Review: An Evening with Gervase Phinn

BORN in Rotherham just after World War II, Gervase Phinn became firstly a teacher and then a schools inspector and, latterly, visiting Professor of Education at the University of Teesside. He has written five books about his life as a teacher and schools inspector plus also some collections of poetry and also non-fictional books about education.

An excellent raconteur I had seen Gervase on a couple of occasions previously but this time, at Otley Courthouse last Saturday, his tales had much more relevance for me having now worked for a year in one of the local Primary schools in Leeds.

His observation of children and the comments they come out with is exceptional and he regaled the capacity audience at the Courthouse for nearly two hours with tales that had everyone in fits of laughter.

With it being the start of advent, the majority of his stories in the first half of the show were punctuated with scenarios he had encountered whilst watching nativity plays at schools over the years. On a visit to a school in Doncaster with the Town Mayor, for example, they encountered a small boy who said to them, “The play is off today, Mister”. When asked the reason behind this, the young boy simply replied, “Mary has nits!” He also recounted a conversation with a young girl who was convinced that Jesus had come out of an egg. When asked about this she said, “Well teacher told us that Jesus was laid in a manger!”

Gervase spoke about how receptive children are between the ages of four and six which led onto him talking about his early life in Rotherham where his father was a steelworker and his mother was a nurse. He loved reading books and told about his father building a small shed at the bottom of the garden with a shelf for his books where he would go after school and spend hours reading in there – Biggles, King Solomon’s Mines and Enid Blyton books being his staple diet.

Not all the evening was humorous, however. There were some moments of poignancy when he spoke for example about what makes a good school. He said teachers and governors would reply that it is good teachers, a happy atmosphere etc whereas pupils responded with no bullying!

To end the first half, he talked about going back to his old Primary School where he met one of his former teachers who was now the headmistress. She told him that Miss Wilson, the head when he was there, was still alive and celebrating her 105th birthday that week. He went along to her party at the nursing home where she lived and she was delighted to see him and said how proud she was of what he had achieved as a schools’ inspector.

In the second half, he spoke about talking to the children about biblical parables, and again there were some superb tales concerning these. He also talked about children’s writing and one little girl who in a tale about animals had said she had seen an EGOG. This turned out to be a hedgehog – but showed just how a five-year old's mind works.

To end the evening Gervase talked about funny signs and adverts, again prompting much laughter from the 150 people who had packed the Courthouse for the evening. It had been a great evening, from a superb raconteur. Great observational stories, very humorous, but with some poignancy thrown in as well. An evening I am sure everyone there will remember for a long time.

by John Burland