Belfast Telegraph

Back Then: Jake gets trunk call to be a movie star

Story of Sheila, an elephant who spent war in Belfast back yard, set for big screen

By Eddie McIlwaine

You know the old saying about there being an elephant in the room? Well, The tusker I'm going to tell you about is going to be the star of a film from Wee Buns Productions, playing a former resident of Bellevue during the war called Sheila who was saved from a death sentence by an animal lover who took her to her home at Whitewell where she stayed during the 1941 Belfast blitz.

Playing Sheila, who arrived at the zoo in 1935 and in the end died from natural causes, will be a male Indian elephant called Jake, who was found in an animal sanctuary 50 miles outside Toronto.

"Jake is six years old and a look-alike we have decided from comparing Sheila's photographs," said John Leslie, production chief at Wee Buns in Ballymoney.

"He is owned by a man called Charlie Gray, with whom our search all over Europe and beyond for our four-legged star ended.

"Jake is a character and a kind of natural actor. He won't mind that he will be playing a female."

Filming of the £4 million movie - whose working title is Zoo - will begin in February. A replica of the back yard in Whitewell - long since demolished - where Sheila was sheltered by a housewife, believed to be Denise Austin, who worked part-time at Bellevue and who has also passed on, is being built at Charlie Gray's farm in Canada, which will be the location for key scenes of the story.

Other scenes will be shot nearer home at an old elephant house now out of use at Bellevue.

The story of how animal lover Denise and her friends took Sheila home to Whitewell to save her after the Stormont Government ordered all the zoo animals to be shot in case they escaped during an air-raid and attacked a member of the public, captured the imagination of film man Leslie, who has been putting details of this children's epic together patiently over the past four years.

He is now looking for investors from the Northern Ireland business world to back what will be a sure-fire hit.

"It's a heartwarming tale that has to be made into a screen epic," added Leslie

Replicas of the street and back yard where Sheila was sheltered are now ready for the cameras to roll in February.

Mystery of 1726 Portrush-Boston passenger ship is brought to book

Here's an intriguing question thrown up by a new book, Echoes Of Open Glory (Colourpoint £9.99). Can you name the mystery passenger ship that sailed from Portrush to America in 1726?

That was 100 years before the Port of Rush, as the resort used to be called, had a proper harbour.

Boston-bound passengers had to be rowed out to the ship, which was anchored in the bay.

You'll have gathered that this absorbing tome devoted to the 1951 Open staged at Royal Portrush isn't just about golf. It is laced, too, with tales and yarns about the North Coast.

Among the passengers on the mystery ship were John and James Harvey from Coleraine, but historian Frank McKone in Boston has so far failed to turn up the name of the vessel.

But did they arrive in Boston safely in that year of 1726? Retired journalist Maurice McAleese has written a book which will cause much debate over the next months. You can tell he loves the Port.

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