Remembering Phil Hutchinson

Phil Hutchinson
Phil, on a balcony at Broadcasting House. Photo by Marianne Khoo.

I met Phil in 2006 in the lobby of Bush House in London. We’d been recruited as trainee Studio Managers and were about to be sent to the Beeb’s training centre, Wood Norton in Evesham, to learn how to manage studios. Presumably. We didn’t know exactly what to expect at the time.

What we should have expected was a man telling us that the women on the training course would be SMs ‘for a few years until you go off and have babies’, another who told us there was a dragon in the mixing desks (or was it a wizard?), and a collection of incredible people at the canteen who wore elaborate fancy dress every Friday, rain or shine, and committed to it with zeal, imagination and themed menus.

Phil wore the cheekiest of grins throughout. He simultaneously took it very seriously and found it tremendous fun. Which was more or less Phil’s approach to life. It was an excellent three weeks.

We trained and drank and argued and I had to rethink how I saw the world. Things I thought were funny were, in fact, sexist, racist and/or homophobic. Phil nudged me into a better way of thinking without judgement.

He was one of the few out, gay people I’d met. This also had a huge influence on my closeted 25-year-old self. I admired his confidence, his curiosity and his passion for all the things he was into.

Phil knew who he was, what he liked and didn’t at a young age. He had a solid kind of morality. He knew a lot about a lot of stuff. Classical music, economics, history and politics were in his wheelhouse but it was an extensive wheelhouse. This list doesn’t begin to cover it.

He loved Terry Pratchett, travelling and climbing. When I met him he had already toured with a youth orchestra and travelled the world. The photo was taken after someone had smuggled an ice-axe into Broadcasting House at Phil’s request.

He had a desk-globe at his flat which he topped with an Indiana-Jones-style hat. He was the sort of person you could arrange to meet in Red Square in a fortnight and he’d be there. Wearing the hat.

In 2014, Phil took a sabbatical from the BBC to go to the Banff Centre, to learn how they do audio engineering in Canada. He died in a car accident that December.

I don’t know what Phil would have gone on to do with his life, but I do feel a profound sense of loss for all the fields he could have made a difference to, and all the people who miss him.

Today is his birthday, so I thought I’d write down a few memories.

Do add yours below.

1 thought on “Remembering Phil Hutchinson

  1. Rach, I remember that Evesham training course, of course I do. I’d been sent there as a ‘grown-up’ studio manager to see how things were going, answer questions and – let’s not beat about the bush here – spy on everyone & work out who might be high-fliers. It didn’t work, because I was so welcomed into the group, it was like going back to school/uni. Grown-up? I regressed to about 11.

    We were put up at a hotel in Broadway, about 15 minutes from the BBC Training centre; some people had driven there and we all squashed into their cars for the journey in each morning. I think we got lost every day; certainly I remember going around roundabouts several times with everyone laughing and talking across each other, pointing in various directions. Phil would certainly have known the way but, equally certainly, would never have made a big deal about it. Probably he said, “Er, this isn’t right,” as we hared off at the wrong exit, but he also completely opened himself to the joy of the ridiculous situation as 6 people compressed into a small hatchback shot down a country lane towards Wyre Piddle or somewhere just as improbable.

    And so it went on, for eight more years, usually accompanied by peals of laughter. I don’t believe I ever saw Phil in a proper bad mood, though BBC idiocies, and small-mindedness generally, could bring him low for a while. You certainly couldn’t stay glum with Phil for very long: the man was just far too interesting. I suppose that was his way; he’d see you banging your head against a wall, laugh kindly for a moment, and then gently lead you away to pastures new, and far more rewarding. My conversations with Phil were usually filled from the very first word to the very last with really interesting stuff; whatever interests we shared, we’d immediately dive deeply into them. It meant that more mundane ‘life information’ was often forgotten, so that changes of address or relationship developments would go by unremarked upon. Luckily, he always lived in the same area of London, so turning up at an old address wasn’t a complete disaster.
    “Phil, I’m outside your flat, I’ve rung the bell five times.”
    “No you’re not, I haven’t lived there since February.”

    I was supposed to be helping train him, but well within a year he was imparting more new ideas and information to me than I was to him. I still have no idea where it all came from. The guy was half my age, and seemingly possessed of a wellspring of enthusiasm for a whole bunch of stuff I’d barely begun to bother with. I would normally be somewhat daunted by someone like that. OK, let’s be real here, I would normally be somewhat depressed by someone like Phil. I’d compare my meagre achievements, at twice his age, to his, and have an attack of what David Baddiel once very usefully called ‘Erfolgstraurigkeit’ – sadness at another’s success, the flip side of Schadenfreude, joy at someone else’s failure.

    But there was never a chance of that happening with Phil. He wore his gifts and accomplishments lightly. By which I mean, so lightly they were barely in contact with him. When I talked with him, we were always on a level plane, because he didn’t have any other mode; he didn’t DO talking down or any of those depressingly familiar micro-aggressions.

    Does all this sound too good to be true? Am I pressing paragon status onto Phil? Yes, probably; I admired him to bits and I didn’t want to find fault with him. But what’s so wrong with that? With some people, you reach a tipping point at which you accept someone in their entirety, warts and all. Love, I think it’s called. I hope he knew.

    Here’s the really sad thing about Phil’s passing: I felt optimistic about the future with a guy like Phil in the world. I thought, this is the new way to think about things. Rational, enlightened, imaginative, utterly egalitarian and fraternal. Now he’s gone, and not only does the world often feel like a new dark age is dawning, the two phenomena feel connected. We’re in the shit BECAUSE Phil’s not here. And I have to remind myself that there must be other Phils. They don’t even have to be his equal, because a quarter of his qualities will suffice. I know, because I’ve often tried to be more like him, and I’ve barely wobbled the needle on the Phil-o-meter.

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