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Joker Adrian back on tour after a near fatal stroke

By Alf McCreary

The first time I saw comedian Adrian Walsh on a stage he was just a 17-year-old schoolboy, performing in the Avenue Bar in Belfast. His head teacher at Bangor Technical College thought this pupil was at home learning his lessons.

That's right, Adrian got into show business early, touring the pubs and clubs of the city and beyond at an age when it was against the law to serve him alcoholic drinks. And when he was still a schoolboy.

Now half-a-century later I've caught up with the man again - and the jokes are as fresh and up-to-date as ever in spite of the fact that Walsh suffered a massive stroke 14 months ago while entertaining on a cruise liner.

He spent weeks in a Spanish hospital with his wife Vivien by his side before being allowed to return home.

Consultants warned that Adrian might never work again, but he has made a miraculous recovery and has just emerged from a comeback tour of some of his old Ulster haunts.

Adrian, who has a son and daughter and now lives in Somerset, has been negotiating with the cruise ships again with a view to going back to sea.

And at the same time Adrian, at 67, has been reminiscing about those early days telling jokes when he should have had his nose stuck in books of learning.

"Actually I was only 16 when I did my first public gig," he recalled. "The teachers at the Tech hadn't a notion about what I was up to.

"I remember seeing you at the Avenue and begged you not to let on I was only a schoolboy.

"I laughed when in some of the pubs I played they offered me a beer. Actually I've been teetotal and a non-smoker all my life."

Some of the pubs and clubs Walsh played, young and old, were the Maple Leaf Club, McGlade's Bar, the Trocadero and the Abercorn.

"I was on stage in the Star Bar on the Shankill and the Crescent on the Falls on the same night at 17," he told me.

"The first time I got paid as a comic was in the Crescent when the fee was £3."

After leaving school Adrian worked at several jobs as a sales rep and spent some time at Rolls Royce in material control before becoming a full-time comedian.

"I can't resist the pull of a live audience," he explained.

"I was told after the stroke I might never walk again.

"I survived against the odds, so it is a real thrill to get the tux on again and enjoy the applause."

Aoife has nothing to be sheepish about

Sparkling opera singer Aoife Miskelly (33) is coming home to Belfast to star in The Snow Maiden at the Grand Opera House.

But I wouldn't be surprised if one of Aoife's favourite songs away from the classical stuff is The Whiffenpoof Song, once a hit for Bing Crosby, with a chorus that goes like this:

'We are poor little lambs Who have lost our way. Baa! Baa! Baa!

'We are little black sheep Who have gone astray. Baa! Baa! Baa!'

You see, Aoife has a thing about lambs and sheep. Away from the stage she enjoys nothing better than pulling on her wellies and herding a flock grazing on a neighbour's farm down in the Glens of Antrim where her family lives.

"Lambs are endearing and sheep aren't as silly and stupid as they are supposed to be," she will tell you.

Anyway, she can do a near perfect imitation of a happy lamb's bleat. Which talent might come in useful if her plan to one day own her own sheep farm becomes a reality.

Aoife will be at the Opera House in Belfast from March 15-18 with Opera North. As well as The Snow Maiden on March 17, the company is also presenting Hansel and Gretel, March 15 and 18, and Cinderella, March 16 and 18. For times and to book go to www.goh.co.uk

Inventor Rowan's life and times

Remember my story a couple of weeks ago about entrepreneur John Rowan (1787-1858) who designed and built probably the first car seen in Belfast way back in 1835? He drove the steam-powered vehicle through the streets of the city, and today there is a statue in his memory in Doagh, Co Antrim.

Well, thanks to Edward Cinnamon of Templepatrick, I've just discovered in an old book about Doagh, called An Old World Place, that Rowan was buried at Ballylinney near Ballyclare, but his grave did not have a tombstone for some reason.

The graveyard was formerly the site of a medieval parish church and had its own corpse house. Mr Cinnamon tells me that the gates of St Patrick's Church of Ireland in his village are stamped 'Rowan Doagh'.

Now Mike Gonzalez, senior fellow at the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy in Washington DC, whose wife Siobhan Bullock is Rowan's great grand-daughter five times removed, is researching Rowan's life and times.

A former speech writer in the President George W Bush administration, he is willing to visit Belfast to give a talk on new American President Trump.

Why my time in the BB was brief

The 108th Belfast Scout Group is celebrating its 50th anniversary at a service in St Brigid's Parish Church, Ballyclare Road, Newtownabbey, where the Rev Bill Boyce is rector, on Sunday, February 26 (10.30am).

A supporters' association was set up as a Group Council on February 26, 1967, explains Margaret Bell, the group secretary, although scouts had been meeting for some months before.

I was never a scout, but I did have a brief time in the 53rd Company of the Boys' Brigade at Carnmoney Presbyterian Church, where my father used to be sexton.

I say briefly because at a display when I was about 14 the captain, trying to be clever as he called the company on parade, ordered us boys: "Look straight ahead, don't look down at the floor - Jock (my late dad's pet name) has picked up all the dropped coins and put them in his pocket."

I was massively embarrassed and took my demob from the BB soon afterwards. Against my father's wishes, I must add.

Years later I met up with that captain in Belfast and he asked me why I had left so abruptly. I was surprised he didn't know.

Can anyone solve the riddle of this mysterious street name?

Why is Portland Avenue in Glengormley better known to locals as The Police Escape (or as oldtimers prefer it, The Polis Escape)? The avenue runs from Carnmoney Road to join Ballyclare Road and has had that nickname from way back in the Forties.

A story goes that one night as dusk fell a couple of cops on foot were chasing a criminal down Carnmoney Road towards Glengormley when he gave them the slip as he nipped into Portland Avenue and got clean away on his bike which was parked there.

I'd love to hear from someone who can confirm this tale or tell me another reason for that great escape nickname. By the way, Carnmoney Road was once known as Burnt Hill - another nickname that came about in mysterious circumstances.

Tales of derring-do kept millions glued to the radio in childhood

I was writing last week about my pals and I cheering ourselves up on long winter evenings in the 1950s playing Ludo. Walter McCormick, of Greenisland, agrees but says he was even happier back then listening to Dick Barton Special Agent, a thriller series on the old BBC Light Programme.

"Barton, played by Noel Johnson, was the first James Bond type along with his agent mates Jock Anderson (Alex McCrindle) and Snowy White (John Mann). They solved all sorts of crimes and saved the nation from disaster time and again."

I, too, enjoyed listening to Barton's escapades every week night at 7.45 for 15 minutes with an omnibus edition on Saturday morning. At its peak the show was listened to by 15 million. There were three Dick Barton films, too, produced after the radio series was replaced by The Archers.

Tearful ballad that'll always remind me of tragic Tara

Just before her death 10 days ago socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson revealed that the song that meant the most to her was the Noel Harrison version of The Windmills of Your Mind.

"It moves me to tears," declared Tara who died too soon at only 45.

I mention Tara and Windmills today because this happens to be one of my top three favourite ballads. Harrison sang it on the soundtrack of the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair and it won an Oscar for most original song.

Here's a snippet: Like a tunnel that you follow/To a tunnel of its own/Down a hollow to a cavern/Where the sun has never shone/Like a door that keeps revolving/In a half-forgotten dream/Like the ripples from a pebble/Someone tosses in a stream/Like a clock whose hands are sweeping/Past the minutes of its face/And the world is like an apple/Whirling silently in space.

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