Portrush author wins McCrea award for Josef Locke biography

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Portrush author Dr Nuala McAllister Hart has just been announced as the winner of the prestigious ‘McCrea Literary Award’ for 2016/2017 for her book ‘Josef Locke, The People’s Tenor’, a biography of the celebrated Irish tenor.

The book was published in March 2017 to coincide with the centenary of Locke’s birth in Creggan Street in Derry~Londonderry on 23 March 1917.

It is the first ever biography of the singer, and it involved intensive research throughout England and Ireland, particularly in Blackpool, Dublin and, of course, in Derry too. The McLaughlin/Locke family also contributed their memories to the book, which was a ‘first’ in term of input from Josef’s family.

Dr Nuala Hart was born and brought up in Portrush, where her grandfather was Principal of a Primary School in the town. She later taught in Coleraine Schools, before moving to Belfast to work for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. She now works part-time as an arts critic.

Nuala said: “I am so delighted to win the McCrea Literary Award. It is a great accolade for a writer, and a major encouragement to keep on writing. But it’s also important for the legacy of Josef Locke, who had a phenomenal career throughout Great

Britain and Ireland from the early 1940s onwards. Proof – if proof is needed – that Josef’s reputation as a singer was well-deserved and worth recording in print.”

Locke, born Joseph McLaughlin, became the UK’s highest earning variety artist in the early 1950s, before he fled Blackpool in the midst of a tax scandal.

This ‘flight’ was later used as the basis of the story of the 1992 film ‘Hear My Song’, the first film featuring local actor

Jimmy Nesbitt.

The Josef Locke biography has already attracted much attention. It was featured on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’ in March this year, and then on BBC NI television and on RTÉ’s Sunday evening ‘History Show’. ‘The Josef Locke Centenary Exhibition’ which accompanied the book, ran at the Central Library, Derry and in Belfast’s Linen Hall Library throughout the spring. It also visited Blackpool and Donegal.

Nuala has just returned from a book tour of the West and South-West of Ireland, signing copies of her book in shops in Letterkenny, Sligo, Galway, Tuam and Limerick. She said that she is particularly pleased that the Josef Locke biography is now available in Tralee, where Josef was a popular figure in the later 1950s. Not only did Josef sing frequently in ballrooms in County Kerry, but he also owned a hotel in Listowel and ran horses at the town’s annual Race Meeting.