Belfast Telegraph

Why Tom's a special type of guy

By Eddie McIlwaine

When Hollywood star Tom Hanks sends word to Northern Ireland Screen that he will be in Belfast next autumn for the premiere of his blockbuster City of Ember, it won't be by email or any other 21st Century form of communication.

Hanks, who once appeared in a movie called You Got Mail, which had to do with the internet and computer messages, will be writing his letter on a plain old fashioned typewriter.

In fact, if the Commission put themselves out and find an Irish language typewriter to present to the actor/producer at the screening next September, probably in the Waterfront, he will be delighted beyond words.

You see, Hanks is a typewriter collector and he goes nowhere without a portable on which to knocks out his correspondence.. He knows exactly where to get ribbons for each of his 80 machines which are his pride and joy. In fact he has typewriters that were manufactured in countries that no longer exist.

But I have checked and Tom definitely hasn't got an Irish language typewriter. So never mind Aer Lingus and its controversial language order to its cabin staff on the London-Belfast route - wouldn't it be lovely if someone could turn up such a keyboard for the man?

Oh yes, there are antique Irish typewriters out there. The Underwood company produced one unique to the Emerald Isle and there is a Royal Irish machine and both of them have Gaelic forms of the letters on their keyboards.

I know that Hanks would simply love to receive one when he arrives for the launch of City of Ember which was filmed in Belfast last year and stars Bill Murray and Tim Robbins with fledging actors Harry Treadaway and Saoirse Ronan as two children who are central to the tale of a city being plunged into darkness as its power source fails and life grinds to a standstill.

But back to typewriters, about which composer Leroy Anderson once wrote an overture. A machine for transcribing letters appeared in 1704, but the typewriter as we know it today was the brainchild of Italian Pellegrino Turri in 1808. He made his original machine for a blind friend to help her write letters.

Then along came a journalist called Christopher Latham Sholes who produced the first practical typewriter in Milwaukee in 1874, even though in the beginning it typed only in capitols. The Remington company improved on his model and eventually in the heyday of office and clerical work and journalism there were more than 300 different makes and models bearing the logo of companies like Olivetti and Underwood as well as Remington, on the market in the 50s. There is even a braille model.

Today there is an international Antique Typewriter Collectors Club in Philadelphia with members all over the world.

"Typewriters fascinate me," admits Hanks. "I have one with me at all times. It's a proper way to communicate with other people. I write letters. I know that quieter electric typewriters arrived in the 50s, but the sound of a keyboard is still intoxicating." Mark Twain used a typewriter to write his novels and writer Fanny Kemble produced her best work on a keyboard.

Author William S Burroughs wrote his 1952 novel The Naked Lunch on a rattling Remington and his notes were typed for him by Jack Kerouac, a speed-typing champion of Boston.

There was a character called Typewriter Tim Jordan in the 60s who blowtorched typewriters in half and then welded them back together as sculptures.

But what about Ernest Hemingway? He used a typewriter called a Royal for his bestsellers.

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