It was in 1993 that our family was sitting around the kitchen table, debating how we could raise money for BBC Children in Need.

Various ideas were forthcoming, but football looms large in this family, certainly with the two boys and I, and the most manageable and ‘do-able’ idea seemed to be to assemble a collection of pennants from the 92 professional football league clubs, and then auction them as a job lot.  The amount raised would be our contribution to the appeal.  Importantly, we hadn’t heard of anyone doing this previously.

So, grabbing the bull by the horns, the children compiled a hand-written letter, and we acquired a copy of the FA Yearbook which contained the names of all the clubs’ Commercial Managers. We also thought it would be a good idea to enclose a large stamped return address envelope to make their job easier. Within a couple of weeks, we had received around half the pennants (plus lots of other signed memorabilia we hadn’t asked for – fantastic!!).

By coincidence, I had been introduced to Alec King, Sunderland AFC’s Club Secretary at a recent match – my company had a ‘box’ at Roker Park, the ground prior to the move to the brand-new Stadium of Light.  I went to see Mr King, told him what we had done, and he suggested that if we were to attach a Sunderland AFC compliments slip with a note from Alec ‘as helping out this family doing a good deed’, it should help in our efforts to acquire some of the outstanding ones.

We took the trouble to let the BBC Radio Newcastle Children in Need office what we were doing, and they passed it on to the BBC CiN appeal HQ in London.  I then received a phone call on behalf of Eddie Mair (then presenting the lunchtime programme on Radio 5 Live).

“Was I ever in London?”  “Yes”.

“Could you come in to the BBC and talk live on air about it?”  Try stopping me.

The day arrived when I was in London on business, and an arrangement was made for me to go to the BBC.  I duly turned up, and was ushered to where Radio 5 Live was broadcasting.  The traffic news lady (Lynn Bowles at the time) welcomed me and saw to it that I had a coffee, before being brought in Eddie Mair’s presence.  He sat me down in the studio, directly opposite him, and we chatted briefly ‘off air’.

He then explained that he would be turning either to me or ‘Ken Clarke in the radio car’, and at this moment he didn’t know which.  Ken Clarke at that time was a Government Minister – now, in 2020, he is the recently-retired Father of the House (of Commons), a title bestowed upon the MP with the longest record of continuous service.  In his case, he became an MP in 1970.

I relaxed in the knowledge that a Government Minister would be rating slightly higher in the mind of the presenter and of the listening nation, than a one-off visit from a bloke from the North East talking about football pennants.  I confess I switched off a little.

“Now, opposite me I have Rob Barnes, whose family has been collecting football pennants for Children in Need.  Tell me, Rob, do you have any other collections?”

The words registered….aarghh, it was ME, not Ken Clarke.  The light on my microphone shone brightly, telling me that the nation was holding its collective breath waiting for some words of wisdom from me.  What a question!! Talk about being blind-sided by the presenter.  Not having consciously collected anything of note over the preceding 40+ years, apart from stamps, and dead flies on the front of my car – neither of which was likely to lead to riveting conversation – the only thing I could think of, was, that over the last 10 years or so we had had 4 x Citroen 2CVs in the family.  That at least made Mr Mair laugh, the ice was broken, and so we set off into a comfortable discussion about the collection of football pennants.

On the back of this, someone bid the princely sum of £600 on the Radio 5 Live auction.  A brilliant result…..but that wasn’t the end of the story.

The second instalment will be published tomorrow.  😁