Gervase reluctantly revels in role of new James Herriot

Preview: Gervase Phinn, White Rock Theatre, Saturday, April 9, 7.30pm, tickets £16, box office 01424 462288.

FOR a Yorkshireman who has thrown his life into literature there can surely be no greater accolade than being trumpeted as the new James Herriot.

Teacher-turned-author Gervase Phinn has been hailed just that and, while the softly-spoken northerner modestly distances himself from such comparisons, the popularity of his books based around life in the Yorkshire Dales suggest his fans, at least, agree.

Having grown up in Rotherham and moved into teaching after university, Phinn applied unsuccessfully for a deputy headship and despite the initial setback, it proved a pivotal point in his life.

One of the interview panel suggested he become a schools inspector, Phinn branched out to wider Yorkshire life and his writing, he says, flowed from there.

“I had always written,” he explained on the phone from his wet and windy Rotherham base, “but the new job gave me a wealth of new material and it sort of took off from there.”

More than 70 books later and Phinn is set to embark on a 47-date theatre tour – including his visit to 1066 Country – a part of the world he readily admits rivals God’s Own County in beauty.

“It is true,” he says through no-doubt gritted teeth, “Not much compares to Yorkshire, but Sussex really is a beautiful part of the country and one which I really enjoy visiting.

“Whether or not everyone can understand me is another matter. I have learned to drop the very northern sayings while on stage in the south, or people tend to just stare blankly at me.”

Typically northern his humour may well be, but its roots are in the sort of gentle, inoffensive comedy of his heroes Les Dawson, Al Reid and, more recently, Peter Kay.

A recent article on comedy suggests southerners like to laugh at others, while northerners take fun in laughing together. It is a distinction Phinn readily agrees with.

“There seems to be a lot of comics who poke fun at other, often less fortunate people. You won’t see any of that in my show.

“I am not cutting edge or political. My style is more around telling stories and enjoying shared experiences we can all smile at together than making other people the target.”

Because of this – and the popularity of his novels among older readers – much of his audience falls into the middle-aged bracket.

It is fair to say you will not see people walking out in disgust at any the his material – unlike the four teenagers Phinn said left one show within five minutes after “turning up thinking they were seeing Ricky Gervais”.

His conversational style makes the audience feel they have been transported to a traditional country pub in the Dales.

Tickets, on sale now priced £16 (£1.50 off for concessions) are available from the box office on 01424 462288.

Richard Morris