Tales Out of School by Gervase Phinn – a novel of a school in a small community set in the end of the twentieth century

Tales Out of School: Book 2 in the delightful new Top of the Dale series by  bestselling author Gervase Phinn: Amazon.co.uk: Phinn, Gervase:  9781473650671: Books

Tales Out Of School by Gervase Phinn

Gervase Phinn was a school inspector for many years, and it shows in the Top of the Dale novels, of which this is the second. Not that you need to have read the first to enjoy this well written book; the characters and the community  generally are so well described and explained that it is easy to pick up the story. The novel revolves around the characters  associated with the primary school in the village of Risingdale, where the staff are a remarkable mixture. Central to the story is Tom Dwyer, a young teacher who is trying to bring new ideas to the school in the 1980s, when the story is set. Phinn works hard to establish the time frame with small details and perhaps a certain innocence in days before social media and sophisticated children. This is a Yorkshire story of long memories, isolated farms and some fascinating characters.

The school is an important gathering place, as is the village shop in nearby Barton-in-the-Dale, run by the source of local gossip Mrs Sloughthwaite, who describes herself as “the very soul of indiscretion”. A lot of the humour in this novel comes from the children, who are nearly all from farming families and have very basic ideas about life as a result. The local vicar often visits the school, leading to some interesting situations. The family is strongly led by the family who owns the local big house and much of the land and many houses in the village, Sir Hedley Maladroit being powerful but often benevolent. 

As the novel opens, a woman and a young boy are looking at schools, and end up at Risingdale. The woman appears to be very attractive to the local men, and the headteacher is no exception. She is renting the old Methodist chapel as a studio because she is a well known artist. Her son Leo’s arrival in Tom’s classroom causes some excitement, as his level of understanding is very different to the local children. Not that that is the only thing happening; Sir Maladroit’s son Julian has been causing problems for years, and his behaviour is not improving. Tom was greatly affected by the departure of a young woman in pursuit of promotion in his job, but now he begins to wonder if there are other options. The other teachers in the school include a Mr Caldwallander, who has a fund of army anecdotes and frequently has problems with his pupils. Miss Tranter has an interesting background, but during this book finds a possible alternative way of life. 

This is more than a school story, involving an entire community at its most interesting. It is very funny, with gentle humour which emerges naturally from the situations drawn together in this novel. I found it very enjoyable and very engaging, with Phinn’s ability to find the natural humour in many situations. There are a lot of satisfying elements of this book which emerge from the behaviour of the people, especially as the setting with its challenging weather and memorable scenery makes a wonderful background. This is a lovely book to read which describes a time well within living memory, yet which is very interesting when described so well. I found this a really good read, and recommend it as a humorous book which tackles some serious points in community life    

The School at the Top of the Dale by Gervase Phinn – A school story set in Yorkshire in the recent past

Image result for school at the top of the dale

Great characters leading a plot which holds few mysteries, but enormous satisfaction, set in the beautiful and challenging Yorkshire Dales, means a delightful read. Gervase Phinn is a prolific author who can please audiences with his books of reminisces about schools and teaching in Yorkshire in less sophisticated, pre high tech times. His four novels which have featured Elizabeth Stirling, “The Little Village School Series” have provided much enjoyment for readers, and now what looks like a series featuring a neighbouring school with a minor character from the existing series has begun strongly and most enjoyably. Romance, likable and unlikable characters, children with their honest views hilariously expressed all set in a landscape of farms and stunning countryside make for a read which I enjoyed hugely.

Tom Dwyer is a newly qualified teacher whose previous career as a professional footballer has made him keen on teaching sports, but also getting to know each child in his class. Risingdale is a small village in an area of great beauty, but also the hard realities of challenging weather and tough agricultural conditions. Tom is at first bewildered by the small school, the apparently laid back headteacher, and the small and eccentric staff. The people in the village are a mixed lot, with a pub with strong staff and disappointing food, and a rumour network which sometimes jumps to disturbing conclusions. The local landowners are certainly distinctive characters, with a kindly baronet married to a difficult wife and a feckless son. Tom’s progress in the village, as he is persuaded to stay, is anything but peaceful as he gets to know the people of the area and something of the local politics of teaching. Fans of the Little Village School books will recognise some of the characters at their varied best, with an interrogating postmistress and a useless educational official among others. The peril here is minor and usually very funny; the less likable often get their come uppance and others are left discomforted; a great deal of sympathy is expressed for those in difficult circumstances. Change happens, but essentially this is a community preserved in all its friendly, sometimes absurd and always gentle ways, fiction smoothing out hard realities.

Fans of novels about a vague time in the fairly recent past will enjoy this book, especially with many anecdotes about teaching and children in the British countryside. Phinn’s career in teaching and schools inspection means that his stories have the ring of truth even if familiar to readers of his books. He really enjoys describing the Nativity play “misadventures” of small children, even if they are perhaps not really significant in the plot. Compared with Jack Sheffield he is not so keen to define the exact year, costs of items and definite significant events, but I do not believe this is a problem in this confidently written, well handled book. Though not a great literary achievement, this is the sort of book that keeps the reader fascinated despite a lack of mystery and excitement; this is comfort and gentle reading for all. I recommend this as a largely cheerful and confident read which is just enjoyable and I could recommend it on every level.


This is a book that meant that I read to silly hours at night, as it is such an easy read in so many ways. Teachers and anyone who knows British villages will find so much to enjoy here.

Meanwhile, life here is busy in the continued build up to Remembrance Sunday and of course Christmas. As soon as my birthday (yesterday) is over Christmas becomes an issue, if only because the shops get full and Northernvicar is busy trying to defy the Space time continuum and be in several places at one time. Books for Christmas are also appearing, so much reading and reviewing is called for with some lovely volumes to consider. So many to sort out!