RICHMOND is the UK’s most duplicated place name. Another 55, some say 56, are scattered around the planet. That in North Yorkshire, insists Barclay Simpson – and this may not prove surprising – remains original and best.

There are 46 Londons – “some of them aren’t very nice,” says Barclay – 41 Oxfords, 35 Manchesters, 31 Bristols and 29 Newcastles.

He’s Richmond-born, of course, was once described by the Darlington and Stockton Times as an inveterate town twinner – the births may be multiple – and by the Eating Owt column as “Richmond’s ambassador and plenipotentiary to the rest of the earth”.

Now he’s completing a book called Richmonds of the World – 50,000 words, 140 pictures – which features all 56 (or so). He hopes it will bring them closer together. “It’s been really educational, like doing a degree in Richmonds,” says Barclay.

QUITE soon, he believes, there could be a Richmonds of the World convention.

Maybe, he supposes, there could be a sort of trainspotters’ list – Messrs Ian Allan might publish an annual – which visitors could tick off en route to completing the set.

“I know two people in Richmond, Yorkshire, who’ve done 12. It’s in the book,” he says.

Barclay’s banker? “If the book takes off, I’ll go wherever in the world it leads. As long as it’s Richmond, I’ll be happy.”

RICHMOND was founded in 1071 by Alan Rufus, a Breton – “the richest man ever, even richer than Bill Gates,” says Barclay – on land given him by William the Conqueror. The castle high above the turbulent River Swale – “Anglo- Saxon, fast-flowing” – was completed in 1086.

The Rough Guide thinks the place “an absolute gem”; in 2009 it was voted UK Town of the Year. The dale beyond isn’t bad, either.

“I like Richmond in London very much but it can’t compete with here,” says Barclay. “How many towns have all the assets that we have? We’ve a wonderful theatre, two fantastic museums, smashing golf course, incredible castle...”

The superlatives seem almost to be exhausted before he arrives at The Station, ingeniously converted from end-of-the-line into visitor centre, restaurant, cinema, shops and much else.

“The Station’s the best thing to happen to Richmond in 100 years.

We’re spoiled living here,” he says, adding – perhaps for fear of upsetting the neighbours – that he’s very fond of Darlington, too.

WE meet in Wetherspoons – the Richmond Wetherspoons – the other end of the bar occupied by the town’s knitting and crocheting circle.

“See what I mean, we have everything,” says Barclay, and has another sup of his coffee.

It should have been the Oak Tree.

Simon and Garfunkel once played the Oak Tree, he says.

He’s 58, once owned a retirement home near Bishop Auckland, has visited three Richmonds in a day – “here, Sheffield, London” and was on the top table at the Richmond, Surrey, May ball a couple of weeks back. It still cost him £125 a ticket, though.

The book’s flyer, which probably also will be the cover, includes places like Richmond Castle in Sri Lanka – now a rather grand orphanage, apparently – the Richmond Bridge in Tasmania and the imposing State Building in Richmond, Virginia.

“Jamaica has four. Barbados has a Yorkshire: I’ve been there. Have you seen Steve McQueen in Bullet?

That was Richmond, Virginia.”

He even contemplates what might be supposed inter-Richmond sports.

“Richmond in Tobago has crab racing, in Sri Lanka they have elephant polo, here we have cricket...”

Richmond on the south bank of the Thames – “a very pleasant place, not as good as us” – has a Lass of Richmond Hill pub, though Leonard McNally’s still-familiar 18th Century song was about Frances I’anson who was definitely from Richmond, North Yorkshire. McNally should have known, he married her.

“I’ve spoken to Young’s Brewery who own the pub and they’re very good about it,” says Barclay. “I still hope to have the southern launch there.

“They just have to remember their place.”

THE book will have something about all 55, even a paragraph on Richmond Sausages – “Richmond sausages are lovely” – but nothing on Richmond cigarettes, not even Superslims. He was persuaded that it wouldn’t do to promote smoking.

He’s self-publishing, hopes that Richmond MP William Hague will write a foreword, plans a Yorkshire launch in July. If not quite get Richmond quick, he anticipates lots of interest.

The Duke of Richmond will be among the first recipients, though – the castle being rather ruinous – he lives in Goodwood.

“Richmonds of the World wasn’t my idea but I’m the only person who seems to be doing something about bringing them all together. We’re a tourist town and so are lots of the others in their own way. It could be fantastic for all of them; they just have to remember that it’s we who are number one.”

Flat note

THE wonderfully named Tom Champagne has died. So has Mick McManus, aged 93, but that’s another matter.

Beneath the headline “Has Mr Bubbly lost his bottle?”, Tom Champagne featured in the Gadfly column back in 2001 – since it was he who instigated it, David Walsh remembers it well. In the same column, he also sought the identity of the North-East monk who was always being bullied.

Mr Champagne’s name appeared on getting on a billion – so it’s reckoned – Readers Digest prize draw letters. Most supposed it a pseudonym: it wasn’t.

David had had so many of them at his Saltburn home, he almost regarded old Tom as a pen pal. “I had a vision of him as a chap in his 50s who wore a white cravat, who had had a good war and drove around the Home Counties with a popsy in a Triumph Herald,” he said at the time.

His letters had ceased, Readers Digest stuff signed more prosaically by the Office of Data Processing Records.

A 2001 correspondent to The Guardian had noticed it, too. “In the season for Osama bin Laden, I note that Tom Champagne of the Readers Digest has not been contacted. He seems to know where everyone else is.”

Tom was born in Reading, his surname of French origin. He retired to run a self-catering business on Hoy, in the Orkney Islands, and though not a particularly old man at all, died there, aged 70.

The North-East monk who was always being bullied was, of course, the Vulnerable Bede.