Gervase Phinn – comedian, author, poet, broadcaster, lecturer, educational guru, after-dinner speaker and “born raconteur” (The Guardian) – is perhaps best known for his best-selling series of five Dales books for Penguin. Affectionately dubbed ‘the James Herriot of Schools’, his warm-hearted reminiscences about the life of a schools inspector in the Yorkshire Dales. have featured heavily on Radio 4: Book Of The Week and Book At Bedtime slots. He has also written a wide range of academic books, children’s poetry and fiction, has made numerous TV and radio appearances, is a weekly columnist on the Yorkshire Post and has spent the last six years developing a rollickingly good stand-up routine based on his unique and comprehensive knowledge of life in and around education.
Having reached an audience of over 300,000 people, he is one of the most consistently popular live performers in the country, selling out theatres throughout the UK. Two best-selling live DVDs bear testimony to his engaging and thought-provoking brand of educational stand-up – Tales From The Dales (2007) and Live Again: The Inspector Calls (2008).
When he’s not signing books, public speaking, touring theatres and weaving stories and tales into comedy gold, he’s writing more books.
With an incisive memory, an expansive catalogue of diaries and a popular weekly column for the Yorkshire Post generating more material, Gervase obviously has a keen eye for a story: “I save up funny anecdotes. I’ve got this catalogue of notebooks and a journal I’ve kept for 40 years. If I come across something in the newspaper, I use it.”
The principle of recycling found material also informs his stand-up routine: “The kind of humour I have is life-affirming – it’s optimistic, observational, anecdotal. The stories, readings and poems I do isn’t cutting-edge – it’s not got the acidity of Jonathan Swift or Oscar Wilde, which can be bitingly cruel but very funny. We’re all interested in the stories in life where the pompous person is knocked off his pedestal, the do-you-know-who-I-am character is brought down to earth and the conceited person has the conceit taken out of them. It’s also about children, ostensibly, who are naturally very funny and often come out with the most amazingly philosophical, profound and highly amusing commentaries on life. They don’t know anything about skin colour, race, background, religion, they are brutally honest and will ask questions we as adults feel a bit tentative about asking.”
His ongoing live show is an ever-changing mixture of old favourites and new stories, honed into a magical routine that works time and again: “I’ve been doing stage shows for eight years”, he says, “and when they first asked me, I said ‘let’s do four or five nights in Yorkshire and see how they go’. Then they sort of snowballed. I’ve got people who come and see me again and again. I get to a lot of people.”
And at 63 years young, Gervase has no desire to take life easier either: “I suppose I don’t like the idea of getting older. I can’t retire, play golf, do the Telegraph crossword, tidy up the garden and put my feet up. It’s never been in my nature to do that. I’m not one who picks things up very quickly but I’m very persevering and I’ve been very determined and ambitious. I had parents that always believed I would succeed in life and they went to great pains to build up my self-esteem and self-confidence.”