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Larne-born star at heart of Profumo love scandal


Valerie Hobson

Valerie Hobson

Getty Images

On stage: Mary Duff plays in Londonderry

On stage: Mary Duff plays in Londonderry

Keith and Kristyn Getty

Keith and Kristyn Getty


Valerie Hobson

Admirers of Fifties film actress Valerie Hobson, who in her heyday starred in The King And I, Kind Hearts And Coronets and The Drum, were unaware that the lady was born in the Moyle Hospital in Larne where her father, a Royal Navy captain of a minesweeper, was based as the First World War drew to a close.

Two events now bring Miss Hobson, who died in 1998 aged 87, back into public focus.

First, what critics reckon is her best film, The Years Between in which she appeared with Michael Redgrave in 1946, is being released for home viewing. And a book, An English Affair by Richard Davenport-Hines (Harper Press £20), is the story of the Profumo Affair which rocked the Establishment in London with a scandal involving cheating political leaders, sexual revelations, out-of-line husbands, and accusations of spying and drug-taking.

"This is the story of how Sixties England cast off respectability and fell in love with scandal," declares Davenport-Hines.

The central figure in the goings-on was senior minister John Profumo, whose wrongdoing was exposed in newspaper headlines and in the Commons, forcing his resignation.

He was Miss Hobson's second husband and she stuck by him despite accusation after accusation, and his affair with a girl named Christine Keeler threatened to rock their marriage. He rallied under her support and became a good guy in the end, working among the poor in London's Eastend, before his death in 2006.

But getting back to Valerie - ironically another of her movies was called This Man Is News - who had her formative years in Larne before going off to boarding school in Kent.

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She studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art , but never forgot Larne to where she returned several times to meet childhood friends, rarely recognised by the public except the few who knew the story of her birth.

Valerie was only 37 when she retired from the screen, determined to rebuild her life with John Profumo.

Why there's something about Mary

You always associate glamorous singer Mary Duff  with Danny O'Donnell, with whom she appears regularly, but Mary has a showbiz life of her own as a much-loved solo act, as will be demonstrated when she appears on David Hull's Do Ye Come Here Often at the Millennium Forum in Londonderry on January 7, 8 and 9 after  a successful run at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

Regular touring with O'Donnell, though, has given Mary a fan base and a stream of hit albums. One of her releases is called Voice Of An Angel, a title that pleases a lot of fans who believe she nearly is one.

Mary explains: "This album is different from the others, which were country, easy listening and a bit bluesy. This one is inspirational and comforting and reminds me of singing in church as a little girl and in the choir. At Christmas, we used to put on big carol services and I always loved singing Holy Night. I still sing it every Christmas Eve at Mass."

Bringing good news for gospel music fans

Husband and wife songsters and hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty have signed a deal that will bring them home from their base in Nashville for two concerts at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast next  autumn. On September 9 and 10 to be exact.

The gigs will mark the launch of their album Facing A Task Unfinished, with an Irish choir and orchestra. It will be their first album in four years in a studio and will feature a reintroduction of a hymn called Facing A Task Unfinished, written for the missionary movement.

Keith, from Lisburn, and Kristyn, from Glengormley, met in Belfast and wed in 2004, and now have three young daughters. To date, the Gettys, who live in Nashville, have released six full-length albums, two DVDs, and two limited-edition EPs along with a number of print music choral publications.

Their television special, Joy At Christmas, was a hit on BBC1 NI a couple of weeks ago.

The Gettys' In Christ Alone, (co-written with Stuart Townend) has been the No 1 most popular hymn sung in the UK for the past nine years.

Tickets for the September concerts are now available at www.waterfront.co.uk.

Were nosy hotel guests really spies?

Anyone remember The Pilot Hotel? According to Margaret Getty of Downhill Park, Newtownabbey, it once occupied a site in Corporation Square and was run by the family of her mother, Gertrude Johnson, who was actually born in the hotel in 1904 - 10 years before the First World War broke out.

"Just before war was declared, The Pilot had two German men as guests, according to mum," says Margaret. "One day they came down early, paid their bills and departed in a hurry. The police came looking for them. Apparently they had been making too many inquiries about the docks in Belfast."

"Were they spies?" wonders Margaret all these years on.

During the war, many ships were in port and the sailors sometimes took over the cooking in The Pilot, while the congregation of Sinclair Seamen's Church, led by the Rev Sam Cochrane, entertained the crews resting from the conflict.

Santa trades in reindeer for horse

The spirit of the season lingers on in a photograph from Christmas Day that I can't resist showing my readers.

It's Santa Claus on horseback pausing and posing on our drive. And snapped by a young lady called Samantha.

She focused in on the old gentleman and his handsome steed when they called to offer the family season's greetings.

The way it came about saw Santa saddling up Obama the hunter (so called because he was born the day President Obama came to power) from horseman Philip Swann's stable and taking him for a trot around Killead village in South Antrim.

The rector was hot on the scent...

Here's a gravely true story. A rector in Tipperary, just moved to a new parish, spent too many hours combing church records to track down the identity of a person with the initials H.W.P. apparently buried in his cemetery. 

He eventually established that the initials stood for Hot Water Pipe.

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