Phil’s Forty, 25: Leaving Hull

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.

It’s the only time I’ve been handcuffed. The guy from the police press office borrowed them from his pals in uniform, one of whom then “arrested” me on some trumped-up charge about crimes against journalism.

Phil Ascough, prosecuted.
“Prosecutor” Paul Holland with his foot on the chair presenting his evidence in theatrical pose.

Paul Holland, esteemed defence solicitor of this parish at the time, switched sides and prosecuted. The late David Weston, a proper judge and a drinking mate, sentenced me to be deported to the colonies for a period of not less than three years.

Such was my leaving do from the Yorkshire Post Hull office in 1989. It started in the Bonny Boat at lunchtime and I don’t remember the ending, but it was well after dark and probably at Ray’s Place. There was a separate one at the Adelphi.

The occasion was shared with Neil Farley, who on arrival in the office just a year before was immediately dubbed “Charlie”. We left at about the same time, Neil to work on a paper in Australia and me to join The Royal Gazette, the paper of record in Bermuda.

Phil, pleading his innocence.

The party attracted the great and the good from the regional media, contacts from crime reporting and other work, and regulars from the Bonny Boat – the regular Yorkshire Post staff watering hole – and other hostelries in the Old Town and around the city. John Stanley, the Lord Mayor that year, also dropped in. My future mother-in-law was proper impressed when she heard that.

The only blot on the proceedings was when Colin Parsons tried to remove the cuffs. Colin was from Mexborough in South Yorkshire, the same place as Gilbert Johnson and Billy Whitehurst. Gilbert was famous, or even notorious, for the entertaining nature of his journalism, driven by an eagerness to abandon the truth at the earliest opportunity. There’ll be more to come about him. 

Nobody who saw Billy Whitehurst play for Hull City will ever forget the big, often brutal centre forward. It’s said he once punched a horse. I witnessed him chase a long ball and crash into an opposition goalkeeper who clattered to the floor and rattled as he was carried off the pitch. Years later Gary Gill, who played just one match for City on loan from Middlesbrough in 1984, told me he acquired his broken nose in a training ground incident with Billy.

Colin had neither the charming deception of Gilbert or the… erm… no-nonsense attributes of Billy. He was a diligent journalist who had retired from the Yorkshire Post in 1983, creating the vacancy which I filled, and who continued to work as a freelance covering council meetings. Colin was a lovely man, mild mannered but also with a forthright nature which didn’t sit well with his occasional clumsiness, especially when he’d had a drink.

Usually his knack of saying, and sometimes bellowing, things out of turn was remedied by a swift and sincere apology. But sometimes actions spoke louder than words. Those who were there at the time love to tell how, while on a visit to the head office in Leeds, Colin once opened the door of a taxi straight into a bus. 

Colin Parsons inspecting the buffet.

So I felt a chill as Colin lunged towards me, spluttering a combination of beer foam and sausage roll crumbs and claiming a hitherto unknown expertise in removing handcuffs. Sure enough they tightened. Very painfully. But thankfully Peter the police press officer produced the key just in time to save me from having to report to my new job with two broken wrists.

A lot of people ask why we came back from Bermuda to Hull, and I’ll address that another time, but I’ve never been asked why I went.

There was no pressing desire to get away permanently from the city which had been my home for eight years, but during 1988 I did get the idea that a change of scene and job would be a good idea.

For someone who had been working in newspapers for ten years a move to the nationals would have been a logical step but I just didn’t fancy London. Every week I scoured the adverts in UK Press Gazette. There was one in Bahrain which caught the eye but then I spotted Bermuda, which looked like much more fun altogether.

In those pre-internet days I found an atlas to double-check precisely where Bermuda was. North Atlantic, not Caribbean. A British Overseas Territory. Plenty of sunshine, nice and civilised, worth a punt if only to get a few days away for the interview. But they held those in London.

The whole process took ages. They received 300 applications from all over the world but in March 1989, as I recuperated in London with “Charlie” Farley and other friends after a day at the Cheltenham Festival, the message came through that I’d got one of the three jobs available.

The offer was conditional on submitting a satisfactory chest x-ray, which was sorted quickly, and on securing work permit, which took until July. In the interim I met Jayne and after I’d been in Bermuda a couple of months she paid a visit and then moved out to join me.

The place had almost everything. It was exclusive and expensive but the job paid well enough. The climate allowed you to enjoy tennis, golf, swimming, sailing almost every day. The outdoor lifestyle extended to a vibrant al fresco social scene and the location was perfect for overcoming “rock fever”, with New York and Boston only two hours away if you yearned for big-city attractions. We decided we had better put a limit on our time there and we said we would give it three years.

Phil Ascough