The inspector thousands love

IT SEEMS the most unpromising of material - tales from the life of a school inspector. A little dry, surely? Hardly the stuff of comedy? More of a horror story, teachers might add.

Not in North Yorkshire. Gervase Phinn, raconteur, poet, author and until recently the county inspector, has moulded this unpromising premise into a bestseller.

In the past month alone, 7,000 people have bought his first volume of gently humorous reminiscences, The Other Side of the Dale, a tale of predatory widows, disarmingly honest children and other colourful characters.

Only Angela's Ashes, the rather more harrowing reminiscences of Frank McCourt, which is enjoying the fruits of a movie adaptation, keeps him off the top spot this week in the non-fiction paperback charts. A secondvolume, Over Hill and Dale, published by Michael Joseph earlier this year, has also made an appearance in the hardback top 10.

Their success may have been helped by Gervase's high profile as a public speaker - he's rated one of the best on the education conference circuit. And the books have earned him a serialisation on Radio 4 and an appearance - twice - on Esther Rantzen's talk show.

He may not yet be up there with Harry Potter or the Naked Chef, but Gervase has found a niche in the quirky tales of Yorkshire previously inhabited by James Herriot, to whom his volumes have been compared - a case of It Shouldn't Happen to a School Inspector.

Except that when it comes to the headlice, most teachers no doubt think that it should...

Nicolas Barnard

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