to Norfolk Interviews
In 'How to Survive in Norfolk' you quote James
Wentworth Day: "If the rest of Britain sank beneath the
waves, and Norfolk was left alone, islanded in the
turmoil of the seas, it would, I think, survive without
too much trouble". Are you proud of Norfolk's
That quote carries a bit more relevance right now in
light of the controversy sparked by Natural England's proposals to
surrender a large slice of the Broads to the sea! Of course, I admire and laud our sense of
individuality, so often dismissed as sheer cussedness
by those who seek to
impose on Norfolk what they think Norfolk ought to have
- and be grateful
for. I do not want this county to become a boring
photostat of everywhere
else. Many newcomers to Norfolk bring with them horror
stories set in
concrete of counties left behind. They make telling
comparisons as much for
our benefit as for their own. Greedy developers cry "
because they want to belittle legitimate opposition to
ugly excesses. Real
Norfolk will continue to " dew diffrunt" - a text picked
up by the
University of East Anglia when it opened - and those
who genuinely care
what the place looks and feels like will continue to be
having the audacity to ignore bandwagons.
Norfolk County Council Tourism are constantly trying
to promote the
county as a tourist destination. Do you think that, in
doing so, they may well end up spoiling its unique
Tourism can be a useful servant - and a wicked
master. A glance at some parts of the West Country, for example, betrays
how desire to lure more visitors simply destroys the very things they come
to enjoy. Our beautiful coastline, especially in North Norfolk, is
often in danger of
being "loved to death." It is hard to think of anywhere
that has been improved as a result of mass tourism. Tourism moguls constantly produce figures to prove how
much big money they
generate and how many vital jobs they create. It is
impossible to check if
these figures bear any resemblance to the truth. In any
case, there's never
a mention of the downside - how many local lives are
congestion, traffic and people, at the height of the
summer season. Living
in a seaside town like Cromer, I fully accept certain
changes when the sun
beams down - but when it is hazardous to cross the road to get to the shops, and the seafront beyond, it is mighty hard to
smile at all the
visitors! Random parking in residential areas is another
nasty bugbear as
the season gathers pace. To be fair, there
are still attractive corners of Norfolk unsullied by invasion - but it makes perfectly good sense to keep quiet about
them. Look what happed
to North Norfolk in Victorian times when Clement Scott
Poppyland. He lived to regret all that flowery prose
which persuaded so many
to follow in his arty footsteps.
The best summary of how Norfolk should cope with this
dilemma came from an
old boy who worked on the land up to the early 1960s ...
" I dunt mind
sharin' our bewtiful county ..... but beggared if I'm
gorter give it away!"
Do you think that the Norfolk dialect/accent will
survive in the face of globalisation/internet/estuary English/text-speak/McDonalds etc etc?
Yes, I suffer from a fair degree of confidence that
this precious strand of Norfolk life will continue to defy all the
odds, although it will
have to adapt here and there. I am heartened by the fact
that the dialect's
complete demise has been forecast countless times since
Robert Forby put together his wonderful Vocabulary of East Anglia in the
early 1800s. Board schools, railways and the BBC were supposed to spell the
end .. but there are still people torkin proper! Our schools must play a
much bigger role in spreading the vernacular gospel as part of local
Were you aware that
the Singing Postman is now on You Tube?
No - and I don't
suppose he is aware of it either!
What is your favourite place in the county? And why?
I struggle here because I don't want the roads to
paradise clogged. Suffice to say, I still love
wandering the lanes in and around my home
village of Beeston (the real Beeston, in the middle of
the county between
Dereham and Swaffham) and I have been known to make
gentle pilgrimages to
other parishes where the wheels of "progress" grind
exceedingly slow, thank
goodness. Cromer's clifftop paths are best visited
when most sensible folk
are indoors keeping warm.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of
Sid Grapes. I know that you have written a new
introduction for the Boy John Letters. What, in your
opinion, is the reason for their enduring appeal?
The Boy John Letters are unpretentious and genuinely
feature contrasting characters who could have cropped up
in any Norfolk
village in those years of austerity just after the
second world war. They make you smile and think at the same time, especially
when Aunt Agatha unleashes another of her philosophical gems .... "
Thass no good a'puttin' yar foot down if yew hent got a leg ter stand on." The
dialect adds to the lasting appeal because it doesn't smother the humour but
enhances it. Sidney Grapes was a master of both written and spoken Norfolk.
The letters are
meant to be read out loud and they still get plenty of
airings. Yes, there is a whiff of nostalgia for the "good old days" of
tight-knit communities - but that merely adds to the strength of these evergreen
Why do you think Norfolk has inspired so much
literature? Which writer/s
have most influenced you?
A subject worthy of several books on its own! Some
look up at big
skies and get busy. Others listen to the waves breaking
or the seagulls
crying .. and that's another chapter in the bag. All, I
recognise Norfolk's power to stimulate and challenge
because it is so different in so many ways. "On the road to nowhere" is a
proud boast, not a
lame admission. Writers can find immense variety here
for backcloth material
and there's always that glorious penchant for
understatement among locals to
spice the pages. Raw material abounds.
Lilias Rider Haggard, daughter of the great Sir Henry
Rider Haggard, (King
Solomon's Mines, She etc} wrote some of the best volumes
on Norfolk life, before, during and after the second world war. I
love the way she
pinned all kinds of people on to enduring natural
backgrounds to emphasise
how we are fashioned by our surroundings - and how much
we need to keep them intact. Fenland chronicler Edward Storey (now
ploughing fresh furrows in Wales), Victorian novelist Mary Mann, who found
humour and dignity in ugly rural deprivation, and Eric Fowler, who wrote with
such style and
meaning under the pen-name of Jonathan Mardle in the
Eastern Daily Press,
where I worked alongside him for a spell, are other important inspirations.
Is it true that F.O.N.D. was formed because of the
'All the King's Men'? Ten years on, however, the accents
in Kingdom are
still dreadful. Do you think TV and film companies will
ever do Norfolk
Yes, that fresh plague of "Mummerzet" among All The
certainly hastened the birth of FOND - although plans
were well advanced by
that time. There had been countless outbreaks before
that production raised
more hackles. The malady lingers on despite the best
efforts of all those
who cringe at the way national
TV and radio productions
continue to insult
the Norfolk tongue. Yes, it is a hard accent to manage -
but that is no excuse for the abominations we have to endure. There are professional dialect coaches employed to get
somewhere close to the genuine article, but they clearly believe Norfolk is
a little place wedged somewhere between Dorset and Devon. There are
good Norfolk actors and actresses available, but all too often producers say
they must have "names"
to play main roles. Sadly, there seems no immediate prospect of Norfolk
being sensibly portrayed on a national stage.
Talking of Kingdom, what did you think about it?
Not a sight. I am amazed that Stephen Fry, regularly
billed as " a proud
son of Norfolk", makes no obvious attempt to surround
proper Norfolk voices. He must know one when he hears
one! From the little
I have seen - purely for research purposes - it would
seem the programme's
idea of geography is about as good as the local accents.
I fail to see why Swaffham gets so excited over daft suggestions that
it has a beach and can sell sticks of rock. This is tatty tourism, too high
a price to pay for a bit of exposure on the telly and a few quid in local
I believe you are based in Cromer. What do you
like/dislike about the town? I
thought your recent joke about dog-walkers turning it
was very funny.
I shared some of my views in the question about tourism. I do prefer
the place out of season, but there are still dog owners
about to set a big winter challenge with obstacle courses on clifftop
wanders as well as in town. I am angry about the way
planners and developers, with the blessing of blinkered
local councillors, have wrecked the Holt Road
entrance into Cromer - an Area of Outstanding Natural
Beauty - with large, nasty developments. Trouble is, it
was bound to be hard to turn others away after the
North Norfolk District Council gave itself permission to
build new offices on the hill overlooking the Gem of the
North Norfolk Coast. Still, Cromer still has charms in
other corners and a booming rail link, The Bittern
Line, with the rest of the world. The pier and theatre
still flourish but town centre shops need more
support to fight off the threat of supermarket supremacy
on the outskirts.
Norfolk has produced a string of top notch comedians
who have made use of
the Norfolk dialect/accent - including Sid Grapes, Sid
Kipper and the
Nimmo Twins. Do you think there is a uniquely Norfolk
sense of humour? If
so, how would you define it?
It is that lovely use of understatement which stands out as the key
ingredient of Norfolk humour - proving you don't have
to yell, jump up and
down and make a proper tewl of yarself to git a larf!
An old Norfolk boy
standing at the side of the road in driving rain gets a
lift from a passing
motorist. As he clambers aboard, water cascading from
his hat, boots
squelching and his jacket immediately sticking to the
seat, he turns slowly
to the driver and remarks: "Slow ole dry owt ternite,
That says it all.
I understand that the Press Gang will be winding up
this year. I bet that
you have many fond (no pun intended) memories?
Bound to be after 25 years on the road with good friends
who make me chuckle
on and off stage. I recall with great affection how it
began on Cromer Pier
in the summer of 1984 when that twinkling Irishman Dick
Condon invited me to
organise and compere a night of Norfolk entertainment. A
suggested it might be a good idea to take the squit
elsewhere - and our
honeycart of happiness has been rolling ever since.
Perhaps the most
outstanding memory concerns the night I fell off the
stage at Broome Village
Hall while trying to clear a path for one of our
"Keep it in !" went up the cry, while comedian Boy Jimma
strolled to the
microphone, turned round to see if I had clambered back
and confided to the
audience; "He dunt normally dew that!".
We have visited hundreds of village halls, theatres and
other community meeting places - and relished the tag "old-fashioned". We have described
ourselves as the perfect antidote to Saturday night
television. Pride will
mingle with sadness as we end the trail where it started, at the Pavilion
Theatre on Cromer Pier
How did it feel to receive an MBE for "services to
Well, it takes something special to get me out of
Norfolk - and something truly special to get me into London! It was a wonderful
occasion with my family at Buckingham Palace. The Queen told me she
found dialect very hard to read. I informed her that was why I wrote it slowly.
She smiled benevolently. She might have sent me to the Tower - but
I reckon she knew I had to be back on familiar ground the following day. I am extremely grateful for all Norfolk has done for me.
I am extremely proud to be honoured for giving a little in return.
Finally, without wishing to be morbid, what would
you like your epitaph to be?
He wunt a bad ole boy - and he dint dew nowun no harm.