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24 September 2014
Voices from the Clarences

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Voices: Turning words into action
Joe Tasker (right) with Chris Bonington, Alan  Rouse and Pete Boardman on the summit of Mount Kongur.

From Port Clarence to Everest
By David Cairns

Joe Tasker started climbing when he was in Port Clarence boy scouts, and made the sport his career - climbing on Everest and K2.
 56k Joe Tasker slideshow (Realplayer)

Joe Tasker, right, on Mount Kongur.
Joe and Mary.
Joe Tasker pictured around 1960 with his sister Mary.

Mary McCourt remembers her little brother Joe climbing dangerously on the gates of Middlesbrough's famous transporter bridge.

As the eldest child in a family of ten growing up in Port Clarence in the Fifties, she was responsible for her siblings.

She remembers panicking on the bridge's moving platform, wanting Joe and his brothers to come inside and sit down where they'd be safe.

"My brother Joe started climbing very early," she says, "and he ended up climbing mountains for a career."

The mountains Mary's brother went on to climb include The Eiger, Kangchenjunga, K2 and Everest.

Joe Tasker

Joe Tasker
Joe Tasker in his early thirties.

Joe Tasker died in 1982, but his life and achievements are still world-famous.

His books about climbing, Everest the Cruel Way and Savage Arena, are classics of the genre, and he is recognised as one of the fathers of modern alpine-style Himalayan climbing.

The annual Boardman-Tasker prize for mountain literature commemorates Joe and his climbing partner Pete Boardman, who were last seen alive on the previously unattempted east-north-east ridge of Everest on 17 May 1982.

Joe was 34 and Pete was 31.

Port Clarence

Joe tasker stands with others holding a large coil of rope.
Joe Tasker (left) climbing with other teenagers.

In an inteview with BBC Radio Cleveland in 1980, Joe remembered his early life in Port Clarence.

He said his interest in climbing started as a boy scout in Port Clarence when he was taken on trips to the Lake District and the Cleveland Hills.

"We used to go down the River Tees as young lads getting into trouble, and getting dirty, and climbing gave an outlet for that which was more acceptable to my parents," he told presenter Anne Davies.

"We don't really enjoy climbing in the Himalayas.

"Climbing in the Cleveland Hills is just great - you can get down to the pub in the evening, you're climbing on warm sun-baked rock, and there's no risk of avalanches."

Married in 1945

Betty Tasker.
Betty Tasker today, in her Billingham home.

Joe's mother Betty was originally from Coulby Newham, and was living in Haverton Hill in 1945 when she married.

Unable to find a house in the area, she moved with her husband Tom to Hull where Joe was born in 1948.

In 1955 the family took the chance to come back north when a council house became available in Port Clarence: 5 Queen's Terrace, near St Thomas's church and Port Clarence primary school.

The school and the church have long been demolished after the area's industrial decline caused the population to slump, and while there is still a Queen's Terrace in Port Clarence, it isn't the original - the Taskers' house was also knocked down in the mid-1960s.

Ten children

Tom Tasker took this photo from his home - it shows next door's backyard, with outside toilet, and St Thomas's Church.

Tom Tasker had ten children to provide for, and worked long hours as a caretaker in a school in Middlesbrough - taking the transporter bridge to work every day.

Most of the children attended the local schools, but Joe was sent as a boarding pupil to Ushaw Seminary in County Durham, until he decided at the age of 20 not to become a priest.

Instead he worked first as a dustman and in a quarry before deciding to study sociology at Manchester University.

His climbing career followed a similar pattern of hard physical effort followed by intellectual labour, as he wrote up his expeditions for publication.

Tom Tasker remembers that Joe's climbing and literary acquaintances were often surprised his family weren't middle class, but climber Dick Renshaw recalled that Joe enjoyed working as a dustman because his, "forthright nature and ability to communicate with people from all walks of life broke down any barriers."


Four climbers in all-in-one red suits.
L - R: Joe Tasker, Chris Bonington, Peter Boardman and Alan Rouse pictured on Mount Kongur in China, 1981.

Joe Tasker's parents still live in Billingham, not far from Port Clarence.

Joe's ice-axe and crampons hang on their living-room wall, alongside framed photographs of Joe with Sir Chris Bonington and other famous mountaineers.

The Tasker family's pride in Joe is evident.

They still seem almost shocked by quite how far his climbing took him.


Get Realplayer (it is free) and you can hear Joe and his family talk about climbing and Port Clarence, and see their photos by following the links below.

 56k Joe Tasker slideshow (Realplayer)
Many thanks to Joe's family, the Estate of Joe Tasker, and Sir Chris Bonington, who retain copyright of all the photographs in this slideshow.

 56k Anne Davies interviews Joe Tasker (Realplayer)
Hear the full interview, originally broadcast on BBC Radio Cleveland in early 1980. Joe talks about the beginnings of his climbing career, his major expeditions, and even the famous "Yeti" incident.

 56k News bulletin (Realplayer)
How BBC Radio Cleveland originally reported Joe Tasker's death. This recording was made from the radio by Tom Tasker.

The Clarences
Why did the BBC choose to get involved in The Clarences?
More from Voices
More from Voices
What is Voices?
Capturing the stories, concerns and aspirations of those unheard voices across the UK.
Find out more here.


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