Saturday, 15 January 2011

James ('Jimmie') Young

One evening in the winter of 1973/4, the family sat down to dinner at the pedestal table in the corner of the kitchen (the table is now in my mother's living room, and going strong).
The phone rang, and my father got up to answer it. It says something about his sense of responsibility as a constituency MP, and his openness as a man, that my father was never ex-directory, even as Prime Minister. If you wanted to speak to him, you looked him up and dialled the number: Seaforde 663.

My father at The Blue Cabin, c.1974

The telephone was in the study at the far end of a corridor, too far away for the rest of us to overhear Da's side of the conversation. He wasn't gone long, and when he came back he was grinning from ear to ear. The call had been from James (Jimmie) Young, the most popular comedian to come out of Belfast in a generation, and Jimmie had started the conversation by saying, 'As one professional to another..'

It was during the time of the Power Sharing Executive, of which my father was Chief Executive, and Young wanted to to endorse his efforts at cross-community cooperation as a way forward for Northern Ireland. Partly because it was Jimmie Young, whom I know Da enjoyed, and partly because the cause was so close to his own heart, I really think that that telephone call meant as much to him as, say, a call from Downing Street or Dublin on the same subject.

Jimmie Young himself was famous for his ability, even during those very troubled times, to use comedy to build bridges, so it's little wonder he respected my father's efforts. The respect was entirely mutual - as one professional to another.

Sadly, Jimmie Young died in July of the following year, his health problems exacerbated by chronic overwork. His output had been prodigious. He performed in all corners of the globe, sold a quarter of a million albums and his Group Theatre show gained a place in the Guinness book of Records as the longest-running comedy show in the world.
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