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How I helped to launch career of Krypton Factor legend Gordon

By Eddie McIlwaine

The Newry Reporter weekly newspaper is 150 years old - and that is a special occasion for veteran television personality Gordon Burns (75), host for 18 years of The Krypton Factor and, like me, an old boy of the Belfast Telegraph.

You see, the Reporter was founded all those years ago by Gordon's great-grandfather, James Burns, who was also its editor.

But that isn't all of Gordon's story - never mind that it was I who introduced him to journalism when he was a 14-year-old at rugby-playing Campbell College in Belfast.

Gordon preferred football and formed a league of teams at the school and published a magazine each week reporting on the matches.

I was intrigued by his activities and invited him to the Belfast Telegraph, where I was employed, to write a story about football and his magazine.

"Experiencing the hustle and bustle of an editorial office inspired me to be a reporter and I did join the Belfast Telegraph staff a few years later," Gordon recalls.

When Gordon became sports editor at UTV in 1967, he was the fourth generation of editors in the Burns family.

One of Reporter launch editor James Burns' sons became editor of the Lisburn Standard and then the Derry Standard, Gordon's father, Fred, was editor, in his turn, of the Derry Standard and later worked as an editor on Hansard at Stormont.

Old-timer James Burns was born in Newtownhamilton and became an apprentice at 14 on the Newry Telegraph.

He later set up his own printing business in the town's Monaghan Street, where he eventually launched the Newry Reporter in 1867 - exactly 100 years before his great-grandson became sports editor of UTV.

The paper did well, mainly because of his powerful leading articles, which led to Newry returning a Liberal MP to Westminster for the first time.

"He used to write his leading articles in a cubicle in the reporters' room," Gordon tells me.

"He could be seen through the windows, lighting up his pipe and blowing out volumes of smoke, before picking up his quill and starting to write."

Christine's Frank talk about relationships

I'm delighted that the BBC and Northern Ireland's own Christine Lampard are best friends again.

In fact, Christine (38), who grew up in Newtownards, Co Down, and her former co-host on the Beeb's The One Show, Adrian Chiles, have been back together again on a BBC Northern Ireland series called The Friendship Test, in which they examined relationships everywhere - including their own.

I also hear that Christine - wife of former football star Frank Lampard - and Adrian will be back working together again in the near future.

The pair of them were pioneer hosts on The One Show until 2010 when they suddenly departed for pastures new.

Since then, Christine has had several impressive television jobs, including presenting Loose Women and ITV factual series Off The Beaten Track and Wild Ireland.

She began her career as a radio newsreader at Citybeat in Belfast in 1995, where a young Stephen Nolan was a presenter.

Memories of 'NI's Agatha Christie'

Who was Freeman Wills Crofts? I was baffled by a brief reference to him on a BBC Radio 4 arts programme as an Irish author, who lived in Belfast, although he was born in Dublin.

Since then, a little bit of research has revealed that he was chief engineer of the old Belfast and Northern Counties Railway, until, in the early-1930s, he retired from the railway to concentrate on writing. Apparently, Crofts, who moved away from Belfast to Guildford in Surrey, wrote 33 novels and radio plays in his time.

He had penned his first mystery thriller in 1919, while recovering from an illness, and became known as 'Ulster's Agatha Christie'.

I have to admit that I've never read any of the books Freeman Wills Crofts wrote, one of which was called The 12.30 from Croydon and was published in paperback by Penguin.

Crofts, who married a Mary Canning of Coleraine, died aged 78 in 1957.

If you know anything more about this author and the titles of his other books, please do get in touch.

I fear they are mostly out of print as information about the author and his career is scant.

Is there really gold in them thar hills?

My reference last week to my rambles over Carnmoney Hill has reminded an old boyhood friend, Laurie Lees, of how his late father, William, our Sunday School teacher at Carnmoney Presbyterian Church, used to tell us tales about a pirate called Janus McDaid.

You see, according to William, a successful Belfast businessman in his day, McDaid buried his treasure trove just off the summit of Carnmoney Hill.

Apparently, he was around in the 16th century and smuggled his gold and trinkets up to the hill from his sailing ship anchored at Carrickfergus.

But was Mr Lees just telling his class a tall tale to show how a wrongdoer could be caught and punished for his thieving?

According to William, McDaid was arrested at sea and went to prison for a long time, but he refused to tell the authorities where he had hidden his booty.

I spent many a fruitless afternoon with another friend, Robert Bell, combing the hill in search of McDaid's hiding place.

To tell you the truth, I'd be more inclined to believe the story if the pirate had been called Long John McDaid, or Peg Leg McDaid.

Why man's best friend truly deserves a place in Heaven

Do good dogs go to heaven? A friend of mine, whose pet canine has just died at a great age, asked me to reproduce this poem on the subject of four-legged friends in the hereafter - so here it is:

If it's true that love's eternal

And that death means not its end

Is this only so of humans

Not of man's most faithful friend?

If all real love comes from Heaven

- springs from God's eternal mind -

Can it be all love must perish

But that found in human-kind?

If I ever reach God's Heaven

- meet again the friends I knew -

I would hope to find among them -

Those not human but as true!

Tall tales about fluffy bunnies could well send you hopping mad

Did you know that sailors never mention rabbits when they are out on the ocean?

According to an old folk tale from the seaside related by writer and seaman Edward Lovett, to take a rabbit aboard a ship is believed to be decidedly unlucky.

I was sceptical about this tale until an old uncle of mine, Ernie Boyd, who served on a destroyer during the war, stressed to me that it is perfectly true.

Not that Uncle Ernie, who died several years ago, ever actually thought of taking one of the furry creatures on board.

Even on shore, rabbits are looked upon with a bit of caution.

For instance, in some parts of the UK it is regarded as unwise to shoot black rabbits because they were believed to be ancestral spirits returning to earth as animals. And what about a belief which comes from Co Kerry that white rabbits are witches in disguise?

Appetite for finding out more about Hungry House Lane

Imagine having Hungry House Lane as a home address. And in case you doubt that it really does exist, let me assure you that it is actually on the map, near Lisburn somewhere between Glenavy and Stoneyford. And people do live there.

At Hungry House Lane's southern point, it begins at a crossroads where straight across is School Lane and perpendicular is the main Glenavy Road. There are only a few houses on the lane, which is approximately 600m long; it runs through beautiful countryside of rolling green fields. And it ends at its northern point when it reaches the similarly fascinatingly named Sheepwalk Road.

How did Hungry House Lane get its name? I've sought an answer to this question in the past and had no response. I suspect the address has something to do with famine times. Perhaps this time somebody will come up with an answer.

Belfast Telegraph

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