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Linen Hall Library to unlock the life of colourful entertainer Josef Locke

A collection of memorabilia to mark the centenary of the birth of Josef Locke will go display in Belfast next week. Picture from Linen Hall Library

THE life of an entertainer regarded as the Tom Jones of the 1950s is to be celebrated in an exhibition in Belfast.

A collection of memorabilia to mark the centenary of the birth of Josef Locke, one of Ireland's best loved singers, will go display next week,

A housewives' favourite choice during the 1940s and 1950s, Locke was born Joseph McLaughlin and grew up in Derry where he developed his love of singing as he performed in churches from the age of seven.

He put music to one side to enlist in the Irish Guards, serving abroad with the Palestine Police Force before returning to Northern Ireland in the 1930s to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

He established himself on the stage in Belfast and became known as the 'Singing Bobby', entertaining audiences around the city and landing a £7 a week contract from the Empire Theatre.

Encouraged by renowned Irish tenor John McCormack to enter the UK variety shows, he was recruited by noted entertainment agent Jack Hylton.

It was during a gig at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London when his name Joseph McLaughlin was too long to fit onto the billboard that it was shortened and he became known as Josef Locke.

His emotional renditions of music hall songs and operatic numbers proved popular, leading him to play 19 seasons in Blackpool and to be signed to Columbia Records. Within five years he had sold over a million records in England alone.

His trademark song, 'Hear My Song, Violetta' was released in 1947 and later became the subject of a film loosely based on his life, including his issues with the taxman in the UK.

Locke died in 1999 and was laid to rest in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

Linen Hall Library is set to unlock his colourful life with an exhibition entitled, the Josef Locke Centenary, which delves into the archives and draws together the largest collection of memorabilia ever displayed to mark his life.

The public and private family material includes a wide range of memorabilia drawn from Locke's 50-year-career and there will also be a lecture entitled 'Josef Locke: Myths and Realities', led by author Dr Nuala McAllister Hart.

For further information on the exhibition, which runs from May 3 to 31, please visit www.linenhall.com

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