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Back Then: From top of charts to top of polls for robin

How I chirped in and helped hatch 1960s hit based on UK's new national bird

By Eddie McIlwaine

Published 30/06/2015

The Thompson twins
The Thompson twins
A robin card

The robin redbreast has just been chosen as the UK's first national bird. It means that nature lovers voted overwhelmingly in favour of this little creature, never mind that he (and she) are cheeky and greedy almost to a fault.

It was the robin's status as a Christmas card pin-up and the bird's reputation as the gardener's friend that won the day in a poll of 220,000 people. Personally, Christmas wouldn't be the same for me if I didn't receive at least one robin card like the one I reproduce.

I once persuaded the late songwriter Frances Hall of Larne to write a song called One Little Robin, and it was a hit in the UK charts for the 13-year-old Thompson twins, Elaine and Derek, of Belfast, after being played on BBC Television's Juke Box Jury (Derek is now a grown-up veteran star on Casualty and right now playing a central role as his Charlie the charge nurse tries to wean his son off drugs).

Mrs Hall, a prolific writer, was actually contemplating a song about a blackbird when I reminded her there already was a favourite ballad about this bird, so she settled on the robin.

She used to hold music and song sessions in her drawing room every Friday afternoon and I would occasionally drop in when I worked on the Larne Times to hear pop singer Margaret Ross, once upon a time a cover girl on the QUB student magazine Pro Tanto Quid, perform some of her compositions.

She and her late husband Stanley, a coal importer, were close friends of the late John Barry, writer of the Bond film music whom they met early in his career at the BBC.

Barry visited her and Stanley at their home at Ballygally on the outskirts of Larne and agreed with me that the robin was a better subject for her song than the blackbird. Does its new status as a national treasure mean that the robin will now be appearing on stamps and coins? Oh yes - the barn owl came a distant second and the blackbird third in the poll.

Jetting to Disney World no longer a flight of fancy thanks to Virgin

How would you like to go off on a fairy tale flight to Orlando out of Belfast International on a Jumbo 747 400?

Virgin Airlines has already introduced the summer service for Northern Ireland holidaymakers, and the inaugural trip was such a hit that the dream visit to the home of Disney World is being repeated at least twice more, says pilot officer Gavin Dobson, who will be in the cockpit.

It is a toe-in-the water experiment that could lead to Virgin returning here to set up regular flights out of Aldergrove.

The announcement of the Aldergrove-Orlando flight in this season in the sun is a memory jerker for me, and for the droves of sightseers who turned up at the airport to catch a glimpse of the giant Jumbo taking off.

Twenty-five years ago Irene and I and offspring Zara and Edward junior (now grown ups and travellers still to faraway places) were taken to Orlando on a Virgin Jumbo to visit Disney World. The family still talks about the occasion, as much about the flight itself as the magic of Disney. The Aldergrove-Orlando Jumbo dream will be repeated with four more flights to the home of the Magic Kingdom and back this summer, and pilot Dobson confirms that Virgin will repeat the experiment again next year.

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