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An Ulster Log: Could model career beckon for Amy Fry?

By Eddie McIlwaine

Published 23/05/2015

Class act: Amy Fry came third in this year’s Miss Northern Ireland competition
Class act: Amy Fry came third in this year’s Miss Northern Ireland competition
Heritage tour: the Strand cinema

It was a dream came true for charming Ballymena Academy sixth-former Amy Fry when she was almost magically transformed into a sophisticated finalist in the Miss Northern Ireland beauty competition.

Amy, who qualified for the final in the Europa Hotel by being chosen in an earlier heat as Miss Antrim, was the youngest of all the girls at 17.

She suspended her studies briefly while she swapped her school uniform for sweeping ball gowns and bikinis as she paraded down the catwalk. She didn't win her first adventure into the beauty stakes (she came third overall), but she did attract a lot of admiring glances, says Alison Clarke, who runs Miss NI and the ACA model agency.

How Phil made a star of the Steam Trap writer

The death of much-loved storyteller and comic Crawford Howard in his mid-80s has reminded Phil Coulter of the time, 30 years ago, that he gave this writer of funny verses a spot on the Grand Opera House stage in Belfast to recite his hit, The Diagonal Steam Trap, and become an overnight star.

"It happened in 1985," recalls Coulter. "I was touring in Canada and my driver played a record of The Diagonal Steam Trap - all 23 verses of it. It was the first time I'd heard the recitation and I fell in love with it instantly, so I was determined to find Crawford when I got back home."

When Phil found Crawford, he took him down to the shipyard to borrow a boiler suit and gave him a supporting spot on the Coulter show in the Opera House.

And every night for a week this way-out comedian recited The Diagonal Steam Trap to a standing ovation. It's the hilarious story of a great ship built at Harland & Wolff for the Turks, only the engines won't start no matter how many times the button is pressed.

Then Jimmy Dalzell arrives on the scene, has a look and tells the gaffer the Diagonal Steam Trap is missing and that's the problem.

He promises to build one knowing that no such trap exists and that it's only a rag caught in the feed pipe that is the problem.

But the gaffer is convinced, when the engines fire up healthily, that Jimmy, who has secretly removed the rag, has actually built that piece of equipment and is an H&W hero.

The Russians and the Yanks don't want to admit that they and the Turks have been fooled by Jimmy Dalzell's Diagonal Steam Trap and open factories to manufacture them.

The last verse of Crawford's poem reads like this:

There's a factory outside of Seattle

Where they're turnin' out Steam Traps like Hell

It employs twenty-five thousand workers

And the head of it ... Jimmy Dalzell!

Crawford Howard, a bachelor, lived quietly in east Belfast after retiring from the Pig Marketing Board, where he earned his bread and butter. He toured clubs and concert halls in the evenings with recitations like The Sash Up the Falls, the Belfast Breadman and the Flying Fitter, many of which appeared on bestselling records.

The one about the trap, of course, is the poem everybody enjoys to this day. "I often recite it in my show," says Phil, "and my audiences adore it."

"Crawford was a rare genius," says his friend, folk singer Tommy Sands. "He was a graduate of Trinity and could speak several languages.

"In later years he became a kind of recluse and an eccentric, but his recitations will live forever."

Old Strand film house has its own story to tell

A good pub quiz question: name the oldest cinema in Northern Ireland.

It's The Strand in east Belfast.

There were other picture houses that were older, but they were all demolished, or rebuilt as something else. The Strand is still there - a non-profit-making house showing films daily and putting on live stage shows for good causes.

Richard Gaston, whose family used to own the old Curzon, and projectionist Alan McClurg host a heritage tour of The Strand, which opened in 1935 and which has architecture influenced by the old H&W shipyard, including porthole doors and windows.

On the tour, you'll learn about The Strand's past as a cinema and as a variety theatre in the 1980s, when Little and Large, Dana and The Drifters played on the stage.

The Strand Heritage Tour takes place on selected Saturday lunchtimes and there are only 10 places on each tour. The next one is today at 12.30pm, followed by others on July 4 and August 15.

For tickets, phone 028 9065 5830 or go online at

Taking a risque during wartime

Dear Eddie,

The VE anniversary celebrations prompted our choral group in Ballymena to speculate on what was the naughtiest song of the Second World War.

There were a few that the soldiers sang as they marched into battle, but the one that sticks in my kind, because it is still heard at reunions today, is Roll Me Over in the Clover.

There are other naughty songs out there from the war years. Anyone remember them?


Jane Armstrong, Ballee, Ballymena.

Dear Jane,

I'm familiar with a few verses of Roll Me Over, but I won't be printing it here. Do any other naughty song titles from the war years come to mind?

Jack on the ball with Ferguson side

Jack Harte, who turns 85 next week, claims that not many know the Harry Ferguson firm of motor factors, once of Alfred Street in Belfast, had a football team in the Amateur League.

In fact, Jack, who played for the Ferguson Select XI, was a star performer. Jack was just 14 in 1944 when he started with the company, which moved in various takeovers to become Charles Hurst Ltd.

As a young lad with the company, he was once tasked to be a driver for Danger Man actor Patrick McGoohan, who was visiting his ancestral home in Fermanagh.

Here's a question: did the Ferguson team ever win the Amateur League championship?

Corry cousins on march for Army

The musical Corry cousins - Peter, the singer, and Jonathan, the conductor - who both began their careers in the Salvation Army Belfast Temple Corps, are coming together tonight at a Sally Ann spectacular in Willowfield Parish Church.

Peter, who has been a hit in West End musicals, will be the voice, while Jonathan will be on the rostrum with the Enfield Citadel Band from London, of which he is conductor.

Jonathan is a graduate of the Royal National College of Music in Manchester. He plays regularly with world-class bands.

As well as the Saturday night spectacular, the Enfield Citadel Band will be leading the praise tomorrow at Belfast Temple on the Cregagh Road.

Meetings will take place as usual at 10.30am and 4.30pm.

Belfast Telegraph

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