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Shaken and stirred by discovery of Bond book

By Eddie McIlwaine

Once upon a time at an arts festival in Dublin, I asked Ian Fleming which of his books was the most enjoyable to write.

A rather daft question, at first glance, as in that year of 1955 Fleming had published only two of his James Bond thrillers.

Just remember, though, that he applied himself to non-fiction works during his writing career, including an absorbing tome about diamond smugglers that could have been paving the way for another Bond epic.

Anyhow, that afternoon in Dublin, Fleming, in our all-too-brief chat, informed me that the story he enjoyed writing most of all was (naturally) always the one he was currently working on.

I managed to discover that the Bond adventure Ian was writing that time 60 years ago, when I was a young and innocent cub reporter, was Moonraker, which came out a few months later from Great Pan priced at half-a-crown (two old shillings and sixpence, or 12p now).

I only mention that meeting with Fleming many moons ago because by sheer coincidence all this time later I have just picked up at a church sale a vintage copy of Moonraker in paperback, and in almost perfect condition too.

Not surprisingly from such a talent as Fleming, Moonraker reads as fresh and exciting as it did when Ian first put pen to paper six decades ago. It was made into a film in 1979 starring Roger Moore as Bond.

It's a typical 007 story as this secret agent faces up to a dangerous assignment aided and abetted by a lovely double agent called Gala.

This paperback is one for my special bookshelf.

Why Faye's already planning comeback

No one will be sadder than talented Faye Tozer, once of the pop group Steps, when the final curtain comes down on the panto Aladdin at the Grand Opera House in Belfast next weekend after a marathon run in which the lady has endeared herself to audiences young and old as a character called Scheherazade.

At the same time, Faye has fallen in love with the theatre and is hoping to return in the spring.

"May McFettridge is so wonderful to work with," she says.

"In fact, the whole cast are one big happy family and I'm just sorry the time is nearly here to say farewell, which is why I'm planning to come back to Belfast soon, probably in a musical."

Faye, from Northampton, is married to businessman Michael Smith and they have a five-year-old son, Ben. Father and son were in Belfast for the Christmas holidays and, of course, had seats at the panto. There are still a few tickets for the final run of Aladdin at the box office.

The strike that cost me a meeting with Frank

I can't  believe that if he had lived,  Frank Sinatra would be 100 years old this year. And a 100th anniversary tribute show is planned for the Albert Hall in London this December. On the bill will be 22-year-old George Gallagher, from Birmingham, who won a television competition called Our Way with Frank's Songs. His way with That's Life was memorable - Old Blue Eyes would have been  impressed.

But I'll tell you this, the host of Our Way, Alexander Armstrong who does a similar job on TV game shows such as Pointless and is also a talented actor, was talked into singing You Make Me Feel So Young as an extra. And what a performance he gave. If he doesn't get a spot on the tribute it will be an injustice.

One of my big regrets is that I never got to meet Sinatra. On his last retirement tour years ago, a rendezvous was arranged after the final curtain at The Point in Dublin. But there was a bus strike and the streets were crammed with taxicabs and private cars and I arrived too late. A burly minder informed me: "Mr Sinatra don't wait for no man."

Not perfect English - however, I got the message.

Smiling Billy is in stable condition

I have to tell you today about Billy, the sport horse who is a guest in my field when the weather is kind in the spring and summer. Billy is 22, which means he is a golden oldie.

And owner Philip Swann was apprehensive about how he would react to an operation he needed. It was comparatively minor, but Billy is getting on a bit.

However, the old fella, who is definitely my favourite horse, came through the op with a smile (horses do smile, you know) and is looking good for another few years - the oldest inhabitant of Philip's stable at Killead.

The star of the stable is Paddy's Yarn, a young racehorse that horse whisperer Swann bred, and which promises to be a winner as he gets a wee bit older.

Hills alive again for Dame Julie

I hear that Julie Andrews is all excited about a new documentary on the subject of her most famous film, The Sound of Music, which was shot in those Austrian hills 50 years ago in 1965.

Dame Julie (79) has been back to the locations in Austria with co-star Christopher Plummer, filming for the programme. I know Julie is enjoying the whole experience of re-kindling interest in a musical that crops up on telly every so often. She was 29 and beautiful when she played the novice nun and is still lovely today.

But I'm not so sure about Plummer. When in Belfast recently he made it clear he didn't want to talk about The Sound Of Music. In fact, he was quite grumpy when the inevitable questions cropped up.

Rhyme and reason for New Year

After the stress and bustle of Christmas, now is the time for a little poem about relaxing. It is said that William Davies (1871-1940) wrote  Leisure after a stressful Yule.

What is this life if full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see in broad daylight

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

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