PAUL FROST AT MIDDLESBROUGH TOWN HALL: GRAFFITI, BOOZE AND FAKE NEWS

The former Tyne Tees News presenter and Teesside Gazette reporter was at Middlesbrough Town Hall  discussing ‘A life in the news’ – and TUXtra was there to pick up the scoop

Local historian, Martin F. Peagam (left) and former Tyne Tees News presenter, Paul Frost, at Middlesbrough Town Hall
Local historian, Martin F. Peagam (left) and former Tyne Tees News presenter, Paul Frost, at Middlesbrough Town Hall

For a certain generation across Teesside, Paul Frost will need no introduction.

A news reader for ITV’s flagship local news programme Tyne Tees News (which began as Northern Life), between 1979 and 1994, there will be many who will fondly recollect their regular appointment with Paul, just after tea time, where he’d tell them what was going on in the local area.

But granted, for this this website’s target audience, the name Paul Frost may prove to be as much of a mystery as how people ever managed to cope with just the three TV channels.

However, don’t let that put you off learning more about the man who could reasonably call himself the original Anchorman.

Vandalism of the first degree

Held in Middlesbrough Town Hall’s former Court Room, it was clear that compère for the morning, local historian and CVFM radio host, Martin F. Peagam, had a further pretext for inviting Frost back to a former stomping ground to discuss his journalism career in front of an engaged audience.

Prior to his move into television news presenting, Frost had spent many hours on the press benches opposite as a reporter for the Teesside Gazette and in the manor of a High Court Barrister, Peagam was keen to press his charge against the invited guest.

“Can I get a man accountable for his crimes?” exclaimed Peagam, as photographic evidence appeared on the screen for all to see – the carving of “Paul Frost EG ’72” on the wood from which he would have scribbled his up to 140 words-per-minute shorthand.

Freely admitting his guilt to the act of graffiti, Frost was to plead for mercy from what appeared a favourable jury, on account of the good company he had been keeping in making his indelible mark.

For alongside Paul’s carving with the “standard issue Bic pen” were other names and markings, recounting a ‘who’s who’ of Teesside’s journalistic past, an homage to all those that had gone before and after, including former friends and colleagues Alan Mackenzie, Philip Bruce and Sue Slater.

Exhibit A. for the prosecution - the inscribed press bench within the court room at Middlesbrough Town Hall
Exhibit A. for the prosecution – the inscribed press bench within the court room at Middlesbrough Town Hall

Having a nose for journalism

Confession drawn, Frost was allowed to begin telling his own story of how his career in journalism started.

Having growing up in Stockton during the early 50’s, Frost admitted he wasn’t a “great student” in his younger days, but had left school with a list of lofty ambitions.

One of those was to become a Barrister, a career path Frost could have conceivably followed having been accepted for a place at Leeds University to study law.

But in a twist of fate, an interview to become a trainee journalist with former Gazette editor, the late Ian Fawcett, was to prove life-defining.

Recalling the important moment, Frost remembered that he had judiciously prepared for what he might say at the interview, only for his mind to go blank when asked “why he wanted to be a journalist?”

Stuck for a better response, Frost offered that it was because he was “a nosy bugger… and I like telling stories.”

“I think your right mate,” was the reply from his future boss, with Frost playing the role by mimicking the Australian accident of his former co-worker and friend, “if we had more nosy buggers, we’d have a bigger paper!”

A ‘turnip’ for the books

Now part of a thriving local newspaper with in the region of 120,000 readers a week, Frost’s trail towards his first page one byline was to start at Middlesbrough Hospital.

Checking the records for inpatients injuries of a newsworthy nature, it had appeared that Frost had come across a situation that was journalistic gold – boy hit on head by flying beetroot!

But as Frost would go on to explain, all was not quite what it seemed.

Having relayed the scoop to his editor and with a deadline fast approaching, Frost had prepared his copy in advance of meeting the boy and his Father, complete with plenty of beetroot related puns.

But it was Frost that was to be left momentarily red faced, as the boy declared the projectile vegetable wasn’t in fact a beetroot, but merely “a turnip.”

Noting Frost’s disappointment in this news, the boy’s Father enquired what was wrong, to which Frost explained his predicament.

“Oh well”, mused the Father, “I wouldn’t like to ruin a good story… we’ll tell them it’s a beetroot!”

And so it seems, Frost’s first front page byline was in fact fake news.

I’m Paul Frost?

Sporting a finely trimmed moustache and dressed in an impeccable suit, complete with pocket square, Frost’s outlook certainly contains shades of Ron Burgundy.

And many of his tales of life in the newsroom and nights at ‘Club Bongo’ failed to dispel the link to that of Will Farrell’s fictitious character.

But it was perhaps Frost’s story of one particular instance, presenting for Tyne Tees News in 1986, that really cemented the feeling that he really could have been the original inspiration behind the hit film.

Drafted in as a last minute presenter, Frost candidly admitted to being under the influence at the time of going to air, but being a professional duty had called and he was determined to get through it.

“Good afternoon, the first of the tall ships arrived on the Tyne this evening…” declared Frost, concentrating as hard as he could, as the opening story of the Tall Ships Race rolled through on the auto-queue.

But what were the names of these Russian and Polish ships passing through?

“Kzzzzunnnn” (inaudible) and “Drr Mldzzzzy” (inaudible).

I guess we’ll never know!*

The Russian vessel, ‘Kruzenstern’ on the Tyne during the 1986 Tall Ships Race.  The Polish ship passing through as part of the race was the ‘Der Mlodziezy’.

“Just don’t give up”

Amongst all the quips and stories of when things didn’t go well, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Paul Frost was an excellent and respected  journalist, who was at the heart of breaking some very important stories.

One particular story, that he still feels proud of today, was his role in uncovering the Cleveland Child Abuse Scandal in 1987, where over a period of five-months, 121 children had been taken away from their families and placed into care by social services, after being incorrectly diagnosed as having been sexually abused.

And Frost to this day still vividly remembers the conversation that led him to uncovering the truth.

“I’m a nasty man,” came the stern voice, before continuing;

“I’ve done time, burglary, grievous bodily harm, I’ve been nasty in my time.

“I am a horrible person.

“But one thing I am not, is a kiddie fiddler.

“I’ll not touch a bairn.

“I’m innocent… and so are these” as the man pointed to a group of desperate looking parents behind him.

And it was perhaps the spirit shown by these parents, combined with his own experiences, that led Frost to providing this universal nugget of advice when asked for his top tip for progressing in the media industry;

“Don’t give up.

“There’s so much demand for so few places.

“But those who work for nothing, pester, come up with innovative ideas, are nosy… they will prevail.

“Just don’t give up.”

Paul Frost was speaking at Middlesbrough Town Hall as part of the council’s ‘Discover Middlesbrough Festival 2019’. To find out more about the festival and future events – many of which are free – go to; https://www.facebook.com/Discovermiddlesbrough/

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