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“I think,” said my friend Dai, “there should be a tie amnesty.” In the course of a clearout, he was dismayed to find he had 30 ties in his collection, a count not much greater than the number of years since he’d last had cause to wear one.

I remember my dad telling me, donkey’s years ago, that you knew were getting old when you bought yourself a black tie for funerals, instead of borrowing one from your old man. I passed that milestone a while ago. You know you’re really cracking on when you have 60 ties, but the black one is the only one you have any use for.

I thought I only had half as many, but I found more in a bag at the back of the wardrobe, waiting to be taken somewhere. But where? Who would want them? Charity shops must be sick of the sight of them. What is going to become of them all? The average length of a tie is, I read, 58 inches or just short of 1.5 metres. My collection alone, laid end to end, would stretch for 90 metres. Let’s say there are 30 million males in the UK – including all the tie-wearing schoolboys – and they have, on average, five ties each: that comes to well over 200,000km of ties. A use must be found for them.

One reason that I have so many is that, being of Croatian heritage, I have always felt the need to boast about my country’s gift to the world. Natty neckties are first thought to have been sported by Croatian mercenaries serving for the French during the thirty years’ war of the 17th century. I love the idea of big Croatian brutes larging it around Paris in their small, traditional, knotted neckerchiefs, arousing the interest of Parisian fashionistas. “Très chic!” they must have cried. The Croats call themselves Hrváti; the French call them Croates. Conflate the two and you get cravat. C’est bon! Soon, Louis XIV was wearing one, and that was that. So I can’t possibly ditch my many Croatian ties. That would surely be treasonable and I’ve not long had my passport.

As for the others in my collection, my television presenting career came at the end of the era in which tie-wearing was compulsory. I started out on a programme called Working Lunch on BBC Two in 1994, where the editor took the radical decision that we shouldn’t wear jackets. Traditionalists in the main newsroom were sniffy. Some took to calling the programme Naked Lunch rather than Working Lunch. Miseries. Heaven forfend if we’d also chosen to dispense with ties. Tellingly, this was never considered; there’s radical and then there’s radical.

I have many ties from this era, none of which could be worn today without causing consternation. They are loud, they’re wide, they’re garish. They will never come back into fashion, if they ever were. Very few of the programmes I went on to present required me to wear a tie. The exception, oddly, was football. For some reason, televised football clung on to the tie longer than any part of the business, other than straight news bulletins. For a long while, absurdly, the only time I ever wore a tie was at football matches. And funerals, obviously. Now, it’s just the latter.

Powerful forces seem determined to stop the rot. In January 2020, GQ declared: “It’s official – everyone is wearing ties again.” But then the pandemic happened and just about the only tie-wearers left in the land were Chris Whitty, Patrick Vallance and whichever government bod stood at the lectern between them. GQ hasn’t given up yet, though. Just last September, it asserted: “Men’s ties are bold, brash, and better than ever.” Like Croatian mercenaries, the tie-lovers fight on.

Adrian Chiles is a broadcaster, writer and Guardian columnist

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