GERVASE is a funny name for a lad from a tough-as-teak Yorkshire steel town.
Born in Rotherham shortly after the end of the Second World War and brought up in a country still very much in a ‘make do and mend’ mood, Phinn says that his mother may have prayed to St Gervase of Milan when she was not too many weeks away from his birth.
“I cannot think of any other reason why I should have been given the name that I got,’’ he laughs.
“But in a strange way I think it has proved part of my success. I’ve had, ‘Hello Grevious’ or ‘Gregarious . . . I’ve not seen you for a long time.’ People are always getting my name wrong.
‘’I was at lunch with Sebastian Coe, and he said to me that if you were raised in Sheffield, as he was, and you were called Sebastian, you pretty soon learned to be a fast runner.
“I said to him, ‘And if you were brought up in Rotherham, with a name like Gervase, you had to learn pretty darn quick to be good with your mouth, and have a good sense of humour.’’ Author, columnist, comic-writer and sought-after public speaker, Phinn is probably best-known for his Dales series of books, detailing his real-life observations as a school inspector in North Yorkshire.
His warm-hearted reminiscences have featured heavily on BBC Radio 4’s Book Of The Week and Book at Bedtime slots.
And since he started his working life as a teacher, he has been passionate about getting children to learn to read as early as they can, emerging with a love of books.
“Teaching is the best job there is — I always tell that to all the young would-be teachers I meet.
‘’It is so important for children to enjoy books — it can open up the world to them.’’ He has also written a wide range of academic books, children’s poetry and fiction and added: ‘’I love books. Proper books. Books that you can hold and where you can turn the pages.
“I’m no Luddite, but watching someone with a Kindle, well, I don’t know. Where’s the pleasure in that?
“I read somewhere about a school closing their library and giving the kids Kindles instead. I found that very sad because that takes away a child discovering a book by chance.’’ Phinn puts his success as a storyteller down to advice given to him by his university tutor and just life’s experiences.
He said: ‘’My grandmother, what a character she was. She’d come out with some wonderful expressions. Like: ‘Her? She’s got a mouth on her like a torn pocket.’ “Another of hers was: ‘You can’t bar a door with a boiled carrot.’ Wonderful.
“My tutor said the best advice I can give you is this — read, read, read. Be a bibliomaniac.
“And secondly, always write things down. Anything children say to me is written down.
“When people come to my concerts and and tell me their stories it might turn up in a book.
“So the stories are real, although they are embellished a little. At Darwen, my show will be full of Christmas anecdotes, poems and tales. I always look forward to coming to Lancashire.’’
- An evening with Gervase Phinn, Darwen Library Theatre, Saturday, December 8. Details from 01254 706006.