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Friday, May 21, 1999 Published at 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK


The miraculous Major-Balls

The revelation that the former Prime Minister John Major has discovered a half-brother he never knew he had is the latest twist in a colourful family background.

It's a revelation made all the more fascinating because all the while that John Major did not know about it, his brother Terry Major-Ball did.

John Major is keeping the details of his newfound halfbrother secret - until he publishes his autobiography later this year.

All families have a different story to tell, but the Major-Ball family history is particularly rich. Here BBC News Online provides a potted guide.

Tom Major-Ball
The man who Bruce Anderson described as "one of the most fascinating characters of the century", made an impact on the public for a number of reasons. There was the job as the trapeze artist, the gnome manufacture, and - now - the revelation that the former prime minister had a half brother he didn't know about. And there was always the name - he was known as Abraham Ball, but his stage name was Thomas Major. He gave his children different variations of the names. Other highlights in his colourful life included playing professional baseball, briefly leading part of the Uruguayan army, and fathering his son John at the age of 62 to his second wife, Gwen. Some reports claimed an old circus poster for Tom Major in Brixton were the inspiration on the young south Londoner David Bowie when writing Space Oddity.

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Terry Major-Ball
Where John Major was endlessly pilloried for his sheer, unashamed ordinariness, elder brother Terry has lived a little more dangerously. In the days when his younger brother would be toiling late into the night on a vital piece of government legislation, Terry was also burning the candle at both ends - at a West End night-club. A banker by trade, Terry's relative fame saw him "mature" into a more convincing heir of the Major-Ball legacy of eccentricity. He appeared to embrace the hedonism of late night clubbing and was once spotted in deep conversation with a topless model at Stringfellows. He lapped up photo-opportunities to be photographed with his beloved garden gnomes showed and took to becoming a "writer". His most notable work was an autobiography entitled Major Major, which offered an insight into life growing up in the unorthodox Major household. Despite their differences, the two brothers share a strong physical resemblance, and Terry is also adept at giving the sort down-to-earth homespun wisdom associated with John.

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John Major
When he took over as PM, Mr Major's popularity broke records. If this was because of his consensual, unflamboyant manner (quite different from Lady Thatcher's), it soon became a caricature. Spitting Image made him completely grey, and played on his unusual pronunciation of the word "want". Some of the things he will be remembered for are standing on a soapbox in Luton during the 1992 general election campaign, talking about warm beer and evensong, and failing a test to become a bus conductor. True to his family form, though, from time to time he showed he had the ability to shock and act out of character. Getting furious off-camera (but while audio tapes were still running) with Eurosceptics in his cabinet and calling them "bastards" is a good example. As was shocking the whole country by resigning in summer 1995 and challenging his detractors to stand against him.

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Norma Major
"First ladies" divide into two camps - those who choose to live out lofty ambitions though their spouse, and those who couldn_t give a jot about the fame and power of influence. Norma Major, who confessed to feeling "physically sick with terror" when John was made Foreign Secretary (Foreign Secretary!), is unequivocally in the latter grouping. The former needlework teacher's reluctance to play the "media game" - after John's election as PM she wore the same blue frock two days running - meant she was given a hard time in the Press. "Dull", "dowdy" and "ordinary" were among the adjectives that prefaced her name. But she did achieve celebrity in her own right as the author of the coffee-table book Chequers and as the inspiration for the Norma Major rose.

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Elizabeth Major
A qualified veterinary nurse, Elizabeth Major exhibits her father's calm level-headedness. Which helps explain why her engagement last year, to Luke Salter, a 26-year-old medical student, was a far more low-key affair than that of younger brother James. Elizabeth has known Luke since she was 17, when she played clarinet in a youth orchestra and he, French horn. The pair, who plan to marry after James's bash, have been living in a rented three-bedroom house in Leicestershire. A keen horse rider, she has a healthy interest in sport and is often seen with her father at cricket matches.

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James Major
Like father, like son? Not in the case of James Major, whose racy lifestyle means he is never far from a tabloid "splash". Gossip columnists were jumping up and down when the former prime minister's son forged a romantic attachment with the game show hostess and ex-topless model Emma Nobel. James's roguish reputation was first forged on the school playing fields where he was shown the red card four times in one football season and given a 35-day ban, allegedly for exchanging punches. He went on to become a managerial trainee at Marks and Spencer but hit the headlines again for his two-year affair with a married woman 12 years his senior. The trudge of retail management did not engage him and he quit to run a night-club in central London, when he met Emma. He has since set up his own business, Major Entertainments. Perhaps a case of following in his grandfather's foosteps. Hit the headlines again recently in a health scare after he collapsed.

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Emma Noble
Emma Noble will add more than a touch of glamour to the Major family tree when she weds James this year. The blonde, leggy, topless model turned game-show hostess is tailor-made for the tabloids. As a schoolgirl in Sidcup in Kent, Emma dreamt of becoming a hairdresser. But her sultry looks, slender figure and taste for self-publicity meant the 5ft 10ins Emma would always go further. She secured a role on Bruce Forsyth's The Price is Right after appearing in Dennis Potter's TV play Cold Lazarus and became a staple pin-up for any New Lad. Although she became engaged to James after just three-months, both have strenuously denied they are tying the knot for publicity purposes.

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Un-named mystery Major-Ball brother
All that is known about the mystery man is that he is American, and is older than both John and Terry. John's revelation at finding his half-brother will form some of the pizzazz of his forthcoming autobiography, which could otherwise run the risk of getting bogged down in tales of the Eurosceptic Tory MP rebellion. Bearing in mind the uncanny family resemblace between John and Terry, anyone hunting for the unknown half-brother might be well advised to look for a man with grey hair and glasses.

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