Blue Peter, Biafra & Brother Mbakwe

I remember an old and wise Radio Producer telling me that I should never take the role of being a Radio Presenter for granted.  ‘Everyday’, he said ‘you get a chance to talk to people, that most of the world only ever hear on the radio’.

This week I’ve been presenting the mid-morning programme on Premier Radio.  The station is based in London and in days gone by I would have needed to travel to their studios near St Paul’s Cathedral to present the show. COVID changed so much in the world and that is especially true of broadcasting.

One of my first guests on Premier- Caolyn Harris MP.

As lockdowns made it impossible to travel to a Radio or TV studio the industry soon adapted to working from home.  If you had a microphone, a computer and an internet connection you could literally broadcast from anywhere in the world.

It soon became clear that studios weren’t just there for the convenience of the broadcasters, they usually had sound proofed or treated studios.  The trouble was that if you broadcast from your kitchen or bathroom the echoing sound was quite distracting.  To get around that problem many colleagues would broadcast underneath a duvet to help ‘deaden’ their sound’.

Working for Premier inspired me to release this Gospel Track.

Eventually broadcasters bought special panels and portable vocal booths that helped make them sound more professional and once people knew they could broadcast from home and save hours of commuting time they embraced it. Whole new radio stations came into being like BOOM Radio which now has millions of listeners.

It is strange but over the past few years I have built up strong friendships with the Premier Radio production team and I’ve never met any of them in person!

One of the other benefits for broadcasters is that having freelance presenters all over the country means that if a regular presenter calls in sick there are many more options to get cover for a show.  That was how I found myself suddenly presenting a 3 hour show on Monday and Tuesday.  The text came through at 7.41am.  I replied and said I was free.  The information about the guests came through an hour or so later and at 10am I was saying hello and welcome.

Over that period I got to interview the Bishop of Westminster about the Grenfell Fire Testimony week.  He was about to attend the Commission to support some of his parishioners who had lost children in the fire. 

During another interview I discovered I went to the same college as the Bishop of Lancaster… and I found out I had more in common with Emmanuel Mbakwe than you might have thought at first glance.

Emmanuel was born a few years before me in Nigeria.  His parents left him and his 2 brothers in the safe keeping of some older relations and moved to London to further their studies.  The idea was after they got their qualifications they would return home.  Then civil war broke out and Emmanuel became a refugee. 

It was when Emmanuel mentioned the name ‘Biafra’ that I found myself sitting up with a start.  Over my lifetime we have had countless wars and famines and disaster appeals.  Biafra was the first one I really remember and the reason was ‘The Blue Peter Biafra Appeal’. Blue Peter was a foundation stone in my childhood and I rarely missed a Monday or Thursday programme. 

Every year the Blue Peter Appeal would champion some cause or another. In 1968 using what would now be described as distressing images we were told the story of the war and famine in Biafra, West Africa. We were encouraged to collect Wool and Cotton and send it in to Valerie Singleton, Peter Purvis and John Noakes.  

Every show would have an update on the totaliser and at the end of the campaign we had raised enough money to provide three hospital trucks, six emergency doctor’s cars and various other equipment and drugs.

Whilst I and my friends had been collecting cotton, having our tea watching Blue Peter, Emmanuel and his family were struggling to survive in a refugee camp where he dreamt of having one meal a day. 

When the war ended Emmanuel’s parents decided that they wouldn’t return home but instead Emmanuel and his brothers should join them in London. In the refugee camps one of the other things Emmanuel missed out on was an education.  On arrival in London his father took on the role of educator in chief, enrolling them in a local library and encouraging the boys to list any words they came across so that he could help them in a session at the end of the week.

So apart from the Blue Peter Appeal…where is the great connection?

In the notes I had been given I noticed that Emmanuel had been…

National Leader of the Apostolic Church, UK, the mother Church of a worldwide body that is present in 100 nations, with an estimated 15 million members’.

As we got to that part of the story I said one word ‘Arnallt!’. When I said that word Emmanuel started laughing out loud.  ‘Arnallt, you know Arnallt?’

Now I should say Arnallt Morgan is the Senior Pastor of the Waterfront Community Church in Swansea which is part of the Apostolic Church. 

The Apostolic Church grew out of the 1904 Welsh Revival.  In January 1911 in the little village of Penygroes, there was a ‘mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit’ which resulted in 

‘bliss such that it seemed as if the people had already entered into heaven.’

The church grew and set up sister churches around the country and around the world. When Emmanuel arrived in London he and his family attended the All Nations, Apostolic Church in Vauxhall and that is where he found his own faith.

As the new congregations grew around the world that description of All Nations became more and more significant but the love for their Welsh roots has always been strong.  Every year Apostolics from all over the world would travel to Wales for the Penygroes Convention.  In later years the convention moved to Swansea and other Welsh venues.

That is how Emmanuel had got to know Arnallt and so many more people that we have in common.

Sadly, Pastor Warren Jones, a great ‘Man of God’ who was National Leader of the Apostolic prior to Emmanuel taking over the role recently passed away.  Emmanuel is hoping to be at the Funeral.  Maybe I’ll meet Brother Emmanuel in person sooner than I thought.

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