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Belfast Reflections: Iconic figures we’re proud to call our own

From singing sensations to child stars, we have much to celebrate, says Eddie McIlwaine

James Johnston. Belfast Tenor. 'The Belfast Butcher.' 21/2/1945
James Johnston. Belfast Tenor. 'The Belfast Butcher.' 21/2/1945
Young starlet Ruby Murray, pictured in the Belfast Telegraph offices. March 1955
The legendary Glenn Miller and his orchestra playing to a devoted audience at a wartime gig.
Brendan Bowyer does "The Fly" with two dancers who will be touring with the Rpyal Showband. 22/4/1966
Cliff Richard:British Pop Singer. in Belfast. 30/10/1964
THE ROYAL SHOWBAND. Brendan Bowyer performing on stage.
THE ROYAL SHOWBAND. Brendan Bowyer performing on stage.
. The Strokes playing at the Ulster Hall, on Tuesday 21st February 2006. ALL USES MUST BE CREDITED JESSICA HOMER PHOTOGRAPHY- 07799 062697.
Pop singer Tom Jones looks out his hotel window on Belfast's, Royal Avenue. 4/3/1966
1970's Solo Singer Tony Christie on stage last night playing to a sell out concert in the Waterfront hall. Tony returned to Belfast after a absence of twenty year's performing a selection of hit songs from his greatest Hits Album Avenues and Alleyways, I did what i did for Maria ,Las Vegas and his Biggest selling single of 2005 number one ( is This The Way To ) Amarillo
Keeping cool...The Undertones lead singer Feargal Sharkey. 6/2/1980
Stiff Little Fingers: Punk Group at Queens. Guitarist Henry Cluney an stage at the Whitla Hall, Queens. 16/10/1978
Sting on stage last night playing to a sellout audience at the odyssey arena, Sting returns to belfast after two years as part of his world tour Sacred Love Tour 2004.
Terri Hooley outside his Good Vibrations record shop in 1983
The Beatles in Belfast Scanned from the NPA collection
19.12.08. Pictures by David Fitzgerald. Coldplay playing in the Odyssey Arena last night.
19.12.08. Pictures by David Fitzgerald. Coldplay playing in the Odyssey Arena last night.
11.11.08. David Fitzgerald. Paul Weller playing in the Odyssey Arena Belfast last night.
27.08.10. Picture by David Fitzgerald. Paul Weller performing last night at the Belsonic Festival in Custom House Square, Belfast
Singer Paul Brady on stage at the Ulster Hall. 5/2/1980
Dickie Rock meets young fans outside Romano's Ballroom in Belfast, where the BBC Radio 1 Club was being broadcast for the first time from Northern Ireland.
A visitor's view perhaps of Belfast at night, as seen from a bedroom in the Royal Avenue Hotel. 9/11/1966
The hysterical crowd of teenagers which greeted the Bay City Rollers when they performed in Belfast's New Vic Cinema 25/4/1975
Belfast city centre, looking towards the City Hall and the hills beyond. 25/4/1939 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Belfast City Hall, composite photographs showing approaches. 26/6/1948 Belfast Telegraph Collection/NMNI
City Hall, south side, Belfast 3/11/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE/NMNI
Statue of Queen Victoria in the grounds of the City Hall, Belfast. 5/1/1943 Belfast Telegraph Collection/NMNI
Belfast Castle. February 1937 Belfast Telegraph Collection/NMNI
St. Anne's Cathedral, with Miss Praeger working on the figure of Solomon on the Pillar of Wisdom. 18/6/1928 Belfast Telegraph Collection/NMNI
Outside St. Anne's Cathedral Mr. W.D. Hoskins, ARICS. and Mr. T.J. Rushton FRIBA a partner of Sir Charles Nicholson, cathedral architect with the Dean of Belfast, Very Reverend R.C.H.Elliot. 18/9/1947 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Presbyterian Assembly Buildings and Church House, Gt. Victoria St. Belfast 24/9/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Carlisle Memorial Methodist Church, Clifton St. Belfast. 13/5/1949 Belfast Telegraph Collection/NMNI
New' Petty Sessions Court, Victoria St. Belfast. 27/4/1943 Belfast Telegraph Collection/NMNI
Albert Bridge Road looking from Templemore Avenue citywards. 2/9/1943 Belfast Telegraph Collection/NMNI
Building a roundabout at the junction of Ravenhill Road, Albert Bridge Road and Madrid St. 10/9/1948 Belfast Telegraph Collection/NMNI
Anne St. and Arthur Square, Belfast. 11/10/1946 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Donegall Square North and East. Belfast. 26/7/1948 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Donegall Square South and West. Belfast 3/11/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
High Street, Belfast, looking towards the Albert Clock. 24/2/1939 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Lisburn Road, at Malone Avenue, Belfast. 3/5/1946 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Sandy Row, from Donegall Road looking towards Lisburn Road. Belfast. 10/5/1946 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Shaftesbury Square looking towards Gt. Victoria St. and Dublin Road, Belfast. 12/11/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Belmont St. Woodstock Road, Belfast. 3/2/1939 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Bloomfield Road, Belfast, looking towards the Beersbridge Road. 1/12/1947 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
High St. from Castle Place. Belfast 20/2/1939 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
The Palm House in Botanic Gardens, Belfast. 7/5/1946 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Grand Opera House, The Hippodrome (Odeon), and The Ritz (ABC). In the foreground is a motorcycle and sidecar and a jeep. 5/10/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Exterior of King's Hall, Balmoral. 21/4/1949 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
G.N.R. railway terminus at Belfast 16/12/1937 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Looking along the Albert Bridge to The East Bridge Street Power Station. 2/9/1943 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Painting of Andrew Mulholland, founder of York Street Flax Spinning Company 4/4/1945 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Building of the Sydenham by-pass, a workman using a frog hammer. 25/10/1939 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMN
Shipyard workers watching the launch of the "Canberra". 11/3/1960 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Shankill Road at Canmore St.looking citywards, Belfast. 17/11/1943 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Victoria Square, Belfast, from Victoria Street. Davis & Co. automobile engineers, Cantrell & Cochrane factory. 24/8/1939 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Victoria Square, Belfast, with Cantrell & Cochrane delivery lorry. 3/5/1946 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Wilson's Court, Belfast. A narrow alley between High Street and Ann Street. Sign for "Lavery's". Gas bracket lamp. 16/5/1941 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Corner of North Street and Waring Street, Belfast. The Belfast Bank head office (formerly The Northern Bank). 22/9/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Old clothes market, Smithfield, Belfast. 5/1/1937 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Cattle pens at The Great Northern Railway Station, Belfast, from the Albert Bridge. 2/9/1943 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
The Mater Hospital, Crumlin Road, Belfast. 15/9/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
The Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, from the Grosvenor Road. 21/9/1925BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Chichester St. looking towards Donegall Square North. Belfast. 3/1/1941 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Chichester St. from Victoria St. junction. Belfast. 3/5/1946 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Donegall Square East, Showing a row of parked cars. Belfast 10/9/1928 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Donegall Square East, with air raid shelters, from the roof of the Robinson & Cleaver building, Belfast. Top of photo cut of by the censor. 22/9/1943 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Donegall Square North from the roof of the City Hall. Air raid shelters in City Hall grounds. Belfast 15/9/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Donegall Square North. Belfast 23/1/1946 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Arthur St. looking towards Arthur Sq. and Cornmarket. 27/4/1943 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Belfast, City Hall and surrounding area. Aerial Photograph. 17/8/1929 BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE/NMNI
Stormont.Belfast. 24/10/1947 BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE/NMNI
Stormont, painted black with pitch to camouflage it.Trolley bus no. 26. Belfast. 26/3/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE/NMNI
Smithfield market, Belfast.Young boy in a shop selling household furniture lamps and bric a brac. 26/11/1941
The stitching room of the Belfast Collar Company
Albion limited Group. Machine Department Albion Ltd Belfast 1919
Yardmen busy themselves bottling gas. 30/6/1934
On a tour of the gasworks our photographer is shown the Interior Gaosmeter. 27/4/1934
Linen Industry:Plain Weaving Shop, Brookfield Factory. 3/3/1939
Linen/ Warping, York Street Factory.
Linen/ winding weft yarn. York St. Factory.
Linen, Damask weaving shot. Brookfield factory. York St factory.
Linen Industry:View of Weaving Room, York Street Factory.
Linen Industry:Wet Spinning, York Street Mill.
Albion limited Group. The visit of H.R.H. the Duke Of Gloucester to Albion Ltd Clothing maufacturers Belfast,29th May 1934
Manhattan Beauty Salon, Corn Market. Female customers having their hair styled. 7/5/1940
On a visit to the Gasworks an employee demonstrates the Coal Gripper (The feed system of a coal getting combine, which works with a face conveyor, comprises: a traction device located on the combine and having a cylinder-shaped sprocket on the side surface of which a circular spherical-shaped recess is provided, slots being made on both inner sides of the spherical recess, said slots having an involute-spherical surface) 20/1/1938
Saw repair shop, McMasters, Church Lane. 19/11/1945
Weaving and winding training school at Ewart's factory. Pupils at work in the classroom. 29/1/1948
The Countess Granville, wife of the Ulster Governor and sister of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, cutting ribbon to open childrens play centre at Bessbrook. 15/9/1945
Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, visit to Northern Ireland 1945. Arriving in Belfast, being recieved by Lord Londonderry at Assembly Hall for degree ceremony at Queens. 14.9.1945
James Magennis:Ulsterman awarded The Victoria Cross (VC). Belfastman decorated for his heroic actions onboard the X.E.11 Midget Submarine returning from the attack on a japanese cruiser. James Magennis with Lord Mayor Sir Crawford McCullagh at a civic reception in Belfast in 1945.
Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, visit to Northern Ireland 1945. Arriving in Belfast and being greeted at the City Hall by Sir Crawford McCullagh. 14/9/1945.
BBC's Radio entertainer, Mr Gillie Potter, pictured here in Belfast. 17/2/1948
Hon. Edward Carson, son of late Lord Carson of Duncairn, and his wife arriving for the Unionist Council meeting. 19/2/1948
Lady Carson, widow of Lord Carson of Duncairn, and Lady Brooke, at Stormont House. 17/2/1948
Sir Malcolm Sargent, Conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, with his hosts, the P.M., Lord Brookeborough, and Lady Brooke, at Stormont. 24/6/1947
Sir Arnold McNair, Judge of the Court of International Justice at the Hague, with Lady McNair and Professor J. L. Montrose. 22/10/1947
The stitching room of the Belfast Collar Company
Rabbi Jacob Shachter, Rabbi Belfast, Rabbi Dr I. Herzog, Chief Rabbi elect of the Holy Land, and Mr J Hurwitz at Belfast railway station. 15/3/1937
Craftsmen finish work on the Royal Courts of Justice, Oxford Street, Belfast, under the watchful of Lord Craigavon. 14/4/1933
The opening of the Royal Courts of Justice, Oxford Street, Belfast. 31/5/1933
Stonemasons finish work on the outside of the Royal Courts of Justice, Oxford Street, Belfast. April 1933
Aerial of Belfast Harbour, Thompson Wharf. 12/8/1937
Belfast Custom House, Custom House Square, Belfast. 28/1/1930
Belfast Custom House, Custom House Square, Belfast. 14/4/1928
Belfast Harbour, The Quay's at the turn of the twentieth century.
The construction of the Albert Memorial, dating back yo 1867.
The interior of Belfast City Hall.
The interior of Belfast City Hall. The vault and storeroom at City Hall. 5/1/1934
Belfast City Hall. Donegall Square. Under construction in 1903. The Earl of Glasgow unveiling the statue of Sir Edward J Harland in the grounds of the new City Hall.
The collapse of the central arches of the Albert Bridge. 15/9/1886
The Albert Bridge. 15/1/1932
Spectators gather to view the Albert Bridge after the collapse of the central arches in 1886
Belfast City Hall. Donegall Square. As it looked in 1930 BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE
Belfast City Hall. Donegall Square. In 1912
Belfast City Hall. Donegall Square. Under construction in 1906
The interior of Belfast City Hall.
The interior of Belfast City Hall. 18/8/1939
The interior of Belfast City Hall.
The interior of Belfast City Hall.
The interior of Belfast City Hall.
Belfast City Hall. Donegall Square. Under construction in 1906. The statue of Queen Victoria already in place. BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE
The interior of Belfast City Hall. 1951
City Hall from Wellington Place, Belfast. 5/10/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE/NMNI

By Eddie McIlwaine

The 110th birthdate of James Johnston, the Singing Butcher of Sandy Row who took Covent Garden by storm one day and the next was back behind his counter serving prime steak to Belfast housewives, comes up this summer.

Which is appropriate in the city of which he was so proud and which he put on the musical map with his unique voice. Johnston’s time and genius will be celebrated at the same time as Belfast which produced him.

He was born on August 17 1903, the son of a butcher, and seemed destined for a career as his father’s assistant until one Sunday |Tyrone Guthrie of Sadler’s Wells Opera happened to be in Belfast and heard the young tenor Jimmy singing in his church choir and offered him a leading role in his |celebrated company.

Although his family frowned on the idea of their son becoming a professional singer Jimmy, who had already won many competitions across Ireland even though he had no formal training, accepted the offer in 1945.

And he became the UK’s leading tenor until 1958 when Jimmy retired from the stage and returned home to his shop after more than 850 performances in 24 leading roles with Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden.

He and leading soprano of the day Maria Callas didn’t get on and he once asked for her to to be removed as his leading lady.

Back in Sandy Row Jimmy was content to sing once again in his church choir and on special occasions raise his magnificent voice at concerts in the Ulster Hall. He died in October 1991 and there is an Ulster History Circle Blue Plaque in his memory at Knock Road in the city.

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Johnston is just one of the iconic figures Belfast can claim as its own including Billy Neely, in his day the most famous boy |soprano in the world.

The young Belfast boy became a child star almost overnight when he made his first broadcast on BBC radio in 1948 on Children's Hour.

He went on to appear regularly on top-rated programmes in Belfast and London, like Henry Hall's Guest Night — the equivalent on the wireless of the later television Sunday Night At The London Palladium.

He eventually settled in France where he ran an antique shop until his death two years ago at 76. A CD of his boy soprano tracks is now in the shops.

Then there was the Singing Policeman Josef Locke, a legendary tenor with a great voice whose career was made into a film.

I once wrote a story in the Telegraph telling how Locke couldn’t come home to Belfast or indeed turn up anywhere in the UK because he owed the Inland Revenue £20,000 and the taxman was waiting to pounce. Next morning he came on the phone from somewhere in the Republic and said: |“McIlwaine you got it wrong — the sum is £40,000!”

Eventually Josef, who used to patrol the streets of Belfast as an RUC constable — under his real name of Joe McLaughlin — before being discovered, settled his money problems and did come home to grace the |Ulster Hall and the Opera House stages once again.

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