FRANK Skinner - he of Baddiel and Skinner, football funsters - has written a self-flagellating autobiography. Excoriating, it might be said, but only by Latin humorists and lovers of long words.

The bits about his recovery from alcoholism and return to the Catholic church have been well documented, the North-East connection has not.

It may be true - as the gentleman famously suggested - that football's coming home, but does Frank Skinner's love of the game have its roots at Spennymoor United?

Skinner writes that John Francis Collins, the father from whom he inherited his love of both football and strong drink, was a 19-year-old West Cornforth lad and Spennymoor footballer who met his mum - a year younger - in a Birmingham pub after an FA Cup third-round tie with West Bromwich Albion.

It was 1937. Spennymoor, then in the North Eastern League, lost 7-1 to their first division opponents. Skinner, born Christopher Collins, concedes that his dad might not have been in the big match team. Maybe he was merely a fair weather fan.

The further problem is not only that Spennymoor officials can find no record of J F Collins, but that the comedian's publicist insists that he doesn't wish to talk further about the matter.

The story of how his parents met was first revealed five or six years ago. Officials not only checked club records but sent him a Spennymoor shirt, which for some time hung behind the door of the Baddiel and Skinner studio set.

Skinner - who became a West Bromwich not a Spennymoor addict - was also invited to become president of United's supporters club and to attend a fund-raising dinner. Nothing happened in either case.

Club chairman Barrie Hindmarch scoured records and then passed the search to assiduous United historian Ted Mellanby, who similarly was unsuccessful.

The chairman, who admits to not being Frank Skinner's number one fan - "someone once gave me a video, it's still at the bottom of the pile" - doesn't expect to hear any more.

"In south-west Durham terms I believe he's ...." Well never mind south-west Durham terms, it's possible that Frank Skinner may be mistaken.

WE all make mistakes, of course, not least last week's column in pondering possible lineage between Oliver Postgate, creator of Ivor the Engine, and Oliver Postgate, the Catholic martyr still venerated around Egton Bridge in North Yorkshire. The martyr, as Bernard Harrison in Bishop Auckland points out, was the Blessed Nicholas Postgate. The campaign for his canonisation continues.

Eric Smallwood in Middlesbrough urges us to sound off about mistakes in radio pronunciation. On TFM he heard a breathless female announcer talk of a "mort-gay" - you know, the monthly millstone - whilst on Darlington-based Alpha another young lady made a frightful bish of reconnaissance.

Whilst similarly switched on, Eric might also have wondered whatever happened to BBC English. Other examples willingly aired.

STILL less gets past Tony Hillman, Darlington-based film historian and acknowledged silver screen scrutineer.

In the new film Mike Bassett, England Manager, for example, Bassett is shown heading from Norwich (his previous club) to London by GNER, when everyone - Tony, anyway - knows that Norwich to London is either Anglia Railways or Great Eastern.

More puzzling yet there is Enigma, the wartime spy film which not only depicts concrete railway sleepers - which weren't, of course, lying around during the war - but vast fields of oil seed rape. The yellow peril had yet to get up the national nose either.

ANOTHER waft of football nostalgia followed last week's passing reference to Bob Hardisty, the greatest of all Bishop Auckland's amateur players of the 1950s (but who learned all he knew at Shildon.)

Bob was simultaneously a Durham County Council PE adviser, the schools in his patch including the small village primary in east Durham at which Harry Page helped run the first ever football team.

"Since funds were allocated on a 'per capita' basis, "we had to make buttered popcorn and collect jam jars in order to equip the team," recalls Harry, now in Murton.

It was, he adds, a long and tedious process. "I attended coaching courses run by Bob and an ex-Sunderland player called George Aisnley and often assaulted Bob's ears about the unfairness of the financial allocation."

On his return to school one lunchtime, however, he was told by the children that a "tall, thin man with not much hair" had left him a parcel.

The parcel contained two new footballs and a note. "Harry: this should keep you quiet - Bob."

OUR language owes much to ancient Rome, of course, which explains a present day plea from Peter Sotheran in Redcar.

"What little remains of my schoolboy Latin tells me that sheep cannot suffer from BSE.

"If they are to be smitten it is more likely to OSE, or ovine spongiform encephalitis, rather than the bovine version. Please help rectify this careless use of our language."

Bovis is Latin for ox, ovis for sheep. Quad erat demonstrandum? Probably not.

HALFWAY through 1999, the Gadfly column fell to considering famous Belgians, of whom there are several.

The Singing Nun was postulated, as were Adolphe Sax, Eddy Merckz and M Mercator, the map-maker.

We were able also to reveal that it was another Belgian, Pierre Cullifon, who gave the world the Smurfs and that the least of the Low Countries was the world's greatest producer of azaleas.

Phillipe Albert, the former Newcastle United centre half, qualified not through any great ability but because of the Gallowgate End song - to the tune of Rupert the Bear - which immortalised him.

Now we have been given a new book about perhaps the famous Belgian of all - Tintin, the intrepid war correspondent created by Georges Remi, otherwise Herge.

Tintin The Complete Companion by Michael Farr (John Murray £19.99) will appeal to every one of the four million readers who in 50 languages - but not Latin - annually still buy his adventures.

The claim, however, that Tintin is "the most recognisable figure in all fiction" is at best debatable. A copy of Tintin The Complete Companion to the proposer of the most cogent counter claim.

Published: 07/11/01