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True tale of how Sheila dodged the bullet at zoo

By Eddie McIlwaine

Everybody, it seems, loved my story last week about Jake the elephant, who is about to become a film star, playing Sheila, a female tusker who narrowly escaped a death sentence at Bellevue Zoo in wartime 1941, when the Government ordered all the animals to be put down in case they escaped during an air raid and attacked the public.

Inevitably, readers wanted to know more about Sheila and her life and times at the zoo. She arrived at Bellevue in 1935 with an Indian name nobody could pronounce. So it was changed to Sheila after a little daughter of an employee, and it stuck.

Sheila was a firm favourite and nobody wanted her to be slaughtered along with the lions and tigers. An employee called Denise offered to take her home to Whitewell just before the shooting was to be carried out.

It has been suggested that this kindhearted woman took Sheila home to Whitewell every evening.

But there simply would not have been time for a slow moving elephant to get there and back in one day. Sheila stayed in Denise's back yard until the 1941 Blitz was over and then was taken back to the zoo.

You may have noticed that Sheila was female and Jake, who will be playing her on location in Canada next month, is male. But John Leslie, who runs Wee Buns Film Company in Ballymoney, makes it clear that Jake doesn't mind that he will be playing a girlie tusker. "He is a real character and we were lucky to find him at a farm 50 miles from Toronto after searching for more than a year for a lookalike", he explains.

David Gray, Jake's master, adds that Jake is the most friendly of animals and is a natural actor who will fit beautifully into the story line of the film, which has still to be named. The film is being made by John Leslie and his company simply because he read the story of Sheila in the Belfast Telegraph and was captivated by what happened to her and how she nearly lost her life needlessly.

Sheila went on to a quiet and enjoyable life at the zoo and lived to a ripe old age. But where is she buried?

There are no signs of an elephant burial ground at Bellevue, but if anyone does know where her last resting place is, please get in touch.

Strand has something of a fatal attraction

Here’s a novel and original plot for a film which is being shot right now by Brian Falconer and his Out of Orbit company.

The movie is called Death of a Projectionist and is being produced in 35mm and then has the second half in digital.

I haven‘t a clue what the storyline is, but this man Falconer has a growing reputation in the world of cinema so I’m looking forward to watching something different eventually.

All I can say about it at this stage is that the old fashioned projectionist is an endangered species today.

Scenes are being shot in the Strand Cinema in the east side of the city, which has a 35mm system still in use.

And I’m told by Gary Campbell, who is involved in providing background material for the production, that it is going to be rather special when it reaches the screen.

The premiere? Sure, the obvious picturehouse for the first showing has to be The Strand.

New role needed for talented Sarah

I hope Ulster Television is quick to find a new production for Sarah Travers to host now The Magazine series has run its course.

Sarah is too talented to be left twiddling her thumbs for long.

She left the BBC to join UTV and it would be a big mistake for the commercial station to let her return to the Beeb, where she was a favourite for a few years.

Riveting nickname: Cowboy spirit down at shipyard

My stories about the nicknames used at the shipyard in its heyday have caught the imagination of the public at large and several more names have reached me, one of which really intrigues me.

You see, a plater called William Magill from Ballyclare bore the nickname Autry during the 20 odd years he laboured at Harland & Wolff.

“He actually answered to that name and didn’t seem to mind,” says another shipyard man, Joe Armstrong, who knew him well before William passed away six or seven years ago.

But why was he called Autry by his mates?

The explanation is simple — William was a mighty big fan of Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy film star and used to boast that he had seen most of his 43 B-movies and he was also able to sing Don’t Fence Me In, which was one of Gene’s big hits.

Name games: Vicks rubs me up the wrong way

Is the name spelled Vic, Vick or Vicks? I’m talking of course about the famous vaporub in a jar that all of us have used to ease our aches and pains at one time or another. Richardson’s, who create the rub, don’t seem able to make up their minds about that name.

In my youth it was always Vic. Later on I got to know the rub all over again on a painful shoulder, when it was called Vick. No idea why the extra K. But here is the real rub — when I picked up a jar the other day I discovered that the modern name is Vicks. Somebody explain to me why these changes?

Let me assure you, though, that Vic, Vick or Vicks is still doing a good job.

There is an old wives’ tale, by the way, that if you rub Vic on the soles of your feet it will cure all your coughs and aches overnight.

And a final word: A touching prayer to end the year

At this time of the year I feel it would be nice to end the column with a little prayer.

And this one, written many years ago by the Benedictine Nuns at Kylemore Abbey in Co Galway, is so appropriate. It was supplied to me by Margaret Giboney and here are some of the words:

“I said a prayer for you  today and know God must have heard, I felt the answer in my heart although He spoke no word I didn’t ask for wealth or fame (I knew you wouldn’t mind) — I asked him to send treasures of a far more lasting kind! I asked that He’d be near to you at the start of each new day: to grant you health and  blessings and friends to share your way!”

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