Come Yew On, Tergether!
A rich crop of Norfolk dialect writing harvested by Keith Skipper
Keith Skipper, at the heart of local life for half-a-century as journalist, broadcaster and entertainer, hit the book-publishing trail in the mid-1980s with three volumes of dialect broadcasts he made as ‘Old Barney’, BBC Radio Norfolk’s rural correspondent. Now he brings together the largest number of dialect scribes and supporters ever assembled under one Norfolk roof.
He takes a fascinating story from the latter part of the 17th century, when one of Norfolk’s most famous adopted sons, Sir Thomas Browne, first noticed the place had a dialect of its own, to the current revival sparked by the formation in 1999 of Friends Of Norfolk Dialect, of which Keith was a prime mover.
His treasury of a still-vibrant vernacular embraces firm favourites like comedian Sidney Grapes, writer of the evergreen ‘Boy John Letters’, schoolmaster and poet John Kett, talented all-rounder Dick Bagnall-Oakeley, Methodist minister Colin Riches, who gave Bible stories a delightful Norfolk flavour, and the Singing Postman.
But there are many others, both from a golden Victorian age and more recent times, ushered into a deserved spotlight after too long in the shadows – neglected figures like Charles Loynes Smith, Norwich city councillor and horse-loving poet, and Harold Fitch, puckish parson and gifted storyteller.
Maurice Woods, creative force behind ‘Harbert’s News from Dumpton’ in local weekly newspapers for nearly 40 years, and Arthur Patterson, in the self-effacing guise of John Knowlittle as he penned ‘Melinda Twaddle’s Notions’ for over three decades in the Yarmouth Mercury, rub shoulders with other newspaper notables such as Eric Fowler (Jonathan Mardle of the Eastern Daily Press), Ida Fenn, who gave the Fleggs district a distinctive voice, and James Spilling, second editor of the EDP and author of the trailblazing ‘Giles’s Trip to London’.
There’s room as well for more ‘serious’ exponents of the dialect art – Mary Mann, James Blyth and Lilias Rider Haggard, while internationally-lauded playwright Arnold Wesker takes a bow as someone significant from outside who did make an effort to get the Norfolk sound right!
Current EDP editor Peter Waters, acknowledging the important role our local newspapers continue to play in this field, writes the foreword to this timely addition to the local literary scene. Peter Trudgill, one of the world’s leading authorities on dialects and the ideal local lad to set the scene for this celebration, contributes a highly erudite and amusing introduction.