FORMER police inspector Gordon Bacon was appointed OBE in 1998, services to humanitarian relief, last week received an honorary MA degree from Durham University.

Which the greater thrill? “Durham, I think,” he says. “It was in the cathedral, one of the world’s great buildings, and it was home.

“We’d to walk in our gowns right down that long central aisle and I had a bit of a wobble on. I had to bite my lip, but it was a wonderful day.”

Professor John Williams in his oration spoke of a North-East lad turned global citizen, talked of Gordon’s “exceptional contribution to humanitarian work supporting victims of human atrocities and natural disasters”, recalled how he and his team had regularly come under fire.

Four days after the degree ceremony, the 75-year-old was again on his travels, tour guide for a company called Howzat with a party headed for England’s cricket series in the West Indies.

A few weeks earlier he’d been fulfilling a similar role in Sri Lanka – “good friends, hot weather, cold beer and paid for it.” His middle name, he adds, is Mr Lucky.

WE meet for a Sunday lunchtime livener in the Colpitts, a delightfully unspoiled little Sam Smith’s pub just out of Durham city centre.

Lads form a patient little queue outside, chiming like the good old days, awaiting the stroke of twelve.

There’s a fire in the grate, free pie on the bar, good ale for £2 a pint. There are framed portraits of Durham’s prince bishops, a gathering of Edwardian professors in the days when goatee beards were academically de rigeur, a lovely photograph of a 1950s rag week procession when the poor students had nowt.

Then a little troop of morris dancers comes jingle-jangling in, joined by a chap dressed like a cross between Father Time and the Grim Reaper, thirsty from a Plough Sunday ceremony in the city.

Like the dancers, it rings a bell, a story now legend among morris majors. A few years back, a number of them had entered the Swan and Three Cygnets, a Sam Smith’s pub on the other side of the city, seeking only to slake their thirst.

Sam’s, blessedly, proscribe music. The manager, perhaps remembering the nursery rhyme about riding a cock horse, asked that they leave again. The papers loved it.

None mentioned it in the Colpitts. Swords into ploughshares, Gordon Bacon alone dances eloquently on.

HE was a Sunderland lad, attended Bede Grammar School – “started at the second level, soon worked my way down to the fourth” – left with four O-levels and at 17 became a Durham police cadet. The rest, says Gordon, has been the university of life.

Durham duty interrupted by seven years with the anti-corruption unit in Hong Kong, he was a detective sergeant in Spennymoor, inspector in Darlington and Newton Aycliffe, played cricket for Bishop Auckland, Langley Park, Lanchester and Ushaw Moor – the village west of Durham where now he lives.

“I think I was an all-rounder,” he says. “Right arm slow bowler and cavalier batsman, lots of fours and sixes and lots of ducks. I’d open the bowling and get quite a lot of overseas pro’s out, they weren’t used to spinners.”

In the constabulary cricket team he was alongside Alan Edgar – “the second best wicket keeper I ever played with” – the late and much lamented landlord of the North Briton at Aycliffe Village.

In Hong Kong, overseas player in his own right, he once hit six sixes in an over, a feat earlier accomplished by Sir Gary Sobers with whom he was able to compare notes when guiding another Caribbean tour. “Lovely man, absolute gentleman,” he says.

His cricket career ended on the boundary at Chester-le-Street when he and a Lanchester team mate went for the same catch. Gordon’s cheek was in collision, as they say in the polliss, with the other feller’s knee.

“Basically,” he says, “the surgeons had to rebuild my face.”

IT was while playing for the Hong Kong cricket team in Bangladesh that he first experienced what he calls abject poverty. “There were people in deep shit, chipping great rocks down into aggregate for tenpence a day.

“I wasn’t squeamish, I’d been a cop for 27 years but I’d seen nothing like that. It was a very humbling experience.”

Able to retire on medical grounds after the unfortunate business on the boundary, he approached the Feed the Children charity, was offered a short term contract and soon afterwards was sent as country director Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. It was 1992, the internet in its infancy.

“The only real contact my family had was to send a letter on the Feed the Children van from Reading to Split then I’d send one back the same way.”

Cricket? “Well, I often wondered what was going on, but I didn’t very often find out.”

Comfort came from English beer. “If I knew who’d invented the widget, and it was a woman, I’d marry her,” he told the column during an earlier home visit.

Awarded the European Commission Task Force Medal, he returned to Bosnia in 2005 in charge of the International Missing Persons Commission. It was a euphemism. They were missing presumed dead.

Prof Williams spoke of Gordon’s “patient expertise in brokering access to mass graves”, which with the help of modern DNA techniques enabled thousands to be reburied more appropriately.

Subsequently he worked in Srebrenica, among the victims of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Sri Lanka and was initially the only overseas aid worker allowed into Myanmar after the 2008 cyclone there.

Prof Williams’s oration had ended on a sporting note. “His most recent trip to Sri Lanka was for a far happier event. He continues to travel extensively, sometimes witnessing different sorts of disasters.”

BACK from the front line, he admits to having been “bored to tears” back home in Ushaw Moor. He found work as a tour guide for a York-based railway holidays company, then landed the cricket role.

His job’s to make others’ holidays stress free. “On the railway tours their first interest mightn’t have been railways but the Howzat trips are lovely because all they really want to do is watch and talk about cricket. I can do that.”

Despite recent successes, he fancies that England still have work to do. “They’ve a problem with 1, 2 and 3, still haven’t replaced the wonderful Cook.

“Everyone knows that Broad and Anderson can’t go on for much longer, and there are no ready-made replacements for them, either.”

Are there any circumstances in which he might return to relief work? He thinks not. “It’s a bit like cricket, you’d love to keep on doing it, but your brain finally says no.

“I’m 75 and now I can just look forward to being paid for watching cricket in different parts of the world. See what I mean about Mr Lucky?”