My amazing dad ... Jimmy Ellis's son in eve of funeral tribute
A son of Belfast's trailblazing actor Jimmy Ellis has spoken of his pride and good fortune in having had the Z Cars star as his "amazing" father.
Toto Ellis (32) will today pay an emotional tribute in words and music to his 82-year-old father, who died earlier this month from a stroke.
But before the funeral, advertising executive Toto, who lives in London, talked to the Belfast Telegraph about his family's affection for the Sydenham man who had a special place in the hearts of thousands of people here too.
Toto said: "He really was a remarkable man who could play the piano, write poetry, act, direct and design sets. But he was also generous with his time and his heart. He was interested in other people and he was down to earth.
"What you saw was what you got. There was no difference between the public man and the private man," said Toto.
However, in recent times Jimmy had talked more about his innermost thoughts, and on a family holiday to Italy recently he wrote a poem about mortality which will be read at today's service.
Toto's mother Robina was Jimmy's second wife. One of his sons from his first marriage was murdered and another took his own life. Their sister Amanda is also honouring her father in today's funeral service at St Mark's Church, Dundela, near Jimmy's old family home in Park Avenue.
After the service, which will be attended by stars of stage and screen, Jimmy's cortege will pass the house and several other parts of Belfast which were important in his life and career.
"Belfast meant the world to dad," said Toto. "There was never any question we would bring him home. He brought us here many times and he made us feel part of Belfast too."
Toto, who like his father is a writer and director, said all his family were also immensely proud of Jimmy. "I was just so lucky to have been nurtured and brought up by such an amazing man who taught me so much about life and even showed me how to drive a car when I was far too young."
Thinking back to Jimmy's last moments in hospital after suffering a stroke, Toto said: "We wanted him to know how much we loved and admired him. I told him he was a hero and a legend. We wanted them to be the last words he heard."
Toto said life with Jimmy was never dull. But he was well into his teens before he realised his father was a famous actor.
"I went onto film and TV sets with him, but as a kid I don't think I took it in. But as I got older I became acutely aware of his ability to go onto the set of the Saturday morning children's TV show Going Live without anyone stopping him. We then went into another studio where Jim Davidson was filming the snooker programme Big Break. Jim stopped the filming and introduced my dad to the audience and said how much he respected him. Everyone applauded," he recalled.
Toto is too young to remember the halcyon days of Z Cars, a huge hit in the 1960s and 1970s, with Jimmy Ellis playing the role of Bert Lynch without softening the way he spoke – one of the first times that British audiences had heard a Belfast accent on the television. But Toto has now seen many of the episodes on DVD. He says today's funeral will be a difficult day for him, his mother and Amanda. "But the people of Belfast have been fantastic," he said.