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An Ulster Log: Preacher John was last hero of Titanic


John Harper

John Harper

Soprano Margaret Keys

Soprano Margaret Keys

Kevin Bridges

Kevin Bridges

Kris D Marsden

Kris D Marsden


John Harper

Who was John Harper of Titanic recollections? The question, from Jim Anderson of Kilrea, was prompted by my reference to the doomed liner a while back.

He is aware that Harper was one of the victims of the tragedy, but he knows nothing else about the man.

Well, I can tell him today, after a little bit of research, that Harper was a Belfast-born preacher on the liner, on his way to America, to a new life and a new church.

But his dreams of starting over were quickly forgotten when the ship hit the iceberg and was sinking fast.

John, who had been spending his time aboard giving sermons out on the decks, sprang into action, helping calm down frightened passengers and praying with them.He was called the Titanic's Last Hero, and with good reason. He went so far as to give his life-jacket away to a young woman, and his brave decision saved her life.

But there was more - John pleaded with true believers among the passengers to give up their seats in the lifeboats so that the "unsaved" could have another chance in life.

Even when he crashed off the Titanic into the cruel waves and was soon to die, John reached out a hand to another of the victims floating beside him and gave him words of comfort as he passed away.

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The story of John Harper, after whom a church in Oregon was named, was told 20 years ago in a video.

This was itself adapted from a best-selling book called indeed The Titanic's Last Hero. Wouldn't it be appropriate if Ambassador Productions reissued the documentary, only this time as a DVD?

Margaret's key to success

The secret of soprano Margaret Keys' popularity is not only her beautiful voice, she is good to look at too.

The girl from Londonderry will be guesting at the Waterfront on Thursday, November 6, with Paul Potts, the first winner of Britain's Got Talent.

Margaret is a classical soprano with a First Class honours degree in Music Education and a Masters in Singing and Performance from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

At only 15 she won the Trinity College of Music's London Medal and has now been signed by Universal Records. Tenor Paul Potts stole the hearts of the nation during the Britain's Got Talent final in 2007 with a performance of Puccini's Nessun Dorma. His One Chance album soared to No 1 in 13 countries including the UK.

His life story is being turned into a film also called One Chance with comedian James Corden as Paul and also starring Julie Walters.

Comic Kevin has come so far already

So far as I can work out stand-up comic Kevin Bridges will be the first Scottish entertainer to appear professionally in these parts since the referendum.

He will at Easons Bookstore in Donegall Place, Belfast today at 4.30pm signing copies of his autobiography Take a Look at Kevin Bridges. So no doubt he will have something to say to his fans about the future of the kilt, the bagpipes and his native land.

Kevin will be 28 on November 13 and has already appeared on television shows like Would I Lie To You? although it was his own Kevin Bridges: What's the Story? that made him a firm favourite here. I can't wait to hear if the comic I first encountered on BBC Radio's Mock the Week was a 'yes' or a 'no' that famous day.

Kevin became a performer soon after he left school when he was 17, turning up at the Stand Comedy Club in Glasgow. "I was inspired by Frank Skinner's autobiography," he confides. He was still only 18 when he reached the final of Channel 5's So You Think You're Funny competition.

Kevin's debut DVD The Story So Far is still selling well even though it has been on the market for four years.

Reviving my love for an old friend

I've just added a vintage book to my never-to-be-loaned-out-shelf thanks to Ronnie Wilson of Hillsborough. 

It's a 1937 hardback called William's Crowded Hours by a lady called Richmal Crompton, published by George Newnes of The London Strand. William is that mischievous little boy who was always in trouble and Ronnie and I are still fans to this day, never mind our ages. Ronnie read a piece I wrote about William and his gang which included Ginger and decided to make me a present of William's Crowded Hours. I suspect he has other William books in his library. I read this years ago and am now looking forward to reacquainting myself with the antics William got up to and the torment he caused his sister Ethel and brother Robert.

Dan lifts lid on first film-maker

Every man you meet here could be about to shoot a blockbuster down at the Titanic centre.

Did you know that the first fiction feature film to be shot here was directed by Richard Hayward in 1935 and was called The Luck of the Irish? I received that information from actor Dan Gordon, who researched an absorbing documentary about Hayward, who died in a car crash in 1964.

Down the years Hayward has been forgotten, so Dan's enterprising documentary has got people asking questions about him. Mind you, I've seen The Luck of the Irish and it didn't make an impression. Modern film-making leaves this one looking dated, which is only to be expected.

Son in tribute to Downtown Derek

We all knew and listened on the Downtown wireless to Derek Marsden and were saddened by his premature death.

Now his son Kris D Marsden who, like his old man is a musician, has written an ode to his father and called it Dear Dad. It's a folksy ballad with a country feel. The single is taken from a forthcoming album that will be released early next year. Kris, who has been working with a body called Aware Defeat Depression in a mental health awareness campaign, had an EP released last winter, which was well received.

Derek Marsden presented his much-listened to Reflection show on Downtown Radio every Sunday until his death in 1998, and then his daughter Karen took over the mic for the next five years.

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