Fanfare for MBE Ray

AN arts leader in South Tyneside can blow his own trumpet today after being awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.

Ray Spencer, executive director of The Customs House in South Shields, has been at the heart of the borough's cultural life for decades.

Mr Spencer, whose alter-ego is much-loved children's entertainer Tommy the Trumpeter, said he had no idea who had nominated him but said he felt "humbled" at the recognition.

The award is reward for the 53-year-old's services to the arts in North East England, and is the culmination of a career which started with an appearance at the age of three on Tyne Tees 'One O'Clock Show' half a century ago.

His first appearance on stage came two years later in a school nativity play.

The father-of-four later became a stalwart with the Westovians theatre company and spent 15 years as a performing arts lecturer at South Tyneside College, before taking charge at The Customs House, on the Mill Dam, in 2000.

He has managed to combine his "day job" with the role of trumpet-playing Tommy, whose fun-filled summer parties are at the centre of the borough's annual Summer Festival.

Mr Spencer said he was looking forward to meeting the Queen and going "backstage" at Buckingham Palace.

He said: "I am of course hugely honoured to receive the MBE. I think it reflects the terrific work the whole team here at the Customs House have achieved over the last decade.

"Not only is it a great venue owned by the people for the people – it does work in the community that makes a real difference to peoples lives.

"I am a very lucky man, and this award merely reminds me that I have so much more to achieve.

"I would like to publicly thank whoever it was who nominated me. This Biddick Hall lad is very humbled by the whole thing."

Tax expert Paul Winter, from South Shields, has also been awarded an MBE in recognition for his work as a business design expert in the HM Revenue and Customs 'Pay as You Earn' section at Sunderland.

And former Sunderland AFC chairman Bob Murray was awarded a knighthood.

Mr Murray said: "I see this award as being not just for me personally, but for my family, friends and many business colleagues."