Northern Ireland

James Ellis bridge dedicated to late Z Cars actor

The opening ceremony for James Ellis Bridge Image copyright Connswater Community Greenway
Image caption An estimated 500 people attended the opening ceremony in east Belfast

A new bridge dedicated to the late Z Cars actor James Ellis has opened close to his home in east Belfast.

Ellis, who played Bert Lynch in the 1960s police drama, died three years ago aged 82.

The footbridge bearing his name was unveiled as the latest part of the £40m Connswater Community Greenway project.

An estimated 500 people attended the ceremony, during which a family-owned recording of Ellis singing the Z Cars theme tune was played to the crowd.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption James Ellis died exactly three years ago, aged 82

His widow Robina and son Toto were among those who watched the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Brian Kingston, perform the official opening.

'Proud of his roots'

Mrs Ellis said: "Jimmy wore his fame lightly and humbly and would not have imagined this particular tribute possible, and so near to the end of the road where his family lived for 60 years."

She added: "Jimmy remained fiercely proud of his roots for his whole life and, had he lived to see this, he would want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy this wonderful place."

Connswater Community Greenway project manager, Wendy Langham, said Wednesday was an "emotional day" for the family as the ceremony was held on the third anniversary of the actor's death.

Image copyright Connswater Community Greenway
Image caption Members of the Ellis family attended the ceremony along with the Lord Mayor of Belfast

Ms Langham told BBC News NI there were "tears of happiness and sadness" as the bridge opened to the public for the first time, and said the family were touched by the numbers of people who turned up.

As well as Z Cars, Ellis, won acclaim for his role in BBC Northern Ireland's series of "Billy" plays, in which he starred alongside a young Kenneth Branagh.

In 1959, Ellis was also the artistic director of a theatre production of Sam Thompson's 'Over the Bridge' - a controversial play which dealt with sectarianism in Belfast's shipyards.

'Challenged perceptions'

Ellis and Thompson, who were friends, faced considerable opposition as it was felt the language and themes in the script could lead to civil unrest.

They succeeded against the odds, with none other than Laurence Olivier asking them to bring the play to London's West End.

A dramatisation of their battle to put the play on stage - entitled Two Angry Men, is to be broadcast on BBC Two NI on Sunday.

Declaring the bridge opened, Belfast's lord mayor said he was delighted to recognise "one of Belfast's finest actors, a man who challenged perceptions and brought people together through drama".

Image copyright Connswater Community Greenway
Image caption The actor's widow and the lord mayor led the crowd across the bridge

Mr Kingston, a DUP councillor, added: "It is fitting that a bridge which provides a pathway to unite two sides of a river is named in his honour and that it will allow people to enjoy more of the east Belfast area of which he was so proud."

Members of the public have been involved in the project to name several of the greenway's new bridges and pathways.

In 2014, Ellis was lined up to help dedicate another greenway bridge to Sam Thompson, but died just weeks before the ceremony.

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