Bob: "As far as women are concerned you are hardly Omar Shariff are you?"

Terry: "If Omar Shariff lived in Gateshead, I doubt he'd be Omar Shariff."

THIS snatch of dialogue by comic geniuses Clement and Le Frenais, the writers of Auf WiedersehenPet and Porridge, encapsulates the idea that the North-East produces a certain type of person. Basically, you wont find many bridge-playing, playboys capable of wooing Julie Christie around here.

As this a business feature, instead of quoting any more from The Likely Lads, I will try to explain what I'm banging on about by unpicking the biggest North-East news story this century - the death of steelmaking on Teesside.

The tale of how SSI bought an iron and steel plant and ran it into the ground could only have occurred in the North-East of England. I'll explain why.

The fella behind this slightly madcap scheme, Win Viriyaprapaikit, is the youngest of six children, and the sole male scion of self made steel man Wit Viriyaprapaikit. Wit had sired five kids before his wife gave birth to one with a sufficient number of testicles that signified they could be trusted to run the family business. Primogeniture might be culturally acceptable in Wit's world but it has no place in modern life and knowing that it influenced the SSI founder adds a dash of 'serves you right you sexist git' to what happened next.

In common with the bosses of many second generation family firms Win Viriyaprakapit, or Mr Win as he became known, much to the relief of journalists and sub editors everywhere, wanted to do something his dad had never managed.

Wit had established a successful steel mill and port in Thailand but in global industry terms Sahavirya Steel Industries were minnows. His son's dream was to take the family firm onto another level and run their own blast furnace to feed the Thai business with steel slabs. The economy of South East Asia was buoyant and steel was needed to make kitchen white goods and cars. What could go wrong?

The initial plan was to build the plant in Thailand but it got as far as the purchase of a piece of land, complete with a banana plantation, before Thai authorities declined it planning permission. Mr Win then set off on a world tour with a sackful of Thai Bhat to find a steel plant for sale. It eventually led to him to Redcar that just happened to have a mothballed blast furnace with a sea view available at a knock down price. What was there not to like? Well, as it turned out there was plenty.

For a start the plant was a bit knackered and needed a fortune spent on it to get it anywhere close to 21st century standard. SSI was a relatively small firm so buying and doing up the former British Steel site was an ambitious, some might say foolhardy endeavour. A close associate of Mr Win's later likened it to the owner of a small corner shop buying a supermarket; a massive step up that offered huge rewards and risks.

But saying the word 'Teesside' to steel men like Win and Wit was like saying the word 'Stradivarius' to someone in the market for a violin. Sure, you can buy a bright, shiny cheap one from China, but wouldn't you rather have this dusty old model steeped in history? The fact that SSI would become the sole iron and steel producer in the North-East of England, the region that pretty much invented this industry, whose steel built bridges that span the Tyne, Zambesi and Sydney Harbour, just added to its appeal.

Looking back, Mr Win's purchase of the plant from Tata, funded by loans from Thai banks who later got nasty when Win couldn't pay back the hundreds of millions of pounds he'd borrowed off them (banks want their money back - who knew?) was an amazing stroke of luck for Redcar. Or at least it felt like that four years ago.

The fall-out from SSI UK's collapse in terms of unpaid bills, job losses, contractors left high and dry, cost to the taxpayer and risk to the environment if the site is allowed to become derelict, begs the question - would Redcar have been better off if SSI had never come here?

When I re-read Echo cuttings from around 2009-2010 of how we reported efforts to find a buyer for the mothballed plant you get a sense of how vulnerable Teesside felt without its steelworks. The local community refused to accept defeat. They marched and shouted, cried and prayed. It all comes comes back to the point I made at the start of this piece about the things that make North-East people so special. We might grumble a bit but we are fundamentally an optimistic bunch. Where else in the world would people turn up in their tens of thousands every week to sit in the cold and watch mediocre football teams howk a ball around with no real prospect of winning a trophy at the season's end?

Northeasterners' inherent sense of hope and loyalty are great qualities, but a cynic might regard them as signs of weakness. Just ask Mike Ashley who ruthlessly exploits the hearts of Newcastle United fans knowing they will keep coming back for more of the gruel he serves them.

I asked a blast furnaceman on the day SSI restarted production at Redcar in April 2012 what he thought of Mr Win, who was by then being hailed as the saviour of Teesside's century and a half old industry. "He seems like a canny lad," was the reply. That's the North-East right there - beautifully understated, open-hearted and eager to be your mate. The warm glow Mr Win basked in on that Sunday afternoon as the fires were relit has, like the defunct furnace itself, cooled alarmingly in recent weeks.

It's easy to forget that he was seen as a hero. As coke oven worker Brian Dennis said last week: "Win's gone from being a knight in shining armour to a dud firework." People from up here are also great at mixing metaphors.

About a year after the plant restarted I went to Steel House to interview managing director Phil Dryden. The thing that struck me most was how shabby the whole place looked. The roads around the site were pitted with potholes and the windows of the boss's office hadn't felt a wash leather for weeks. Such things were deemed frivolous expenditure to the business which even then was living a hand-to-mouth existence.

Barely a month would go by without an anonymous call coming in to the Echo to tip us off that SSI was in trouble, 24 hours from going bust, or on the verge of being sold. If we had published a story based on these rumours it would have made a brilliant front page, but it could have precipitated a run on SSI from banks, suppliers or subcontractors. We held back and gave the firm time to find its feet in the spirit of a local newspaper looking beyond the desire for a story towards something bigger. We did not want to be the ones that put thousands of people out of work.

Nor it seemed did any of the firm's increasingly disgruntled suppliers. It quickly became apparent that SSI had a shocking reputation for settling debts. This would drive the Redcar management crazy. They were being inundated by reminders and threats of legal action. Mr WIn's initial approach was to ignore them. He was eventually persuaded to sit in front of some suppliers and agree new payment terms, which more often than not, were duly defaulted upon.

Redcar and Cleveland Council, water, gas, electricity, port and fuel suppliers were owed millions. SSI UK has left behind local debts of more than £50m, total debts are three times that amount, and the Thai business owes it's banks £400m in loan repayments.

But the culture at SSI's parent company was largely one of denial. What happened on Friday last week, when things got so bad SSI's board scuttled the UK business, could have happened any time over the last couple of years had one of its suppliers carried through their threats to file a winding up order.

Why local firms kept extending credit to SSI also says a great deal about the mutually supportive business culture of the North-East. This is not New York, Tokyo, London or Shanghai for a reason. We are not ruthless enough to be a global centre of finance. Even when we were an industrial giant our might was founded more on a capacity for ingenuity and hard graft than for the kind of sharp practice that is needed if you want to compete with sharks.

There was an incredible groundswell of goodwill toward preventing the extinction of North-East iron and steelmaking. I suspect had it set up shop elsewhere SSI would have been rumbled pretty quickly. But here in the North-East they were indulged. There was a conspiracy of hope that they would get over their financial woes, move into the black, and everyone would be quids in

There were signs last year they were edging close to profitability, but when China started to export vast quantities of steel the whole game changed. So much cheap product flooded the market that it was reported a tonne of steel was being traded in Shanghai for less than the price of a tonne of cabbages.

SSI became so cash-strapped it couldn't pay for ink cartridges to print visitor passes on the reception desk. If that sounds comical, then the revelation it wasn't paying for workers' insurance or keeping up pensions contributions is deadly serious. That is disgraceful.

Business minister Anna Soubry said last week she had been astonished by SSI's disregard for its workers' safety. Instead of showing anger at such bad practice, Teessiders demonstrated their love for steel by protesting at the Riverside Stadium, printing Save Our Steel t-shirts, and standing on Redcar seafront holding aloft torches and glowing mobile phones.

If Omar Shariff had come from Normanby he'd have been stood there with them.