How successful was Hull UK City of Culture? A view from Down Under

Hull UK City of Culture made the press in the UK, but did it make news in other parts of the world? How about Australia? You bet. A personal view from a child of Hull living in Sydney.

First, a question: Which city is the odd one out: Sydney, Amsterdam, Paris, Vienna, Hull?

Answer: Paris of course. Paris is the only city not to have had a Spencer Tunick naked art installation.

The Announcement of Hull UK City of Culture

Press reaction to the announcement Hull was to be the next UK City of Culture was predictable. Snobbish and derogatory.  Boring commentary to the people Hull. Heard it all before. Water off a duck’s back.  Hull has regularly appeared in lists besmirching its name.  Crap Towns books. Worst Places to live in England. Even The Economist couldn’t resist a bit of Hull trolling. Arguing cities like Hull and Middlesbrough are economically dead. So should be consigned to being commuter towns for other, bigger cities.  

To be fair, Hullencians are a self-deprecating bunch by nature. Many of them perplexed by the announcement too. Not objecting. Smiling wryly. Wondering what it was all about.

When I visited Hull in August 2016 there was much complaining. In preparation for Hull UK City of Culture, the CBD resembled a battleground. Every road and pavement dug up. Replaced temporarily by rough tracks or planks of wood to traverse the mess underneath.

From afar, I’ve observed what I’ll call the Commonwealth Games effect.

I lived in Manchester during the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Mancunians were, on the whole, ambivalent toward the games. Myself included. Many thought it was a waste of money. But, as the Games approached, cultural events around the city created a growing sense of excitement. The atmosphere during the Games was electric.

The Arts Council of England described Hull UK City of Culture as ‘a rip-roaring, awe-inspiring success‘. Viewed from Australia, I’d agree with that. A triumph of an underdog against the odds. A familiar Hollywood trope but also the story of Hull’s tenure as UK City of Culture.

So which of the UK City of Culture events penetrated the 24-hour-news-shit-storm to reach me here in Australia? 

Sea of Hull

Spencer Tunick’s naked art installation Sea of Hull was an inspired decision by the organisers. Hull barged its way into the global press cycle even before Hull UK City of Culture had begun. Stereotypes of pasty, rugged-up (and buttoned-up) northerners were shattered. Overnight. Done. A pristine new cultural canvas created for the city to show what it can do

OK. I’ll admit it. I doubted the people of Hull would be willing to go starkers en masse for Mr Tunick. He previously did his thing in my adopted city, Sydney. The climate here lends itself to butt-nakedness (there are even nudist beaches in quieter coves around the harbour).  

I’m pleased to say I was wrong. I take my hat, and kecks, off to you. Thousands turned up to get bollock naked and paint themselves blue.  Strangers helped each other to paint those difficult to reach spots. Respect. 

Sea of Hull (image: Yorkshire Life)


Opening Night

The air in my house must have been a bit dusty when I watched coverage of the opening night online. My eyes were watery. I felt a frisson of something… was it pride? Emotion? Home calling me?

Huge images projected onto buildings around Queen Victoria Square told the history of the Hull. Relentless pounding by the Germans in World war 2. Sporting triumphs. The commercial impact of the end of the fishing industry.

Locals were overcome with a hitherto unfamiliar feeling. What was it? POSITIVITY. Chuffin bring-it-on!

The City Speaks

Imagine you can speak into a microphone and, real-time, have your words appear in huge illuminated letters across the city.  You’d say words like bum, arse and knob right? Well, I would. The people of Hull did too.

Cutting edge voice recognition software was supposed to block profanity. It wasn’t smart enough to recognise profanity spoken with the distinctive Hull accent. Naughty words slipped through the net. Displayed in huge letters across the city tidal barrier.

The creator described the intent for The City Speaks:

‘…in 1642, Sir John Hotham refused Charles I entry to the city. This act of defiance in the defence of independence is widely acknowledged as the spark that ignited the English Civil War. These principles of resistance and protection lie at the core of The City Speaks. This installation gives a new voice to the people of Hull and, in doing so, celebrates resilience and freedom.”

Entirely worthy of course. Ironically, in subverting the purpose of The City Speaks by using rude words, the people of Hull showed their defiance once again. Cheeky buggers.

Hullywood Icons

Is that Tom Hanks in a loincloth on the muddy banks of the Humber Estuary? Or Superman emerging from a distinctively-Hull white phone box? Don’t be daft. It’s the Hullywood Icons photography project.

Hullywood Icons creates classic Hollywood moments featuring Hull film fans and the cities landscape as a backdrop. Creator Quentin Budworth explains:

‘It started with a simple notion and a play on words: What if Hull was really Hollywood and the people of Hull were film stars? We’d have our own Hollywood but in Hull, Hullywood!

Trust me. These photos are top shelf. Take a look.

Princess Leia
Hullywood Icons: Princess Leia (image source

Humber Street

This one is a venue. Not an event or project. I’ve passively followed the development of Humber Street via friends’ Facebook posts.

In Hull’s heydey, Humber street was the home of Hull’s fruit traders. A place of garage doors swung wide open revealing boxes of fruit from all over the world. Ready to be dispatched across the city an beyond. To be sold by loudmouth market traders and shopkeepers. ‘3 for a pound!‘ ‘get yer lovely sweet tangerines!‘ and so on. My Mam once worked in a cafe on Humber Steet. We’d collect her after work sometimes. I’d watch the comings and goings from inside my Dad’s car while we waited.

Now Humber Street is ‘one of the UK’s trendiest thoroughfares‘. Home to theatre, creative industries, start-ups, outdoor live music events, restaurants and cafes. It’s also home to Hull’s most famous urban artwork: Dead Bod.

The night I was hit by a car on a dark country road just outside Hull
The night I was hit by a car on a dark country road just outside Hull

Feature image:
Sea of Hull image
The City Speaks:
Hullywood Icons image:


  1. I got my kecks off for Spencer Tunick and I’m a proud Hull 2017 Volunteer! Only just discovered your blog Pete but I’m loving it. Long time no see – Sheena

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