That Was The Year That Was!

AS I write the blog, now in its fifth year, has had almost 80,000 views in 2019, well more than double the previous year. The total (check the front page for the latest figure) is over 183,000 since Another Helping first appeared in 2015.

It’s gratifying that so many people like this mix of restaurant reviews, recipes, food history and current news, particularly when the abject failure of the local newspapers to cover the scene properly leaves so many people wanting more.

Is it poor reporting, laziness or being too timid to pick up the phone that leaves them simply rewriting what appears on hotel and restaurant websites?

So when Hassop Hall Hotel suddenly closed, to be bought as a private house, only this blog told the full story of who had bought it. You can join the 11,000 readers who read it here

It was the same story with the closure of another hotel, The Maynard closed at Grindleford. Local papers hardly touched it but you can read about it here and here, at Peter and Rob save the day for Maynard

There were plenty of other scoops, such as the latest exploits of chef Cary Brown, revamping the Hathersage Social Club with businessman Ian Earnshaw.

There was much else. Other top reads (as in previous years) were Derbyshire oatcakes and Sheffield  Fishcake

The biggest volume of traffic, though, had nothing to do with food but everything to do with abject reporting. The big story of the year was how a local pensioner, Tony Foulds, had spent a lifetime tending a memorial to crashed WW2 American airmen in Endcliffe Park.

But did he? And why did nobody see him? And why did his eye witness account contradict the official record of the time? But all it takes is a credulous BBC presenter and local papers such as the Sheffield Star and Yorkshire Post to keep silent on what they knew to be a fantasy to become fake news.

If the BBC and other couldn’t tell the truth this blog had to here and  here

Thanks to this blog, some 22,000 readers know the real story.

So what will 2020 bring? Who knows? But Another Helping will bring it to you first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phony Tony gets his star

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A Flying Fortress seen head on: Picture by Nick Collins

TO many of those who watched pensioner Tony Foulds being given his star in the pavement ‘Walk of Fame’ outside Sheffield Town Hall on Monday he is a hero. This is a man who has spent a lifetime honouring the stricken crew of an American bomber which crashed in wartime Sheffield.

And it is through him that thousands packed the park to watch a USAF and RAF flypast on the 75th anniversary on 22  February.

To others, though, he’s a fantasist – Phony Tony, the 83-year-old who has duped the BBC and the local and regional Press with his claims.

No one is denying he has spent time cleaning and tending the war memorial to the ten dead aircrew of the American bomber Mi Amigo which crashed there in February 1944. The question is, for how long?

Certainly not, as BBC television news reported on 21st February this year “for the last 75 years.” For a start, the memorial wasn’t erected until 1969. The truth is, as he explained on video in December 2018, is that he had done it only for the previous two years. In his telling and retelling of the story, it had gone further and further back.

Just as important is that his recollection of what he says he witnessed in the park as an eight-year-old boy back in 1944 bears no relation to the facts. His dramatic story is that is that the pilot waved to him and his friends playing there to get out of the way before crashing.

On frequent television appearances it has been compelling viewing as the tears well up, his handkerchief comes out and he speaks of the “guilt” he feels that the airmen died trying to save him and his friends. Yet none of the other children has come forward to back his story. Nor has he named them.

Hardly surprising, as this is an urban legend which first appeared in the Nineties. One has only to think for a minute of the absurdity of a Flying Fortress trying to land at great speed on a pocket handkerchief of a park to realise this could not have happened.

For a detailed analysis see my earlier post here

With so many holes in his story you would have thought the BBC and the local newspaper, the Sheffield Star, would have checked. They haven’t.

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Author David Harvey with his book

One way, apart from looking up their files to see the account did not tally or asking themselves how Phony Tony had managed to escape the attention of their reporters down the years, would be to ask historian David Harvey who spent four years researching the incident for his book Mi Amigo: Sheffield’s Flying Fortress.

To this day he has had no call from the Sheffield Star or the Yorkshire Post. It was only after this abject failure of journalism that I published on my blog.

For Harvey, the events of this year have been painful in that all the publicity has been about Foulds and his “devotion” rather than the bomber crew. “What gets my goat is that the story should be about the ten crewmen. Sheffield had a lucky escape that day. It’s one of the city’s greatest stories.”

He adds: “I despair of it. It is something which means a great deal to me and to see it distorted I think is quite sad.”

There is no denying that Foulds, whose chance encounter with BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker in the park early in tbe New Year propelled him to national attention, has done well out of the affair.

He has been feted, lauded, and laden with Man of the Year awards. The Americans from the ambassador downwards have made him a VIP. He has been given a free flight over the supposed route of the Mi Amigo before it crashed (all the evidence shows it came from the opposite direction) and at least £1,500 has been raised by online crowdfunding in his name to help the upkeep of the memorial.

It is unclear what has happened to this money. In any event the memorial belongs to the city council, whose staff tidied the monument every year in advance of the annual memorial ceremony held there.

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Wreckage from the Mi Amigo

Oddly, you might think, Foulds never attended the ceremony until the last two years.

And despite the money he still borrows a broom from Jon Pullin who runs the nearby children’s amusement park so he can be seen and photographed by visitors sweeping away the leaves. The monument, once dignified, has been turned into a gaudy shrine complete with flagpost.

Poor Jon lost money when his amusements were taken down for the day because they blocked camera angles. By contrast, Ashley Charlesworth, owner of the park café, would have been paid thousands for hiring it out as the BBC  ‘Green Room.’

It’s all good, heart-warming stuff and Foulds himself has been great telly. The BBC Breakfast coverage of the flypast of USAF and RAF planes over the park on the 75th anniversary in February, seen by millions, concentrated on him. Out came the handkerchief during a live link-up between him and the BBC’s Walker, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for Children in Need. The religious ceremony being performed at the same time was given short shrift.

When a viewer wrote to the BBC to complain about its portrayal of the facts after seeing my story on Foulds (which has received over 10,000 hits and the link is now banned by Facebook as contravening community standards) a spokesman insisted: “Remembrance of the men who died . . . has always been the main focus of this story: our social media hashtag for the event was #remembertheten.”

The reply neglects to mention that almost immediately Walker instituted another hashtag, #GetTonyAFlypast which resulted in the ceremony. He tweeted without checking Foulds’ story. He has never spoken to historian Harvey. Local people who disagree have contacted him to no avail and adverse comments have been taken down from BBC websites.

The BBC response also claimed that Harvey had been consulted. He hadn’t. He was asked one question live on TV, about the fate of the plane’s mascot, a dog.

Interestingly the BBC’s reply also says “Tony has not claimed to have tended the memorial site for decades. He regularly visited but has only been looking at it daily for the last few years.” Yet its own Twitter feed continually repeats the false claim that he has “been looking after the memorial ever since” (1944).

The city council, when asked by the same viewer if it checked the facts before honouring Foulds, passed the buck to the BBC. Chief Executive John Mothersole wrote: “Given the role of the BBC in picking up on the story and initiating the event I think that any fact checking should fall to them.”

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Dan Walker was walking his dog when he met Tony Foulds

He makes clear that the star is in recognition “of the impact of the commemorative event had in drawing together so many people in such a passionate and reflective way.”

(Obviously the city council views Foulds’ achievements, in getting a few million viewers on breakfast telly,  as equal to other Sheffield Legends, such as astronaut Helen Sharman or film star Sean Bean.)

But not all those thousands watching in Endcliffe Park in February felt the same. “I cried when the flypast happened because this was the wrong history,” said one.

And others, the park users, the dog walkers, those who worked and lived nearby, wondered how it was they had never seen nor heard of Tony Foulds before Dan Walker came along and tweeted his story without checking.

There are few names in this account because vitriol has been directed at those who question this version of events. Foulds himself has colourfully described me on tape as “a piece of sh*t.” Twice comments on the Sheffield History Facebook page have been suspended because of abuse. It is above ironical that people interested in local history should refuse to accept the facts.

Many people ask why does this matter? It’s a good story, why spoil it? But doesn’t the truth matter? Why did no one, the city council, the Sheffield Star and, shamefully, the prestigious Yorkshire Post, feel big enough and brave enough to challenge the BBC?

As one contributor on the Sheffield History page, echoing the newspaper editor in John Ford’s Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, said: “When the fact becomes legend, print the legend.”

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Tony Foulds: Hero or villain?

*There is a video based on my earlier blog post at https://youtu.be/c5q8uMouXRg

AND IF YOU’RE STILL NOT SURE:

#In the 1990s local publisher Alistair Lofthouse, planning his own book on the Mi Amigo, put up posters at the memorial asking for information. That way he contacted David Harvey and agreed to publish his book. Despite allegedly keeping vigil there, Tony Foulds did not come forward.

#Dan Walker tweeted excitedly at 12.25pm on 2 January, within hours of meeting Foulds. He had no time to check and it was seriously inaccurate. “Just met an amazing man in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield. Tony Foulds was an 8-year-old playing in the park when a US plane crashed in Feb 1944. He has diligently maintained the memorial ever since. He was planting new flowers. Almost 75 years of service. What a man. I’m in bits.”

#Friends of Porter Valley, volunteers who help maintain and tidy the park, including the memorial, had never heard of Foulds until Dan Walker.

#Despite being contacted by local people who raised their doubts about the story the BBC ignored them.

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The memorial around 2005 after the annual ceremony – obviously uncared for. So where was Tony?

Tony and the Mi Amigo – does it add up?

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Tony Foulds outside the memorial

BY now the whole world knows of Tony Foulds, the 82-year-old Sheffield man who almost daily tends the memorial to the crew of the USAAF bomber Mi Amigo which crash landed in Endcliffe Park in February, 1944.

He believes the pilot of the Flying Fortress tried to wave him and other children playing in the park that day out of the way before it crashed. All 10 on board died.

He says he has felt ‘guilt’ ever since that day.

When his story was aired on BBC Breakfast by show host Dan Walker in January as a result of a chance meeting there was an unprecedented reaction. The world was touched by the story of a man who had, in the words of the BBC, tended to the memorial ‘almost every day for decades’ or ‘since 1944’ as the Guardian reported.

His efforts were honoured by a flypast over the memorial this February on the 75th anniversary of the crash. Tony has been feted, local people want him to be awarded an honour and city council leader Julie Dore has called for him to get a ‘star’ in the pavement outside the Town Hall.

But does Tony’s story stand up?

Here he is in a YouTube video recorded in November, 2018, and uploaded the following month, filmed by Sheffield University journalism student Harry Gold https://youtu.be/KEUJfLEaWco in which he says that two years ago he broke from his usual routine and, instead of meeting friends, he visited the memorial. He noticed ‘ how dilapidated the memorial was. From that day on I put flowers on, swept it, made sure that it was clean.’ That’s commendable but hardly very long. And it was recorded before he met Walker.

I am not the only one to wonder whether Tony has been doing this for half or all of his life. Local journalists who have written about the Mi Amigo over the years, have never met him.* By his own admission he never turned up over the years for the annual service at the memorial on the anniversary of the crash, which seems odd.

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David Harvey’s book on the crash

His devotion was missed by the Friends of Porter Valley, who tidy up the park, including the memorial. I was told: “We had not come across Tony before Dan Walker brought him to everyone’s attention. We have undertaken some volunteer work day activities at and around the memorial over the years but presumably not at the time or times Tony has been there.”

Tony’s work at the memorial might have gone unnoticed but for that chance meeting with Walker, who stopped to talk.

Walker tweeted excitedly on January 2: “Just met an amazing man in Endcliffe Park. Tony Foulds was an 8-year-old playing in he park when a US plane crashed in February 1944. He has diligently maintained the memorial ever since. He was planting new flowers. What a man. I’m in bits.”

Perhaps if Walker had been less in bits he would have carried out basic journalistic checks.

For a start, the memorial wasn’t put up until 1969 – a quarter of a century after the event.

He could have interviewed the expert on the crash, David Harvey, author of the definitive account, ‘Mi Amigo – The Story of Sheffield’s Flying Fortress.’ It was published in 1997 after four years of research.

Harvey would have told him the story of the plane avoiding the children was an ‘urban legend’ which first emerged in the 1990s. “There is no factual evidence to support or corroborate this story,” he writes in his book.

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Casting doubt on Tony’s version of events

Harvey recalls Walker messaging him on Facebook on January 23, well after the story was aired on TV, but not following up. The two men have not spoken.

Harvey points out none of the newspaper articles at the time mentions the children or Tony. He writes that if the pilot had swerved to avoid the children the nose of the Mi Amigo should have been pointing uphill. In fact, eye witness reports and photographs show it pointing down. “It could not have been trying to make the infamous belly landing.”

It has since emerged that the plane had circled the city for about an hour and tenders from the National Fire Service had been standing by.

Far from attempting to make a belly landing the Mi Amigo had suddenly spiralled down out of the sky. Tony’s story is at odds with eye witness reports.

Not long after Walker’s report the BBC began getting calls which threw doubt on Tony’s story. But the flypast had been arranged, the BBC had booked the Endcliffe Park Cafe as its headquarters for the live broadcast, thousands were going to turn up.

Local and regional newspapers were also informed. ‘At this stage, having assessed all of the material presented to me by one of my best journalists, I am not minded to publish,’ one executive told me.

I met Tony at the memorial, now covered with wreathes and flowers, and asked him about the November 2018 video, made before he became a celebrity, in which he said he had been tending it for two years.

He said this was the point at which he had decided to give the monument “a bit of colour.”

He insisted he had been attending the site since 1953, at the age of 17, when he had realised the full significance of what had happened. When I pointed out the monument had not been erected until 1969 he claimed there had been “a hole in the ground and a plaque.” He also went around sprinkling flowers.

Author Harvey, who records in his book that the memorial came about through the efforts of Bert Cruse of the RAFA, says this “is the first time I have heard of a plaque prior to the erection of the RAFA stone in 1969.”

At this point in our conversation Tony was getting agitated. Asked how he reconciled his account of the attempted belly landing with eye witness reports in the book of the plane spiraling down he then agreed it had “plummeted,” seemingly contradicting himself.

Tony made clear he did not agree with Harvey’s book. He stressed he himself had been an eye witness and turned away to meet his fans.

But I was left with questions: Why were Tony’s own recollections of the crash so at variance with others and of the evidence? Why had so few encountered him before Walker?

Perhaps only Tony knows the answer.

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The memorial in Endcliffe Park

*Since this post was first written an article in The Star from February, 2018, has come to light with Tony retailing the same account. His claim was reported but not verified against the paper’s own records nor with Harvey’s Mi Amigo book.