Who do you think you are?
Kevin Whately

Kevin Whately - How we did it

Fishing Tycoon

Great-grandfather: Frederick Phillips

Percy and Howard Phillips
Percy and Howard Phillips

Kevin had discovered that Doris made a career out of performing. But her brothers, fellow Jesmond Jesters Percy and Howard, had made their living by working for their father, Frederick Phillips. Frederick was a self-made man who had built a thriving business empire. Kevin wanted to find out more about this impressive character and explore what had happened to his business.

Step 1

Kevin's cousin sent him an obituary of Frederick. It revealed that Frederick had emerged from a farming family in Bedford to set up a single fish shop in Newcastle, which developed into an empire of retail fish outlets and wholesale operations along the British coast.

During the First World War, Frederick had been a member of the Government Advisory Committee on Fisheries. He died in 1932. Kevin knew that Percy and Howard had taken over the business. But the business dwindled after the brothers took charge.

Step 2

Kevin went to the probate office in Newcastle to collect a copy of Frederick's will. He discovered that at the time of Frederick's death, his business would have been worth the equivalent of £2 million in today's money. Kevin was keen to know how Frederick had built up the business and what had gone wrong when the theatrical brothers took over.

Step 3

Kevin met Dr Rob Robinson, who is a local expert on the history of fishing. Rob explained that Frederick had been in the right place at the right time as the herring industry boomed. When fish and chips emerged as the first fast food of Victorian Britain, the business thrived.

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Dr Robinson explains the boom and bust of the family business

But Percy and Howard were not so lucky. Rather than being bad businessmen and losing the family fortune, they had inherited the fish business during the height of the Depression. In the will, Rob also pointed out that the business came to the brothers with a considerable amount of debt. It appeared that in the economic climate of their time, Percy and Howard had done well to manage as long as they did.

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