A well-known and popular North Yorkshire innkeeper has died, aged 73. Roy Templeton looks back at the life of mine host, Mike Fox.

As the industrial correspondent for Scotland's biggest selling tabloid paper during the early 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher was in her full pomp, Mike Fox saw at first hand the many strikes that permeated a country trying to come to grips with the decline of its many heavy industries.

Joining The Daily Record in 1981after a spell working in the slightly calmer waters of the UK shipping industry newspaper, Lloyds List, Fox's reports on everything from long-running oil industry construction disputes to the national miners' strike were widely read by the great and not so great throughout Scotland.

He was on first name terms with most of the union leaders of the time and his wide knowledge of the shipping industry in particular meant he was also widely trusted by those in charge of Scotland's hugely changing heavy industries.

But it came as no great surprise to him when he later became involved in a headline-grabbing newspaper strike of his own when Daily Record owner of the day, Robert Maxwell, locked out his staff over his latest attempt to cull jobs.

A bitter three-week strike - when Mr Fox and fellow workers brought out their alternative newspaper and later took the newspaper tycoon to an industrial tribunal - left a lasting impression.

That, along with Maxwell's attempts to siphon off staff pension money, resulted in him leaving the business he loved and upping sticks with his Bridge of Allan-based family and moving south to North Yorkshire where he ran an idyllic country pub in the village of Thornton Watlass for almost 30 years.

For many the transition from wordsmith to mine host would be a challenge but he took to it like a beer lover takes to real ale.

His natural curiosity and genuine interest in the lives and loves of the many regulars and visitors he would serve over 28 years, allied to the friendly nature of his wife Margaret, made The Buck Inn a shining example of an old-fashioned community rural pub, nestled as it was right next to the village green cricket pitch. 

Darlington and Stockton Times: Mike Fox behind the bar of the Buck Inn, Thornton Watlass, where he was a fixture for more than 28 yearsMike Fox behind the bar of the Buck Inn, Thornton Watlass, where he was a fixture for more than 28 years (Image: CONTRIBUTOR)

Indeed both the pub and cricket ground frequently pop up in various tomes - a Times letter in 1995 claimed it was "the world's finest cricket ground" - feted both for its warm welcome and hospitality but uniquely for the fact that the pub wall doubles up as the boundary because the road between pub and pitch is deemed too close to the wicket.

The pub regularly welcomed Mike's journalistic acquaintances as guests and also the acting fraternity, including the cast of Heartbeat who were filming in the village.

"Foxy" was noted for his kind nature but also had a mischievous nature and playing up to the stereotypical canny nature of a combined Yorkshireman and adopted Scot.

On a horse racing trip to Huntingdon, which became one of his many favoured hobbies, he took delight in securing discounted rail tickets, reduced-price food and drink due to CAMRA membership and also persuaded a neighbour to obtain free entry into the races.

And to mark the millenium, the cricket club decided to go one better than both Edgbaston and Old Trafford , who had recently held day/night matches under floodlights, with mixed results.

"This will be another example of Yorkshiremen doing things better," Foxy proclaimed, with some accuracy.

Floodlights were then obtained, possibly under cover of darkness, from a nearby motorway repair site, black mushroom sheets were used as sightscreens, black bin liners covered white batting pads and cards indicating 4 and 6 were purloined from Yorkshire Tea.

The match was then started with a massive rocket launch that must have shaken the nearby military barracks, and following the game, Foxy held court in The Buck with his customary bonhomie.

He also delighted in confusing a freelance journalist who'd taken umbrage at having a new unknown competitor on his patch. The irate freelancer's confusion about who this Mike Fox was intensified when the next by-lined piece purported to be written by someone of the name Thornton Watlass.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Mike was well-known for his michevious natureMike was well-known for his michevious nature (Image: CONTRIBUTOR)

Michael Joseph Fox - he frequently mentioned that he was the original Michael J Fox - was born in Edgware in North London in December 1950 to nurse Betty and sales director Joe. The couple already had a daughter Josephine.

Being a Yorkshireman from Rosedale, Mike's dad frequently took the family on holidays in the county, where they had a holiday cottage in Blades, Low Row.

Mike's childhood was spent in Hendon, Newton Aycliffe and then later in Bengeo in Hertfordshire but he frequently accompanied his dad on sales trips to the north of England, beginning a lifetime of asking questions about the hows and whys of various things.

Amongst his early interests, some of them verging on the obsessive, were buses and trains, while he also started writing his own newspaper while attending Hertford Grammar School.

Noted for being the first in his secondary year to wear long trousers , he was later often teased by  Buck regulars who said he still seemed to be wearing the same pair well into his 60s.

Hospitality summer jobs, including learning silver service at The White Horse in Hertingfordbury, possibly set up him up for his future career as did his love of convivial conversation over a drink.

Gaining 5 A Levels at school, which he frequently bragged about, he then enrolled at Newcastle Polytechnic to study sociology, a subject he later conceded was a complete waste of time.

It was in Newcastle that he met landscape design student Margaret, the duo pairing up at a dance competition. They won the dance contest and then never separated.

On graduating, they moved south to marry and start their careers, tying the knot in September 1974 in St Sileses Church in Blackburn and honeymooning  by the shore of Lake Como in Italy.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Mike Fox, with saome of the cast of All Creatures Great And Small, who were filming in the villageMike Fox, with saome of the cast of All Creatures Great And Small, who were filming in the village (Image: CONTRIBUTOR)

Moving further south, Margaret took up employment designing landscapes for Herts County Council while Mike began work as a journalist on The Herts and Essex Observer in Bishops Stortford before later moving to Lloyd's List in London.

The birth of the couple's two children William and Jenny followed, while grandchildren Callum and Ewan brought joy in more recent times.

In 1981 they moved to Scotland where Mike was one of the dying breed of industrial correspondents, complete with much-needed duffle coat and 40 Hamlet cigars a day.

His antipathy to Record owner Maxwell was widely shared by his newspaper colleagues and many eyebrows were raised years later when Mike returned from a family holiday in Portugal - just a little after Maxwell had fallen off a boat and drowned there.

Foxy took to the life of an innkeeper well and his pub was known for many miles around for its late night lock-ins when a family-sized measure of whisky was offered and accompanied frequently by renditions of The Wild Rover.

His fondness for customer "tabs" was welcomed by his regulars although it came back to haunt him one day when his cash til was taken by an opportunistic thief and he spent the next few hours running around the village green attempting to reclaim the many tabs that had been scattered when the cash was taken. 

The couple enjoyed holidays to far flung places including China, Japan and Barbados, although one trip to Corsica didn't quite go to plan when Mike was bitten on the bottom by an angry local pig, an act he regularly attempted to revenge by ordering pork in many restaurants.

His 55th birthday was noted with a Buck Inn  trip up to Wensleydale in a London Routemaster bus, made even more memorable with the vehicle having to offload half its passengers who had to walk up the hill to Aysgarth as the weight was too much.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Mike Fox served regulars and visitors to the Buck Inn, Thornton Watlass, for nearly three decadesMike Fox served regulars and visitors to the Buck Inn, Thornton Watlass, for nearly three decades (Image: RICHARD DOUGHTY)

A firm believer in the power of local communities, he was a well read man - he built up a collection of Times obituaries that he particularly liked- and he took pride in supporting the underdogs in society, while being dubbed The Only Lefty in The Village in a staunchly Conservative area was a jibe he welcomed firmly.

Selling The Buck to start semi retirement in 2014 he continued to stay just around the corner in his beloved Thornton Watlass. Part time jobs followed, one on various Yorkshire race courses with Tote Bookmakers and another encouraging residents to make sure they completed the census.

He continued to frequent his former pub as a customer following his retirement, using the collection of his daily newspapers for what he referred to as "his paper pint" on a daily basis as well as "picking up a stamp pint" , "taking the dog for a walk pint" and regularly "claiming to look for his neighbour Barry pint" 

Mike Fox, journalist and innkeeper, was born on December 2, 1950. He died on January 27, 2024, after a brief illness.

His funeral takes place in Thornton Watlass at 2pm on Friday February 23.