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An Ulster Log: Typewriter love story makes Tom Hanks an app star

By Eddie McIlwaine

Movie star Tom Hanks' obsession with typewriters which he explained to me in a letter put together on an old Underwood a few years back, has paid off big time.

His invention, Typewriter app for iPad, which he calls Hanx Writer, is now No 1 in the the international iTunes App Store. It tops the charts overall and heads up the Productivity Department too.

Hanks, whose films include Saving Private Ryan and Philadelphia, stresses that his Hanx Writer turns an iPad into an old-fashioned typewriter just like the one Tom used when he wrote to me.

The full typing experience – the bang of the keys and the chime of the bell at the end of a line – are all there. They sit side by side with modern conveniences like the ability to correct without white tape or whiteout.

Tom insists his Hanx Writer is easy to use. It offers an on-screen keyboard so you can pretend you are typing on plastic keys.

Hanks and I first started corresponding early in 2008 when I was trying to find him a Gaelic language typewriter to complete his huge collection of the machines.

So far I've had no luck - but I'm still hopeful and still searching.

Hanks also collects what he calls rare typewriter sightings, including the Royal on which Ernest Hemingway knocked out at least one of his novels. He declared: "I would walk the length and breadth of Belfast in search of the perfect shop with a typewriter in the window."

Helen follows in famous footsteps

Actress Helen Clapp will be feeling the weight of theatrical history on her shoulders when she steps on stage at the Grand Opera House, Belfast on Monday night, to play the part of Mollie Ralston in The Mousetrap.

For this was the role Sheila Sim, now 92, made famous in the first performance of the play in the West End back in 1952 opposite her husband Richard Attenborough, to whom she was married 69 years.

Helen is conscious of the added interest in The Mousetrap because of the Attenborough-Sim connection with the play.

In the role of Sgt Trotter, first played by Attenborough, is Luke Jenkins.

The play runs until Saturday.

Richard and Sheila were young up and coming performers when they met in a production of a drama called The Lady with the Lamp in 1945, fell in love and married the same year.

Now Helen is hoping there is a revival of The Lady with the Lamp so that she can connect again with a Sheila Sim part.

For information and ticket details on The Mousetrap, visit

Naming of street is a Grand tale

There's an old nursery rhyme and marching game – and it's called The Grand Old Duke of York which most of us have sung and played as children.

"But did you know that York Street in Belfast originally took its name from the Duke of York who was the second son of George III," says William Magill of Kilrea.

Apparently this Duke was the same one featured in the song and known as the Grand Old Duke of York. He had ten thousand men, he marched them up to the top of the hill and he marched them down again.

In 1808 the street was called Duke Street, but a few years later a few dignitaries in Belfast decided they liked The Grand Old Duke of York so much that they would change it to York Street in his honour. And it has borne that name ever since.

But who wrote the ballad?

Oh, The Grand Old Duke of York,

He had ten thousand men,

He marched them up to the top of the hill,

And he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up,

And when they were down, they were down,

And when they were only half-way up,

They were neither up nor down.

Ray of light in the acting profession

Here’s a nice idea from John Keenan of Holywood - he suggests that a Blue Plaque should be put up on a wall in Victoria Square where the old lamented Empire Theatre, which closed down in May 1961 with the late Bridie Gallagher topping the bill, used to be.

John was a regular at the old palace of varieties and his thoughts turned to the Empire again when he read about the death of actor Ray Lonnen who used to appear regularly on that celebrated stage.

Ray who came to Belfast as a 19-year-old to learn his trade in live theatre also appeared at the original Arts Theatre in Little Donegall Street.

Ray never looked back and had a spectacular television career spanning more than half a century.

Star violinist bringing Burns to life

The words of My Love is Like a Red Red Rose are moving and typical Robert Burns.

And the melody stops you in your tracks, too, especially when violinist Nicola Benedetti (27, right) plays it. The young lady from West Kilbride with a Scottish mother and an Italian father, was a pupil once upon a time of Yehudi Menuhin.

Her way with the Red Red Rose tune is making Nicola a star attraction and she could be in the Opera House or the Waterfront before Christmas. This violinist with the soft romantic touch also likes another Burns love song Ae Fond Kiss. The refrain goes: "Ae fond kiss and then we sever; ae farewell, alas forever."

Gay no Stranger to musical greats

Veteran clarinettist Gay McIntyre seems to go on forever. The musician, who is also a smooth alto sax performer, was playing Stranger on the Shore when it was still called Jenny after the daughter of Acker Bilk, who wrote it.

Gay has been around for six decades, so it will be a real trip down memory lane when he takes to the stage of the Theatre at the Mill next Friday, September 12, when he will be accompanied by singer Victoria Geelan and John Leighton on piano.

He will be playing timeless classics like Moon River, Danny Boy and Days of Wine and Roses. And of course, Stranger on the Shore.

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