Seventeen years on from the amazing saga of The Baccy Boat, grown-up Phil Berriman embarks on a new journey – this time at the wheel of an old double-decker. PETER BARRON reports

AS the son of a man who found worldwide fame by taking on the authorities to launch the world’s first offshore off-licence, Phil Berriman was born to be an entrepreneur with an instinct for unlikely opportunities.

Just 15 at the time, Phil found himself embroiled in a sea-faring saga that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an adventure novel.

His dad – also called Phil – had famously taken advantage of the rules by selling imported booze and cigarettes from a boat anchored off Hartlepool.

Because the schooner, Rich Harvest, was just outside the UK’s 12-mile limit, customers were able to sail out in private boats and jet skis to purchase  untaxed goods that had been bought in large quantities from the tiny German island of Heligoland, in the North Sea.

As a wide-eyed schoolboy, Phil junior was on board what became known around the world as “The Baccy Boat”, watching as the venture led to an infamous stand-off with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and a battle in the courts.

“It was just an incredible story,” smiles Phil, who was brought up in Billingham but now lives in Trimdon. “The bottom line is that we were doing nothing wrong, but it ruffled feathers and they didn’t know what to do about it.”

Seventeen years on, Phil, now a father himself, is embarking on a business voyage himself, only this time it doesn’t involve a boat. Instead, it brings together an old double-decker bus, an American camper van, and one of the North-East’s most famous landmarks.

While The Baccy Boat is remembered for sailing into troubled waters, Riverside Catering is safely anchored in the shadow of Teesside’s best-known bridge. More specifically, Phil’s new business is based in the unlikely setting of the old ticket office of the Transporter Bridge.

Primarily, it will be supplying quality food, for the large workforce of the Port Clarence Offshore Base. However, the grub will also be transported five miles to a site at Portrack Retail Park, where it will be kept hot in the specially converted American camper van, and eaten in style on board a vintage double-decker bus, transformed into a cafe.

“It sounds a bit quirky, but it's the realisation of a dream,” says Phil, a trained chef. “The key is high quality, fresh food, properly cooked at an iconic North-East location – the fact that one of the outlets happens to be a double decker bus is a bonus.”

He has wanted to launch his own catering business since discovering a love of cooking as a child. His dad would pick him up straight from school and take him fishing in what had been an old ship’s lifeboat.

“We’d catch mackerel and I’d marinade it, turn it into a curry, and take it in to home economics lessons for my homework,” he recalls. “The other kids would be doing more basic stuff, but I was always looking to go on step further with food, and that’s still the case.”

He has the backing of his dad and business partner Ross Barber, and uses local suppliers to ensure the food is fresh. Bacon, sausages and home-made pies are sourced from Deerness Valley Meats, owned by Anthony Carey, at Esh Winning, while the stotties come from Dents Bakery, run by Anthony’s wife, Helen, over the road.

As well as full English breakfasts, and a range of sandwiches, pork parmo is also on the menu, with an evening takeaway service provided, as well as event catering.

With Britain still in lockdown, and the 110-year-old Transporter Bridge closed while it awaits repairs, Phil accepts it may not seem the best time to launch a new business, but he sees the positives.

“It means we’ve got time to get the team trained up and build up a head of steam, so that when everything opens up again, we’re right at the top of our game,” he explains.

The American camper van and the double-decker bus, which saw service on the streets of Manchester, were bought on eBay, and the finishing touches are being applied to both vehicles before they take up their position at Portrack.

Meanwhile, the food produced in the old ticket office next to the Transporter Bridge is going down well with the workers from the offshore base directly over the road.

The Baccy Boat adventure ended up being turned into a book. Now it’s the turn of The Butty Bus to begin a new chapter for Phil Berriman and his dad.

HOW time flies. The weekend marked the fifth anniversary of the death of Ali Brownlee, BBC Radio Tees’ “Voice of the Boro”, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered.

Ali died of cancer, aged just 56, but is remembered fondly for his passion for the area, his warmth, and his sense of humour.

We had a lot of fun together on the radio, with the daily “Headline Challenge” feature, in which the listeners have to come up with headlines for quirky stories from around the world.

One particular Headline Challenge episode sits on the desktop of my computer, ready for whenever my spirits need lifting. The story was about an American billboard, advertising a kettle that looked like Adolf Hitler, due to a central, black, square button resembling a moustache, and a spout saluting at the perfect angle.

Suggested headlines included Mein Brewer, Adolf Whistler, Brew Do You Think You Are Kidding Mister Hitler, and Reich Old Boiler. However, the winner, from a listener called David Laud, was “Hitler has only got one boil.”

Ali could hardly finish the show after collapsing in fits of giggles. So typical of his personality, it will always a reminder of why he is so fondly remembered by so many people.

IN last week’s column, inspired by the fabulous Handforth Parish Council meeting, which was led on Zoom by the now world-famous Jackie Weaver, I appealed for more local government anecdotes.

Former colleague, Jane Chilton, has been in touch about the time she was covering Darlington Borough Council for the Darlington & Stockton Times in the mid-1980s.

They were the days when the council meetings went on until the early hours of the morning due to pathetic political in-fighting, and us reporters were moved to hold sweepstakes on what time they’d call it a night.

Jane, who went on to work for Sky TV, recalls how one Conservative councillor – believed to be the late Peter Jones – staged a personal protest about the length of the meetings by turning up in his pyjamas and slippers. He may even have had a pipe.

As midnight chimed on the Town Clock across the market square, he pulled a bowl, box of cornflakes, and carton of milk from a bag under the table, and started breakfast.

Sit-com writers are surely already at work to capture the spirit of Jackie Weaver and co.