THE Campaign for Real Ale has around 5,000 members in the North-East. Around 4,985 had other things on when the 2019 Good Beer Guide had a teatime launch at Fitzgerald’s, in Sunderland.

The Sir John Fitzgerald group has quite a lot of pubs in the north of the region, named after a sort of Irish Dick Whittington who left Tipperary as a child, became a brewer and spirit merchant on Tyneside, was Lord Mayor of Newcastle in 1914-15 and knighted soon afterwards for services to the city.

Sunderland’s is in what might be termed the University Quarter – a nearby bar is called Life of Riley – and received an award for 25 successive years’ inclusion in the GBG.

“An oasis amid all this dross,” says Michael Wynne, the local branch chairman.

Dross, someone translates, is the technical term.

Sunderland overall does very well with 13 entries. Middlesbrough, little smaller, has but three. Durham boasts 11, Darlington nine, Stockton four, Northallerton three and Richmond, poor Richmond, just one.

Shildon, its desert denizens will be unsurprised to learn, has of the real thing nothing whatsoever.

Camra regional director Dave Brazier, by day an IT lecturer at Sunderland University, is encouraged, nonetheless. “Growing up in Silksworth I’d often have to go to Newcastle to get a decent pint,” he recalls.

“The picture’s changed a lot. Perhaps because it’s quite expensive, people care much more these days about the quality of what they’re drinking.”

It’s Camra’s 46th annual guide, a sort of bibulous bible and very definitely a good book. When it began the UK had 105 breweries and a pub on every corner. Now there are getting on 1,800 breweries and pubs close at the rate of 18 a week.

Camra chiefly blames pubcos and punitive taxation, seeks to steer real ale’s appeal towards a younger market. “Cask ale has taken on a modern hue,” the Guide insists. “It’s become a drink for aspirant millennials.”

The launch was almost a fortnight ago. Holiday reading now to hand, we took ourselves off for a week in Somerset, where many pubs retain skittle alleys. More of that next week.

*Camra’s Good Beer Guide 2019 is available from all good book shops, and probably one or two pubs, for £15 99.


The column before we left recalled the wonderful Jim’s Pies, once a staple food for thousands of Newton Aycliffe folk. Jim was Jim Whitton, though presumably not the Mr J B Whitton from Darlington who has written to The Times about the drive to eradicate arcane medical terms from patients’ notes.

When he worked in an employment exchange, says Mr Whitton, a claimant professing chronic illness was referred for medical reports. They identified his problem as “congenital ergophobia.”

The Oxford defines ergophobia as “chronic fear of work”, traces it to the British Medical Journal of 1905, though it may have been all Greek to the doleful one. “The claimant,” adds Mr Whitton, “seemed very pleased to have a genuine disability.”

None to date has recalled a taste for Jim’s Pies – please do – but there’ll be more of Aycliffe’s history, and with that Somerset connection, next time.


Speaking of ergophobics, we hear from Paul Hodgson – British and All Comers’ Dole Drawing champion, former secretary of Spennymoor Boxing Academy and semi-permanent fixture in the Backtrack column.

About to move house, Hodgy’s been leafing through his copious cuttings file, his favourite concerning guest appearances by Mad Frankie Fraser at successive boxing presentation nights 20 years ago.

The third year, we reported, the gangland villain and arch-Arsenal fan had decided to stop at home. “He says Spennymoor’s giving him a bad name.”


With trepidation, recent columns have unearthed apostrophes. Pesky varmints. Kev Connolly sends further evidence of their ubiquity from a shop near his home in Pelaw, Gateshead. Brown study, one out of two is probably a pass mark these days.


We reported three weeks ago that a world record £37m had been paid at a car auction in America for a 1960s Ferrari 250 GTO with a Co Durham number plate.

A subsequent letter in Hear All Sides wondered if the Ferrari might have been owned by Neil Corner, former boss of the Ness furniture company at Croxdale, who certainly raced Ferraris and much else.

Neil also had a wonderful line in model railways at his home in Wensleydale.

Though an interest has itself been registered, contacting him has proved tricky. A piece in last month’s Classic Sports Car magazine and a dusty Echo cutting confirm, however, that he did indeed own a 1964 Ferrari.

The library packet also offers a picture of Neil with a rather magnificent Maserati, once driven by Juan Fangio.

Last week, meanwhile, someone paid £460,000 for the number plate RR1 – £100,000 more than he’d have paid for a new Rolls Royce Phantom – but still not a British record.

That was £518,000 for 25 O – intended, no doubt, for a very special Ferrari.


On holiday we spotted AL1 KAT on the sea front at Watchet, while Doug Sisson in Stockton is another with plenty on his plate – D515SON. His son has G515SON. Doug’s 89. “I quite like it,” he says.


Amid ornithological adventures a few weeks back, we noted that the table football game Subbuteo had been named after the Latin for hobby hawk.

So it was, says John Christie – landlord of the doubtless accommodating Green Tree in Brompton, Northallerton – though it was never the intention.

The game was invented by Peter Adolph, a World War II airman from Tunbridge Wells who sought simply to trade mark it as “Hobby.”

It was refused – too vague. Adolph, himself an ornithologist, remembered that the Latin name for the Eurasian hobby was falco subbuteo.

The rest is history – and there’s a blue plaque in his memory in Tunbridge Wells.


….and finally, it’s revealed that Scarborough – which includes Whitby and Filey – attracted 930,000 tourists last year while only 680,000 illuminated Blackpool. The television sub-titles were still a bit in the dark, however, reporting that Scarborough had 930,000 terrorists and rather alarming Martin Birtle in Billingham. “Last time I go there,” he insists.

The Rev Janet Fife, who herself lives near Whitby, has had cause to contact The Times over what the trade calls a typo.

In a report on Carrie Symonds, the former Conservative Party spin doctor said to be close to Boris Johnson, The Times supposed that she was now focusing on marine conversation. Janet was intrigued. “Does this involve shouts of ‘Avast there me hearties, splice the mainbrace’ or learning the song of the humpback whale?” she asked.

The Times admits it was at sea. Conservation, they meant, conservation.