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The uplifting tale of a lady's solution to a dress dilemma

By Eddie McIlwaine

Women everywhere should be raising a glass next Thursday, April 20, the birthdate in 1891 of Mary Phelps Jacob. She is acknowledged as the inventor of the backless bra in the winter of 1913 and is responsible for the word brassiere entering the Oxford dictionary.

I'm certain that the late Marilyn Monroe never heard of Mary even though her creation gave the legend's hour-glass figure a mighty lift.

I can tell you that the enterprising Mary, who died in 1970 at 78, was inspired to design a revolutionary new bra to look good under a flowing evening gown she wanted to wear to a social event in her native New York one February evening that year of 1913 when she was 22.

It consisted simply of two silk handkerchiefs sewn together with pink ribbon and cord.

But my goodness that bra with a few later additions, caught on with family and friends and soon females at large were queuing up for fittings.

The uncomfortable wire corset was doomed. Fashion designers fell in love with the Jacob bra and advised their customers to desert the corset.

Designer Mary made a small fortune when she sold the patent to a company in Connecticut.

This designer of the bra who wed a soldier Richard Peabody in 1915 became known as Caresse Crosby after her marriage to second husband Harry Crosby in 1922 following her divorce from Peabody.

She and Harry founded Black Sun Press in Paris and supported up and coming writers like DH Lawrence, James Joyce and Hemingway .

After Harry's death in 1929 Mary (or Caresse) returned to America and married actor Silbert Young, 16 years her junior, but the relationship didn't work.

They divorced and she went back to Europe and died in Rome in 1970.

Three marriages in one lifetime? You could say that the shape that bra gave the lady didn't impress her men.

Mary (or Caresse) also founded a movement called Women Against War just as the Second World War was looming.

Margaret sings her tribute to Dame Vera

What a red letter night it's going to be for my favourite soprano Margaret Keys when she makes her debut at the famous London Palladium on the Sunday Night at the London Palladium show on June 25 at which she and other stars, with Bradley Walsh as host, will be paying tribute to the Second World War Forces Sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn who has just celebrated her 100th birthday.

"I used to listen to her on the radio when I was a little girl," says Margaret from Londonderry. "I love her rendition of The White Cliffs of Dover."

Margaret's appearance at the Palladium comes soon after her debut at another celebrated stadium - New York's Carnegie Hall. It's going to be a busy summer for the girl with the golden voice.

On Saturday, June 10, she will be in Atlanta, Georgia for two concerts which will attract a total audience in the World Congress Centre.

She will be back home for the Spirit of Northern Ireland Festival at the Culloden Hotel on Friday, June 16.

And on Saturday and Sunday, July 8 and 9, Margaret will be at the Classical Isle Music Festival on the Isle of Wight.

If that is not enough to keep this lovely singer busy she is about to start recording a new album with the Prague Symphony Orchestra.

This angel didn't fly in National

Here's a touching postscript to last Saturday's Grand National at Aintree. Just before the off a well-dressed stranger whose name turned out to be John Irvine asked me outside a bookmaker's shop how he would go about having a wager on a 20-1 outsider called Rogue Angel.

It turned out the bet was in homage to his father, John Irvine senior (71) whom he had laid to rest a few days before.

"If he had been around Dad would have had a bet on the big race," explained John junior. "He was a good parent and he enjoyed a drink and a wee gamble. I can tell you that he enjoyed life too and, yes, he was a bit of a rogue."

So this son who respected his father so well just had to place a bet on Rogue Angel in memory of the old man. He had a fiver each way on the animal with the angelic name.

Rogue Angel, with jockey Bryan Cooper on his back, gave a good account of himself and at one stage of the National was up with the leaders, but he didn't manage to finish.

However, it's the thought that counts. I'm sure the late John Irvine was smiling as he watched the race from on high.

Giving orphans a reason to sing out

The Khulala Choir from Swaziland, led by Timothy Makhanya, is on its way on a return visit to Northern Ireland. Its voices include 13 orphans, aged between eight years and 18 and three adults.

The choir is connected to Challenge Missionaries, founded by Pastor Kevin Ward and his wife Helen.

Kevin is the son of Marcus Ward, originally from Lisburn and now based in Swaziland where he owns a hotel.

Kevin, left his position in the family business to set up Challenge Missionaries along with Helen who was a dental surgeon.

"The Khulala Choir have been in the province before and have been well received by the people they sang to," says Gary Armstrong , an elder in the Elim Church which is organising the visit. Challenge Missionaries cares for more than 370 orphan children.

"We fight the war of indifference to help the helpless," says Kevin.

The tour begins in Portavogie Community Hall next Saturday, April 22 (7.30pm) and other dates can be obtained from Gary Armstrong at 07701099011.

This is one clergyman whose untimely passing I will mourn

My favourite clergyman, never mind his divorce and then a remarriage to Laurel, has died.

But all you Presbyterians, Methodists, CoI members and chapel types out there, agog to know his identity, should calm down.

I'm talking about Vicar Ashley Thomas in Emmerdale. Played by John Middleton for 20 years Ashley's passing following a long battle with dementia has just happened as part of the plot in the television soap.

Mind you Middleton (63) knew just how to dress and talk and pray like a proper man of the cloth and looked more like a minister than some I know.

He will be missed in Emmerdale and admits that he is going to miss the soap, too. "But I won't be watching the show," he says. "I don't believe in looking back. Just remember I'm not really dead and there is plenty of work out there for actors."

Why I treasure tome written by man who found Titanic wreck

On the early morning of this very date exactly 105 years ago the Titanic had just struck the iceberg and was sinking fast to the bottom of the North Atlantic where marine explorer Robert Ballard located her two miles down in the depths all that time later in September 1985.

Robert came to Belfast a few years after to launch the book he wrote about his discovery of the famous wreck and he and I established a relationship and have kept in touch occasionally since. The tome The Discovery of the Titanic is a prized possession.

Finding the Titanic turned Ballard into a much-sought after celebrity, but he continued with his explorations finding other wrecks, including the German battleship Bismarck in 1989 and the RMS liner Lusitania in 1993 which had been sunk by a German submarine in 1915.

How I struck the wrong note in my story about tenor Josef

It was catching the tail end of his hit I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen on a BBC Radio Ulster programme that reminded me of that larger-than-life Josef Locke was born exactly 100 years ago.

His most requested recording on radio programmes is still The Isle of Innisfree (from the soundtrack of the film The Quiet Man). He died in 1999 at 82.

Locke (real name Joe McLaughlin), a native of Londonderry, joined the Irish Guards as a teenager and later became a RUC officer.

Known as the Singing Bobby, Josef was a Derry celebrity before starting to work the UK variety circuit, where he became a legend during 20 seasons in Blackpool.

After I wrote a story suggesting he owed the tax man £20,000 my phone rang and it was Joe. "You got the figure wrong," he declared. "It's more like £40,000."

Belfast Telegraph


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