Bradford, Roy Hamilton (1920–98), journalist and politician, was born 7 July 1920 in the schoolmaster's house attached to the Church of Ireland church on the Ligoniel Road, Belfast, eldest of three sons of Joseph Hamilton Bradford, schoolmaster, from Rockcorry, Co. Monaghan, and Isobel Bradford (née Macnamee) of Donemana, Co. Londonderry. His education began at Ligoniel public elementary school, Belfast, and then at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, where he went on to win a scholarship to TCD. He graduated in 1942 with a first-class honours degree (BA) and a gold medal in modern languages, French and German. He began his career in the British army, working in military intelligence (1943–7) in Belgium, France, and Germany. After this he settled in London, where he worked as a freelance journalist and broadcaster, and in addition pursued business interests in insurance as well as the establishment of a chain of London restaurants.
On a visit back to Northern Ireland in the early 1960s, he was approached by the Unionist party to enter politics and was returned for the Stormont constituency of Victoria in east Belfast (1965–72). This was a period of change within unionism, with Lord Brookeborough (qv) having been replaced as prime minister in March 1963 by Capt. Terence O'Neill (qv), who had promised to transform the face of Ulster. The urbane Bradford quickly established himself within the Unionist party, becoming assistant chief whip in 1966, parliamentary secretary at the ministry of education in 1967, chief whip 1968–9, minister of commerce 1969–71, and minister of development 1971–2. But his ministerial career, as a supporter of gradual reform, coincided with an era in which Ulster unionism fragmented in the face of the rise of the civil rights movement within Northern Ireland, and militant internal opposition; and in which Northern Ireland began a descent into widespread civil unrest. In March 1972 along with the rest of his cabinet colleagues, Bradford was strongly opposed to the introduction of direct rule from London, judging it to be a major political mistake.
Nonetheless, after the demise of Stormont, as the British government sought to establish a new form of administration, he stood for election to the Northern Ireland assembly in June 1973 and was returned for Belfast East. The intention was to return devolved power to this body, provided it established an administration consisting of representatives from both the unionist and nationalist communities. This proposal was opposed by elements within unionism, but Bradford supported his party leader, Brian Faulkner (qv), who favoured the scheme and subsequently took part in talks between the British government, the SDLP, and the Alliance party at the end of 1973, whereby an agreement was reached to establish an executive in which unionists and nationalists would share power. A few weeks later Bradford was a unionist delegate at the Sunningdale conference, in which the executive negotiated with the British and Irish governments to establish the framework within which the executive would operate in Northern Ireland, as well as establishing a formal relationship with the Republic of Ireland.
On 1 January 1974 the power-sharing executive assumed responsibility for the administration of Northern Ireland, and Bradford was appointed minister of the environment. But soon the new administration began to run into major problems, with growing opposition from unionist elements within the assembly who favoured the return to majority rule. Further difficulties arose when Faulkner failed to win the backing of his party's ruling council for the Sunningdale agreement, particularly over plans to establish a cross-border council of Ireland. During this time Bradford firmly supported his leader and the new political arrangements, but opinion within the unionist community was now clearly moving in the opposite direction. At the Westminster general election in February 1974 Bradford stood as a pro-agreement unionist candidate in Down North but was heavily defeated as anti-agreement unionist groups united to win eleven of the twelve Northern Ireland constituencies. From this point on, Bradford's enthusiasm for the new political arrangements began to wane, as shown in his response to a general strike organised by loyalists in May 1974, which sought to collapse the power-sharing administration. To the anger of the SDLP (with whom his relations had never been good) he urged the executive to enter talks with the organisers of the strike and thus was accused by many of fatally undermining it – a charge he always denied, arguing instead that political realities had to be faced.
After the final collapse of the executive in May 1974 and further fragmentation within unionism he distanced himself from Faulkner, but at the same time he was by no means an enthusiastic supporter of elements within the anti-agreement camp. As such he failed to gain their nomination as a candidate for the elections in 1975 for a constitutional convention, which (it was proposed) would come up with new ideas as to how Northern Ireland should be governed. Standing as an independent unionist in Belfast East he polled badly, and after this setback he left politics until 1989 when he was returned as an Ulster Unionist councillor for North Down district council (1989–98), serving as mayor of North Down (1994–5).
Outside politics he returned to earlier pursuits as a broadcaster and a columnist in the Belfast News Letter, as well as writing several novels. His first, Excelsior (1961), was a comedy, but his next, The last ditch (1981), covered a familiar theme in its fictional account of a Northern Ireland prime minister attempting to resist the introduction of direct rule from Westminster. Some six years later he published the biography of Lt.-col. Robert Blair Mayne (qv) under the title Rogue warrior of the Special Air Service (1987). His interest in the affairs of the European Community led to involvement with the European Movement in Northern Ireland, and in 1987 he became its president. He died on 2 September 1998 and was buried in Balyvester cemetery after a service in Bangor abbey.
He married (1946) Hazel Elizabeth (d. 1994), daughter of Capt. W. Lindsay of Belfast; she was also later elected as a councillor on North Down district council in addition to serving a term as mayor. They had two sons: Connor, broadcaster and journalist, and Tobias, actor and broadcaster.