Telling tales is a way of life for Rod

Storyteller Rod Dimbleby in action
Storyteller Rod Dimbleby in action

Rod Dimbleby discovered a talent for telling stories about 10 years ago - and now his skills of a weaver of words are in demand all over Yorkshire.

The retired teacher takes his Yorkshire dialect stories and tall tales from all over the world to schools, community groups and clubs across the region. He has told his stories at more than 200 venues in Calderdale, Kirklees, Bradford and Leeds and entertained people of all ages with tales from his wide repertoire.

A member of the Yorkshire Dialect Society, he was shortlisted in the 2012 BASE awards (British Awards for Storytelling Excellence) and his many repeat bookings are proof of the popularity of his tales.

Rod, aged 70, is a former German teacher at Hipperholme Grammar School and Brighouse High School. His wife Pam taught music at Brighouse High School.

“When I took early retirement I started doing voluntary work with Age Concern, helping dementia sufferers. I was told about a course on story-telling and the link with remembering and it got me interested in the whole subject.

“I can remember my father and uncles talking to each other in broad Yorkshire and using dialect words and I decided to do some research into Yorkshire stories,” said Rod, of Lower Newlands, Brighouse.

The heyday of dialect storytelling was in the 1870s and ‘80s when people would flock to mechanics institutes and libraries to be entertained and amused.

“Life was very hard and people lived and worked in appalling conditions. Stories provided a bit of entertainment and escapism. A lot of the stories and poems were humorous, some of them were sad but people loved them and could relate to them.”

One of the best-known of the 19th century storytellers was John Hartley of Halifax who compiled The Clock Almanac, written in Yorkshire dialect, and who travelled all over the country and even to America to tell his tales. The magazine ran from 1866 to 1957 and Rod has found it a fruitful source of stories.

“This was the workingman’s literature. There were stories about relationships, courting, marriage, church and chapel, references to the Bible - even child mortality and death. They deserve to be heard and not lost.”

Rod has memorised more than 300 tales and poems and is convinced that, despite computers and the advent of the digital age, the oral tradition is worth preserving and has an important role to play.

“Stories help us make sense of the world - and they are very important to our lives. Children love hearing stories and listen really well, even teenagers respond well.”

If it seemed at one time that Yorkshire dialect and the oral tradition was in danger of disappearing from our culture, there has been a revival of interest since the 1980s and numerous clubs have sprung up.

Rod is treasurer of Shaggy Dog Storytellers, which meet monthly at the Stubbing Wharf pub in Hebden Bridge.

He also takes part in storytelling festivals, including one at Wenlock Edge every July, and educational projects such as Todmorden Touchwood which received funding from the Arts Council and National Lottery to work with children in the Upper Calder Valley.

Rod adapts the traditional stories and adds a slice of Yorkshire humour to make them accessible to a wide range of audiences.

“My father was born in 1920 and was brought up using a lot of dialect words. But as the education system improved, it was felt to be more important that children spoke ‘properly’.”

Rod is proud to be doing his bit to keep storytelling and the oral tradition alive and feels he is contributing to the cultural fabric of Yorkshire.

“As long as people want me to tell stories, I will tell stories,” he said.