When you tell people you’re from Hull, a look passes across their faces for a fleeting moment, as if someone has left an unidentifiable smell in their en suite.
It’s not disgust, exactly. It’s more like they’re politely trying to hide their confusion and panic. Inside, they’re screaming, “That can’t be good, can it? But what am I going to do about it, OMG what will I say? HELP.”
And I understand. Hull is one of life’s greatest mysteries. It’s widely synonymous with being crap and smelling like fish, and for that reason it doesn’t get much airtime.
Some people can talk to you about Philip Larkin or the Humber Bridge, but for many it’s a blank space of depressed coastal northernness that isn’t Leeds and isn’t Manchester, and sounds a bit like Dull or Hell.
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They have no idea that Hull is the home of the world’s smallest window, that it has its own Craggy Island-style telecommunications network with white telephone boxes, that there is a street called The Land of Green Ginger in the city centre and that people from Hull don’t sound anything like characters in Emmerdale or Coronation Street.
On the contrary, some vowels can be stretched out for days and others sound like a Yorkshire terrier trapped in a well. “Do yow knuuuuuuh heh?” “Uh, nuuuuuuuuuuuh, I duuuun’t knuuuuuuuuuuh heh, do yow?”
Personally, I lost my “uuuuhs” aged seven, when my family moved across the country to the north-west, where people from Hull were considered strange and otherworldly (and thick).
I spent many years being embarrassed about my birthplace and played it down constantly, even moving to Scotland for 30 years to distract myself from it. But maybe I’m getting old and nostalgic, because now, when I hear the siren call of that accent, I’m like Kes flying back to his big suede glove.
One flat “o” sound and I’m immediately standing in the queue at Eileen’s chippy in 1978, staring into the shining metal and glass box filled with scraps of golden batter and drooling out of both sides of my mouth. It is the sound of huuuuuhme.
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So it was great to hear it in full effect in Hullraisers, which has joined Lee and Jenny from Gogglebox in Hull’s almost non-existent TV canon.
Written by comedian Lucy Beaumont, it tells the story of young mother Toni (sorry, “Tuuuuuuhneh”) and her friends; horny police officer Rana and jaded mother of horny teens, Paula, who spent the entire first episode chugging squirty cream into her mouth from the can.
It’s all fairly familiar territory, not a million miles from the chaotic filth of Sharon Horgan’s Pulling, and the unflinching working-class humour of Alma’s Not Normal, but with that certain je ne sais quoi – the Hullness. You see, Hull is intrinsically funny. Everything from the sad bouncy castle in the car park of the Silver Cod, to the guy who says he plays for Hull City but is actually the mascot, is très, très Hull.
In one scene, Toni vows to give up fun so she can concentrate full time on being a responsible mother. “I’m just going to be whuuuuuulesome,” she says, staring out of the window with a tragic look of glassy-eyed boredom, before taking a call and going straight to a party. In any other accent, it wouldn’t have been quite as funny.
But it’s not like Hull does all the heavy lifting – the writing is sharp and warm, the characters are really strong, and everyone seems to be having a riot. I loved it, but even if you don’t know one end of Chanterlands Avenue from the other, I think you might love it too.
Come on, give Hullraisers a chance. And if you don’t, well, you knuuuuh where to guuuuuh.
Hullraisers is on Channel 4 on Tuesdays at 9.50pm and on More 4
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