing his many interests.

Says Chris, “After he retired from the BBC he did quite a bit of travelling and worked for an organisation called British Executives Serving Overseas. Basically they paid his expenses and he went off and helped develop radio stations in places like Mauritius and he did a bit of freelance work in the BBC newsroom.

“At one stage he went round the world for months on a cargo boat as a paying passenger, just for the hell of it so he could be on a boat and see the world.”

Mr Capper also worked for many years as the correspondent for the Spectator’s Breezes from the Dee page and played an integral role in community life through his involvement with Donaghadee Community Association and the town’s Historical Society.

It was during that time that he first got to know Donaghadee businessman and later Mayor of the borough, Mark Brooks, who spoke this week of his sadness at Mr Capper’s passing.

“Everybody liked David,” says Mr Brooks, adding, “He was a character, a friendly person, somebody you would warm to and who was easy to have a conversation with. He was very knowledgeable and always interested in you as well.

“He had a lovely voice that made him perfect for the radio and he was very good on television as well.”

Their friendship deepened when Mr Capper became a resident of Balloo Residential Care Home in Groomsport, where Mr Brooks worked.

“He wasn’t just sitting in a residential care home,” says Mr Brooks. “Every day if there was a meeting in Donaghadee and he could get a lift to it, he would be at that meeting.

“David’s rollator would have been full of newspapers and pieces of information and he would be quizzing me about what was going on at Council.

”I have a classic car and I remember taking him to the Classic Car Show in Donaghadee and when I was Mayor I had him to visit in the Mayor’s Parlour and he featured on one of my Christmas cards for my constituents because he was a well known person from the local community.

“He was very alive and very aware. He remained involved in everything that he was physically able to do and in the residential home he was on the catering committee.

“He was very fond of his food and I think had good experience of fine dining in his life, so he was always passing on that knowledge.”

Aliance MLA Andrew Muir is also amongst those who have paid tribute to Mr Capper.

He says, “I was deeply saddened to hear David had passed away.

“I had the pleasure of chatting to him on many occasions and it was wonderful to hear so many interesting stories from his long journalist career.

“The outpouring of tributes from the profession is a testament to his integrity and dedication as a journalist.

“David will be sorely missed by his family and local community and my thoughts are with his loved ones at this time.”

At the time of his passing last weekend, Mr Capper was a resident of Kingsland Care Centre in Ballyholme.

He is survived by his sons Chris and Diarmit and his daughter Samantha.