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Father's Day: Why there's no one quite like dear old dad

Ahead of Father's Day this Sunday, the son and daughter of two much missed famous men, comic Frank Carson and writer and actor Joe Tomelty, pay tribute

By Una Brankin

It's the day when sons and daughters pay tribute to the most important man in their lives. Across Northern Ireland this Sunday, families will be gathering to celebrate Father's Day, spoiling the old man with gifts and attention.

For those who may have lost their father already, it can also be an especially poignant day, as they recall fond memories and funny stories about dad.

Ahead of the day itself, we speak to the children of two famous Ulster fathers, who will be making their own tributes to their much-loved dads over the next week.


‘The tapes I found reveal a much deeper side than the comedian everyone knew’

As one of the UK and Ireland’s best-loved comedians, Frank Carson was a regular face on television screens, especially throughout the Seventies and Eighties.

In a one-off special programme, Frank Carson: My Father, His Voice, on BBC Radio Ulster this Sunday, his son Tony will be sharing his thoughts and memories as he listens to a selection of poignant recordings made by his father, who died in 2012. He says:

The last Father's Day we had with Pops was just before his diagnosis (of cancer). In the last 25 years or so Father's Day was always a good occasion to rally round him — I've five kids myself so it would be a big joint celebration with the extended family. That year we had a good break in Spain; soon after that he went under the knife and went downhill from there. My sister Majella was there, too, and we had a barbeque overlooking Gibraltar and the African coast.

We played a few records and there were a few jokes we'd all heard before. We always had to buy him something for Father's Day: not clothes. He was colour-blind and wore the most vivid and loudest things. He had a penchant for orange, which might have been dangerous in Northern Ireland, and his ties were like Joseph's technicolour dreamcoat. His suits weren't much better at times.

We'd buy him things like World War One videos and so on, or commission a family picture for him. He didn't get sentimental — he was a big-hearted man but not one prone to tearfulness. He was of that generation that wouldn't give you a big hug, not that he was any less warm for it. He just didn't do stuff like that but we always had a good banter with him. It could get a wee bit edgy at times with that, though — we always tried to top him and if he didn't win out he wouldn't be happy. He liked to have the last word!

We miss him. Mum thinks he's still going to come home. She's now in the second stage of dementia but she has taken to her high-end new care home (in Blackpool) very well and seems relatively happy surrounded with all these old dollies. She wonders why Pops hasn't phoned to say he's late, though. They were together for 53 years, after all.

It was when I was clearing out his things from their apartment in Spain that I came across the tapes that make the basis for this documentary. I didn't want mum to come across his slippers and dressing gown and get upset. I was mooching around when I found these cassette tapes with elastic bands over them from 1996. There were 10 but two are missing — maybe the FBI has them!

They last for 16 hours. He's being interviewed by an Irish journalist and showing a much deeper side than the comedian everyone knew and the father I thought I knew. It's very soul-searching stuff, from God to love, an inner Frank I'd never encountered. It's hard to think that I never got to know the real him over 50-odd years.

I actually didn't listen to the tapes until I gave them to the producer Ian Dougan — I thought I didn't need to, but afterwards I realised I hadn't known Pops as well as I thought. It's sad he didn't share those thoughts with me, and that I didn't delve deeper with him. I wondered, did he not want me to?

His generation went through much harder times with the wars and austerity than ours, and he was more spiritual than I realised, and held very strong opinions. These are intimate and confessional recordings, reflecting on — among other things — his upbringing, his faith, his insecurities and his relationship with us, his family.

He had often talked about writing a book, which he was going to call Rebel Without a Pause. Was this it? Or was it just more of ‘the way he told them’, again and again? I'm not sure.

To hear my father speak at a deeper level than the comedian we all loved was deeply moving and thought-provoking. Where did all that come from?

Ian and I are looking at a one-man show with Belfast actor Dan Gordon based on the recordings — I call them the Crackergate Tapes, although I don't think Pops would have liked that.

I think he would have preferred It's The Way He Told Them, or even Rebel Without A Pause. So we'll let him have the last word on this one!”

Frank Carson: My Father, His Voice is on BBC Radio Ulster this Sunday at 1.30pm. For details, visit


‘He had a great sense of humour and a very healthy disregard for the lunacy of politics here’

Ahead of a special broadcast of one of legendary actor Joseph Tomelty's recordings of The McCooeys, the hugely popular weekly serial on the lives of a working-class Belfast family, his daughter, the actress Roma Tomelty, reflects on her relationship with her father. She says:

I get told I look like Joe all the time. We both went prematurely white — in our 20s — and he kept his full head of hair until he died (of Parkinson's Disease in 1995).

I remember we found a Father's Day card amongst his things afterwards. It was of a little fat, perplexed man with sums written all over him, and it said: To The One We Always Count On. He was very overcome by that and had kept it all those years; my sister Frances and I just thought it was funny.

We didn't give Father's Day gifts but we always had a meal at home. The craic was better there. His favourite wine was Beaujolais — he used to get called Beaujolais Joe — and he liked a nice bit of game. He'd go and ask the butcher for a pigeon big enough for a family of five.

People would always stop and talk to him in town, and ask about Cecil and Grandad McCooey, as if they were real, but we didn't get treated any differently because of his fame.

We lived on the Falls Road and people just accepted it, but I remember him giving one of my schoolfriends a lift home to Divis in his little green Matchbox Ford, when there were so few cars around, and her saying she felt like a millionaire.

My father had great charismatic energy and great warmth; he always had a smile in his eyes. He had a good sense of humour and always told us not to take things too seriously or be “too arty”.

He was a spiritual man and he practised his faith, and had a great curiosity about all religions. He believed in the afterlife, as he intimates in his play All Souls Night. I'll be alright if I end up in the same place as him.

Dad also had a very healthy disregard for the lunacy of politics here; he was not a political animal at all, really. He was affectionate and gave mum her place at home but he wasn't into flowers and all that. They stayed married for 53 years, though. I remember him coming home with good harmless gossip from the films he made. He played cards with gorgeous Gregory Peck on Moby Dick, and also spoke very highly of his other co-stars like Kenneth Moore, James Mason, Dirk Bogarde and Alan Ladd.

I was 10 when he had a terrible car accident in London in 1955. MGM got the plane delayed so mum could see him, as he was in a coma and not expected to live. The injuries weakened him and he couldn't concentrate as a writer after that.

He was always extremely patient but he was more short-tempered after the accident.

I saw him on stage once before then, in 1951 — I was in the front row and he blew me a kiss from the curtain, and later I saw him again in Over The Bridge, when I was 16. He didn't encourage me or my sister to go into the theatre — he said it was a very hard life, and he's right, but he supported us when we went ahead anyway.

He used to make wonderful wine — his elderberry is sadly missed. He said it was the best cure for the cold. He'd spend hours preparing the fruit and it would be gurgling away in this lab he had, and there would be the odd explosion which blew it all up!

He loved that, and he loved reading. He only ever wanted to act so he could get to write, and it's terrific that his books are being republished.

He left school at 12 and was overcome by any academic approval he got. He was really chuffed when the BBC used his war correspondence on the Blitz for the Irish Times, for their schools programme.

I remember hearing about him filling a whole jotter at primary school with the one story — he would've got into trouble for his mother having to spend another penny on a new one.

But more than anything else he was a highly compassionate man, regardless of who you were.

We still miss him. He was a very central patriarch, in the best way.”

Roma Tomelty will be giving a light-hearted introduction ahead of the airing of one of the three surviving recordings of The McCooeys at the Londonderry Arms Hotel, Carnlough, next Friday, June 20, at 8pm. Admission free. For details, tel: 028 2888 5255, or visit


The magic of the McCooeys

  • First broadcast in 1949 and running for just over seven years, The McCooeys became one of the most popular local radio shows of all time, as each week thousands of listeners tuned in to hear the ups and downs of life for the titular working-class Belfast family
  • Among the characters who kept the airwaves alive were Derek the Window Cleaner, who was played by a then emerging, young talent called James Young
  • Such was the popularity of the show that some listeners would even attempt to contact the family. On one occasion, when the family redecorated their home some worried listeners phoned in to offer advice on what they thought a fair rate for the work should be

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