The Adventures of the Sons of Neptune, the story of six heroic sons of Scarborough

Six sons of Scarborough continue to ride the waves of victory in a new book, as Jeannie Swales discovers Photographs by Tony Bartholomew

A battle royal was waged 30 years ago between the Goliath of Yorkshire Water Authority and a tiny David: six pillars of the Scarborough community – a solicitor, a chiropodist, an accountant, a bookie, a teacher and a marketing man.

In essence, it was a fairly simple debate. The water authority needed to deal with the town’s effluent and contended that, given a long enough outfall, any harmful bacteria dumped into the sea wouldn’t wash back up on the shore. And, even if it did, it wouldn’t have survived hours in the icy water and would be harmless. The men, who called themselves the Sons of Neptune, argued that it certainly would be washed back to shore and that it would just be comatose, waiting only for a little warmth to revive its virulence.

Both sides called in some pretty big guns, with government ministers and respected scientists from all over the world having their say. The upshot was victory for the sons, with the outfall, officially opened in 2001, built at the location they deemed most suitable.

And now, 30 years after the sons first raised their voices in protest, the whole extraordinary story has been told by founder member Charles (Chas) White in his new book, The Adventures of the Sons of Neptune.The book’s cover instantly reassures anyone expecting a dry-as-dust scientific tome that they’re in for some fun, with its penny-dreadful typeface, hands clutching prison bars and the sons’ crowning moment of insurrection – an inflatable craft decked out as the ‘Thatcherloo’ chugging along a suitable choppy Thames towards Westminster (a stunt which did actually see them briefly behind bars).

Chas’s idiosyncratic style means there’s never a dull moment, and the book is less a straight narrative, more a series of meandering essays, with the odd science bit suddenly punctuated by hilarious accounts of birthday bathtubs on the beach, a mock trial of Richard III, gruesome horror festivals in small Spanish towns and a seemingly endless cast of ever more eccentric characters.

But there is also a serious undercurrent. Dublin-born chiropodist Chas, who recently celebrated his 70th birthday, will be familiar to many through his Sunday evening BBC Radio York rock’n’roll show; his membership of the Laurel and Hardy appreciation society, the Sons of the Desert (from which the Sons of Neptune whimsically took their name, a move which he later speculated might have undermined their serious purpose) and his authorship of two well-received official biographies of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. But fun-loving though he is, his passion for and dedication to environmental issues is unswerving.

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‘It’s not over yet,’ he says. ‘We still live in a greed-ridden society – people are more interested in what’s happening on the stock exchange than they are in human life or the environment.

But all life came originally from the sea – if we don’t look after it, what else have we got?’

He was also motivated to write the book to pay tribute to the other original members of the group including official leader and local solicitor Freddie Drabble, accountant Chris Found, teacher Geoff Nunn, bookmaker Cecil Ridley and Pilkington’s marketing manager Bryan Dew.

‘We couldn’t have done it without them, Freddie in particular,’ says Chas. ‘He grew up on the north side of Scarborough, he knew those beaches – he’d seen the marine life on them die slowly over the years because they weren’t looked after properly.’

And there are moving stories of the unofficial seventh son – the late Captain Sydney Smith, a man whose unparalleled knowledge of marine ways meant he was still editing Olsen’s Fisherman’s Nautical Almanac till late in his life, and who could puncture yet another scientific opinion by drily observing that it wasn’t just dangerous bacteria that could wash up on the beaches, but ‘dead bodies too’.

It goes without saying – but let’s say it anyway – that Neptune would certainly be proud of his sons and their ongoing environmental campaign.

The print version of this article appeared in the March 2012  issue of Yorkshire Life 

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