Phil’s Forty, 2: Having a Ball


It’s 40 years this year since Phil Ascough, our most prolific freelance contributor, arrived in Hull to begin a new episode in his journalistic career. Having spent two years on the weekly Doncaster Gazette, Phil headed east to the Hull Daily Mail. Apart from three years on the Royal Gazette in Bermuda and a short spell at the Teesside Gazette, he’s been here ever since. He worked for the Yorkshire Post and the BBC before returning to the Mail and becoming business editor. He moved into sports media with the Press Association in Leeds and then Howden, and set up his own PR consultancy in 2010. To mark the anniversary he has set out to write 40 essays looking at his career, our city and its people.


phil-ascough-fadge-1980

Phil eating a ‘fadge’ from Arnett’s in the early hours after the 1980 Hull Press Ball.

At the risk of getting side-tracked before we even start, the price of a first class stamp in 1980 was 12p.

Now, but not then obviously, you can look online to see the rate of the increase to the current level of 70p. With proper journalistic research – which you won’t find a great deal of in this series – we could probably identify why it went up from 46p in 2011 to a gargantuan 60p in 2012. Or why it was a bizarre 15.5p in 1982.

So anyway it was 12p to post that letter to the Hull Daily Mail and it would easily have been worth 70p at a time when a pint of Stella Artois was probably lower. We used to knock it back in wine-lake quantities whilst falling around at The Queens Hotel in Queens Road. As the price crept up we sometimes kidded ourselves that we would give it up when it reached £1 a pint.

People who know me know that’s nonsense. These days I pay £4.10. You can pay less but you can certainly pay more.

Anyway, the letter. It worked, and in September 2018 I got on a train which is probably still in service to come over to Hull for an interview which went very well. The wonderful Editor at the time, Bill Sneyd, basically offered me the job on the spot. Pretty much all I had to do was avoid disgracing myself at that night’s Hull Press Ball. My plan was to stay one drink behind Bill and when, at about 9pm, I saw him stumble slightly, I knew the job was mine.

Other details are a bit of a blur – it’s entirely possible to forget far more than you recall about a supposedly memorable evening, and that was the pattern for most Press Balls. Logic suggests there were about 300 guests in a marquee at Willerby Manor at a time when black tie events were limited to the circuit of Chamber of Commerce, bankers, lawyers, accountants, insurers, shipbrokers, freight forwarders, timber traders. Quite a lot then. Peter Reekie, Chief Reporter in the Hull office of the Yorkshire Post, used to send me to cover them on the basis that I was young, single, and would benefit from regular meals.

Logic also suggests that when the dancing stopped at Willerby Manor we’ll have headed to the Waterfront Club for the last hour or so. Photographic evidence indicates that on the way back to Andy’s bedsit we called in at Arnett’s for a late supper. As the picture shows, even half a fadge was big enough to conceal a bow tie.

The venue – Willerby Manor in the era of Derek Baugh and David Roberts – made such an impression that we used it for three more Press Balls, and Jayne and I chose it for our wedding reception in 1992.

The Hull Press Ball was a big thing which, with fantastic support from businesses, raised thousands of pounds for local charities. And contrary to popular belief it wasn’t just about the Hull Daily Mail. I worked on the organising committee for the events in 1983, 1985 and 1987 as a Yorkshire Post journalist, along with former colleagues from the Mail and a few freelance writers and photographers. 

A highlight of the city’s social calendar, it was organised by the Hull and East Riding Branch of the National Union of Journalists, which worked to improve pay and conditions for its members and to uphold the standards of its profession – no easy task at a time when new technology was rearing its head and the print unions were being picked off.

Back in Doncaster, within a few days I found myself in front of that ancient typewriter bashing out a letter of respectful resignation to one newspaper and of eager acceptance to another. The 1980 edition of Hull Press Ball was certainly a landmark day for me. Maybe we should revive it?

Phil Ascough

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