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Video: Crowds applaud Z Cars star James Ellis’ cortege

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Crowds outside Belfast City Hall applauded on Friday as the funeral cortege of Z Cars actor Jimmy Ellis passed by.

However his friends and family painted a much bigger picture – that of an accomplished poet, writer, musician and intellectual.

The star of stage and screen was best known for playing Bert Lynch in BBC police drama Z Cars, which ran from 1962 to 1978.

His career also saw him star in Doctor Who, In Sickness And In Health, Ballykissangel, The Bill, Casualty, Heartbeat, Lovejoy and Only Fools And Horses.

He played bullying father Norman Martin in the 1982 production of Too Soon To Talk To Billy – the first of a trio of Graham Reid plays.

Among those who attended his funeral at St Mark’s Church, Dundela in east Belfast were Jimmy Nesbitt, Adrian Dunbar, Tim McGarry, Olivia Nash, Glen Patterson and broadcaster Gerry Kelly. Also attending were Lord Lieutenant of Belfast Mary Peters, Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast Christopher Stalford and East Belfast MP Naomi Long.

Ellis, who is survived by his wife Robina, son Toto, daughter Amanda and three grandchildren, died from a stroke in Lincoln Hospital on March 8 aged 82.

Toto said his father was a “generous-hearted man” who was always proud of his Belfast roots.

“The last thing we made sure he heard in his ear was that he was a legend, a hero and that we all loved him,” Mr Ellis said.

As part of a good-humoured funeral service his son Toto played the Z Cars theme tune on the flute while Jimmy’s granddaughters Rachel, Charlotte and Katy Ellis played Bach as a string trio.

Toto said his father considered Z Cars part of his career, “a means to an end”, but his plays in his twenties and thirties “especially Over the Bridge” and his writing of poetry and stories in his sixties and seventies were the favourite periods of his career. He noted Jimmy had achieved 100 per cent scores in French and Music exams and was a much bigger person than the Z Cars character.

He was a man who always made time for people, no matter how great or small; the security staff from the BBC volunteered to do security at the funeral.

His daughter Amanda Diboll read a touching tribute of the family’s last minutes at Jimmy’s bed listening to his favourite music and watching his breaths decline.

A tribute from Sir Kenneth Branagh was read out in which he said Jimmy was “a highly intelligent, funny and kind man, and a tremendous actor”, while Belfast-born star Ciaran Hinds sent a message from Paris, describing him as “a wonderful, warm-hearted man”.

Broadcaster Gerry Anderson described him as “an intellectual”, adding that “Jimmy was the man I would have liked to been”.

The Rt Rev John McDowell said Jimmy never talked about himself. He concluded that the secret of his success as an actor was that “he knew human experience from the many people in life that he met”.

 

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