My encounter with a man from Auntie! (barbel article, entry 70)

It all started with a message left on my voice mail. ‘Hello, I’m Ian Johnson from the BBC. I’m very interested in the fact that you are a Minister and have an obsession with angling, and would like to do a film about you’ Well, I can’t remember the exact words, but that’s about the gist of it. I do remember the word ‘obsession’ being used though!

Returning the call, I found out that it was the local regional news programme Midlands Today that was interested in doing a piece on the two aspects of my life that always seems to create a curiosity in people. I guess it does seem unusual for a man of the cloth to have such a passion for something like angling.

People somehow expect that I spend my days doing nothing more than reading the Bible, praying and drinking tea with old ladies (No disrespect to old ladies by the way!), and the most energetic thing I do is to take the collection. (Not literally, of course!) My Christian faith is very important to me, but at the same time I see no conflict whatsoever with the fact that I am absolutely committed to the pastime of fishing.

Ian wanted to do the film in two sections, the first with me at the water’s edge. I chose a section of the Lower Severn that had reasonable access and set off for a lunchtime start, with Ian scheduled to join me once it had got dark. Walking to the river, I realised just how severe the recent floods had been, as there was still a ‘lake’ one hundred metres from the riverbank! Managing to eventually make my way through the water, I finally settled down in a peg that would be home for the next twenty hours or so, as I had come to fish an overnighter.

The river itself was low, and more significantly, so was the temperature. Conditions were not ideal for barbel, but that was the species I had chosen, and hopefully one would oblige for the camera. Within an hour or so, while still light, I caught a fish of about 5lb on my left rod. This was followed, later in the afternoon as darkness set in, by a chub of about 2lb and another smaller barbel around the 4lb mark. If the latter had waited a couple of hours before being caught, it could have become famous, as its face would have been splashed over the entire BBC Midlands network. Instead it was returned to its watery home with just myself as a solitary witness!

When Ian arrived, I felt really bad that he had to make his way through the flooded fields. By the time he descended on the swim, he had experienced what I consider the norm; but for others it wouldn’t be the sort of terrain they would choose to cross in order to do some angling. However, all credit to him, he laughed it off and showed no sign of complaining or grumbling whatsoever. He was as nice in person as I had deduced him to be through our previous telephone calls.

The filming began with Ian quizzing me on my devotion to fishing. Linking it all in very nicely, he asked me if I ever pray to catch a fish when I am struggling. Good question! But avoiding any accusations of having a strange theology, I answered, as you would expect a good solid Christian Minister to, by saying that would be cheating! The interview went well and soon the bright lights were turned off and we settled back to wait for what would really be the icing on the cake – a fish caught while the camera looked on.

Unfortunately it wasn’t to be; the rod tips remained motionless and the buzzers stayed silent. However, we chatted and the next couple of hours just flew by as we discussed a whole range of different subjects, not least of all something that we both have in common – a love for Wolves! Ian had been a season ticket holder at Molineux for twenty years until his work with the BBC eventually meant that he was missing too many games and so had to relinquish it.

When we finally said our goodbyes it was getting quite chilly. As most sane people would be looking forward to getting beside a warm fire with a cup of hot cocoa before they went off to bed for the night, I was relishing the prospect of fishing on till the next morning! It was twenty minutes past the witching hour that I caught my third barbel of the session. At 6lb 11oz it was the biggest of the three. I weighed it, returned it safely, and made myself a mug of tea on the portable stove that accompanies me on fishing sessions of this nature.

Two hours later, at 2.20 a.m. I found myself connected with a good fish. Experience tells you when you have a double on the end of your line, and I was sure that this fish qualified for that honour. Netting it and laying it on the unhooking mat, I was very confident that I had caught my twelfth barbel over the magical weight of 10lb this season. And my faith was proved correct as the digital read-out showed that the fish had reached the mark with six ounces to spare.

Resisting the temptation to give Ian a call to come and film the fish (only joking!) I put it back in the river and watched it swim off to fight another day. By now I was very tired, but still fished on through the night, eventually packing away at 10.00 a.m. and heading home to get some rest.

To complete the second part of the project, Ian wanted to film me in a Church, taking a service. That weekend I had Saturday evening and Sunday morning preaching engagements in a Pentecostal Church in Birmingham, but I really wanted something a little closer to home, particularly after taking him all the way to Worcester for the water’s edge shoot of the film.

Hence I contacted one of the leaders of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Coseley to see if I could ‘borrow’ the Church and the congregation for a quarter of an hour to complete the shoot. I have been involved with the Church for quite a while, they’re great folks, and so there was no problem at all. Hence on the evening, I took over the pulpit and did a ‘preach’ while being filmed for the camera. My wife Debby and youngest daughter Miriam came along, with the latter wearing her Wolves shirt for the occasion! However, if you saw it on TV, or can observe the finer details on the accompanying photograph, you will notice that I too kept the gold flag flying high as I had my Wolves tie and tie clip on!

As well as Midlands Today, in recent times I have had exposure for my angling from Radio Four, the Express and Star and The Dudley News. I have also had an approach from BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester. Normally to get this amount of coverage you need to either have an affair, fail a drugs test or else murder someone! Well, I’m happy to report that none of those apply to me. But I can say that my encounter with a man from Auntie was indeed a very pleasant one. Thanks Ian!

(Originally published November 2004)





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