Phil’s Forty, 4: Yours sincerely, Queen

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.

Queen's letter
I received this letter as Chamber President for 2017–18.

“Yours sincerely, Queen”

Of course it didn’t actually say that. Too much risk of a mix up between Her Majesty and the rock band.

The letter came from the Director in the Private Secretary’s Office but it was still appreciated. Most people don’t get one until they reach 100, which means most people don’t get one at all.

Mine was for reaching the ripe old age of 181, which might surprise a few close friends so I’d better come clean and admit it was actually for the Chamber of Commerce. That’s the Hull Chamber of Commerce of course, which dates back to 1837, with the Humber bit having been added in 1999.

I received it as Chamber President for 2017–18 and it dropped through the letterbox at the offices in Beverley Road just in time for the annual dinner in November 2017. Sadly there hasn’t been a Chamber dinner since. Maybe it was something I said. Or maybe the dignity police decided there were too many grey people on the dancefloor at the DoubleTree.

Either way the next Chamber dinner is overdue, but not yet long overdue like the next Hull Press Ball. It was great fun and well attended with a political heavyweight in Lord Kerslake and a newcomer in Emma Hardy who, way back in 2017, had only won one General Election.

I was reminded of it as I put on a suit for the latest AGM and the appointment as President of Phil Jones. A smashing bloke apart from the fact that he supports Leeds United. Apparently it’s not true that he hid in the KCOM Stadium loos after his speech because he couldn’t get a ticket for the match the next day.

Phil spoke glowingly about the Chamber, his predecessor Kathy Fillingham and CASE Training Services, the local charity which decided to commemorate its 35th anniversary by sponsoring the AGM lunch. Look them up because whoever you are they could probably use your help as they work to improve the lives of people in the region who have learning disabilities.

Look Phil up as well, partly because he’s involved in far too many things to list here and also because he said he’s going to update his Linked In profile, and we wouldn’t want that effort to go to waste.

For my Presidential AGM I recruited Rev Matt Woodcock, another smashing bloke who is worth looking up on social media. He had a book to sell: “Becoming Reverend”, which is a diary about his conversion from journalism to vicarhood and about fertility issues. It’s very good. Please buy it.

A few people did just that after Matt’s speech and then he stuffed a wad of notes into his pocket and we headed into the Old Town to spend some of it. As Pioneer Minister at the Minster, Matt had clearly succeeded in his mission of raising awareness. In every pub we visited, there was someone who knew him.

The afternoon was all too short, but the evening brought another marvellous occasion with a family Presidential celebration dinner at 1884 Wine & Tapas Bar, a thank you in advance for their support during a demanding and memorable year.

The challenge as I saw it was to do as much as possible, savour the opportunity, represent the Chamber and the regional business community positively and productively and not mess things up. Especially at the Trinity House Christmas lunch.

All of the Past Presidents are listed on the Chamber website and there are some illustrious names. Henry Blundell is a good one, paint pioneer and President from 1847–1848 and grandfather of Lewellyn Longstaff, who also worked for Blundell Spence and was Chamber President from 1875–76.

Longstaff’s wanderlust took him all over the world. According to Robb Robinson’s “Far Horizons” book he is credited with launching the polar career of Sir Ernest Shackleton and he was immortalised with the naming of the Longstaff Peaks in the Transantarctic Mountains.

Taking the view that there can’t be a vast amount more to be discovered by climbing and exploring in sub-zero conditions I decided to leave my mark on the presidency in other ways.

It was City of Culture year so I secured a bit of cash from the Chamber to support people and projects around art and culture in the Hull and Humber region. We gave money to E52 for a theatre project and then to Creative Briefs, who brought together young people who have dyslexia to work on a live design project.

And when the time came to step down I was proud on International Women’s Day 2018 to hand over to Sally Booker, only the Chamber’s fourth women president, and her Vice President, who has just stepped down as the fifth.

There’s more to tell but there’s no more space, so maybe we’ll revisit another day.

Phil Ascough