Bilbo Baggins once advised his nephew Frodo to exercise caution when leaving his home, lest he be caught up in an adventure.
Little did I realise, when I wrote an article about local street names for the local free journal the south Woodham Focus, the adventure I would be embarking upon.
About a week after publication I received a call from the Essex Chronicle, who followed my original article with one including an interview with George Wyatt of Gandalfs Ride, with some photos of George and some of the local street signs.
This was in turn followed by a visit from a reporter from BBC Essex and a photographer from a press agency. I dutifully stood by a street sign for the photographer and tried not to look too stupid.
The following week things warmed up; the Daily Mirror picked up on a throwaway remark that I made to the press agency that there was a small risk that street signs may be purloined by fans, much as signs in Liverpool get stolen by Beatles fans.
And they managed to get my name wrong!
This turned, the next day, into “crime wave fear in hobbit town” in the Daily Star.
Given that my mate George, who is a sub-editor on the Daily Star (as well as their motoring correspondent) lived in South Woodham Ferrers at the time that was inexcusable.
Anglia News were next on the scene, reporter and cameraman, so it was back to the street sign – “Is there anything magical about living here?” – “Heck, its an Essex housing estate! I dont think so”.
I returned home to a fax from the producers of Richard & Judy for Channel 4 – and a phone call from the Basildon Evening Echo. I emailed both a copy of my original article and told the researcher from Richard & Judy that we didnt wear capes and didnt have hairy feet. Undeterred, she called back the next day, but I was busy working and we couldnt arrange a time to meet. I think they sent a team to meet George Wyatt – who by now was probably the most famous Tolkien fan in the country.
The next day dawned to the sound of the morning DeeJay from ‘KissFM’ annoying residents by pretending to steal the aforementioned street signs – I’m a Radio2 listener so that one passed me by, but that was the day that Basildon Echo ran the story.
Elsewhere, I know that the story ran in the East Anglian Daily News and I had a call from BBC’s ‘Look East’ programme, but again couldn’t make an interview. Then things calmed down.
Yesterdays news, tomorrows litter tray liner.
Until late January 2002 when I was called by ZIP FM in Tokyo for an interview, a Sunday evening conversation in Essex for a breakfast show in Tokyo.
“So,” Mister Bob, “why do you think the writer, Mr Tolkien, named the places in the film after your streets?”
Maybe something got lost in the translation.
The story then doubled back on itself with another front page article in the Essex Chronicle.
But it was fun for a few days, I guess it helped put South Woodham Ferrers on the map. Certainly the interest generated exceeded my expectations, and if nothing else, I did achieve one of my objectives – I have heard at least one other local pronounce Celeborn Street properly.
Things fell quiet for a number of years, until the release of the first Hobbit films, when it all started again.
And then, twenty years further on, in January 2022 when BBC Essex’s ‘Quest’ programme included a clue about Gandalf’s Ride, and I was asked, once again to be the resident Tolkien geek.