Dunseith, David Lumsden (1934–2011), policeman and broadcaster, was born on 2 October 1934 in Derry city, the eldest child of Robert Dunseith, a flour miller, and his wife Mary Dunseith (née Lumsden), formerly a factory worker. David grew up in the protestant Waterside area of Derry. He joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and had a successful career, becoming a detective sergeant. In his thirties, in the 1960s, he was promoted to head of the drugs squad, as illicit drugs increasingly became a problem in the province's urban areas. His professionalism and relaxed style in broadcast interviews and briefings impressed the news producers at Ulster Television (UTV), and he was persuaded to take screen tests and offered a contract.
His decision to take a gamble in 1970 and become a television journalist happened at a time when even the most experienced journalists were struggling to cope with the sudden changes as the troubles worsened and Northern Ireland became an international news hotspot. On 3 February 1973, for instance, the Fermanagh Herald carried two stories, ironically side by side: a report on a Dunseith programme about the extensive leisure facilities and beauty of Co. Fermanagh, beside a story of an Enniskillen bar 'completely wrecked by suitcase bomb' with 'extensive damage to the heart of Enniskillen'.
Despite his lack of training in journalism, Dunseith was a successful presenter of UTV's evening news programme, UTV reports, for several years. Sometimes he had to report on the violent deaths of former RUC colleagues, and on 21 July 1972, as editor, had to decide what footage of the carnage of 'Bloody Friday' was too shocking to be shown on the evening news. He was told by the RUC that he was on a death list, and on one occasion opened a package to find what seemed to be a hand grenade; after he carried it out to a car park, it was discovered to be an elaborate hoax.
His style of interviewing and articulate commentary made his reporting popular, and in 1981 he was approached by the BBC in Northern Ireland to join their team as a political analyst. He presented a number of current affairs programmes, including Spotlight, and chaired televised debates and election coverage specials. From 1986 he contributed to the lunchtime radio programme Talkback, anchored by his friend Barry Cowan (qv); the programme pioneered community phone-in participation. In 1989 Dunseith took over from Cowan, and presented the hour-long programme five days a week until 2009, through the last days of violence and then tentative peace initiatives.
Dunseith's career included some scoops and some interviews of great political and community significance, perhaps most notably a wrenching twenty-minute talk with Helen McKendry, one of the children of Jean McConville (qv), who had been abducted, murdered and secretly buried by the IRA. The programme sharply brought the issue of the suffering of such families and other victims of the IRA to public notice.
As well as politics, Talkback explored many other subjects of public interest, such as (inter alia) litter, animal cruelty and public toilets. Dunseith was versatile and sure-footed enough in live broadcasting to deal appropriately with transitions to more light-hearted items and satirical material from the emerging comedy team, the Hole in the Wall Gang, who began their career on Talkback.
The programme featured live interviews with public figures as well as live phone calls from (often enraged) members of the public, with other messages read out; Dunseith had to make split-second on-air editorial decisions on the suitability or otherwise of what was being said. Undoubtedly, his RUC background assisted him in policing the apparently free-flowing debates and discussions; Dunseith's aplomb and unflappability in dealing with 'the crazies' as well as with local notables was often applauded. Often audibly and justifiably impatient and even exasperated, he was always polite, and his example moderated the tone of discussions that might elsewhere have degenerated into mere slanging matches.
His exemplary ability to listen and encourage discussion on difficult and emotive subjects, in times when listening constructively was not, one might say, a subject taught in schools in Northern Ireland, was Dunseith's main contribution to community discourse. Talkback's pioneering phone-in involvements acted as a kind of 'people's parliament', providing a safety valve, and often exposing people to views with which they would otherwise have been unfamiliar.
Dunseith's significance in allowing an unprecedented inter-community space to develop on his programme was recognised by several awards. In 1993 he was given the Sony local broadcaster of the year award, and Talkback and its production team also received recognition: in 1997 the programme received a Gold Sony Award for best phone-in, and in 2006 a Silver Sony Award in the news programme category.
As part of BBC reshuffles to freshen up programming, in 2009 Dunseith was moved to a Sunday programme, Seven days. He retired from that position a year later, deeply distressed after the death of his wife Roisin from motor neuron disease in July 2010. Roisin Walsh was one of the first women journalists on UTV in the early 1970s, appearing on UTV reports and other current affairs programmes. She had been widowed, and had three young sons when she and Dunseith married.
Almost exactly a year after his wife's death, David Dunseith died of cancer on 30 June 2011. Although not himself catholic, he had regularly accompanied his wife to mass in in their local Star of the Sea church in Strangford, Co. Down, where his funeral took place, before cremation at Roselawn crematorium, Belfast. His funeral was attended by leading figures from politics and broadcasting, many of whom paid tribute to his professionalism and impartiality.