John well versed in Norfolk dialect

Keith Skipper pays tribute to the life and work of a true champion of the Norfolk dialect – John Kett whose poetry will be be lasting legacy to our county.

That proud surname soaked in Norfolk history with more than tang of the countryside must have sparked both rhyme and reason for John Kett, a doyen of local dialect poetry who died aged 93 shortly before Christmas, to make his mark as the county's most successful dialect poet.

He delighted reflective readers and animated audiences for more than half-a-century as he gloried in deep local roots and a masterly touch for our precious vernacular in verse. Warmly encouraged by fellow dialect champions Dick Bagnall-Oakeley (another outstanding schoolteacher) and Eric Fowler (who starred as Jonathan Mardle in the EDP), he tied up rhythm, intonation and turn of phrase in a way never seen or heard before.

Four books of Norfolk delights earned John Kett an enduring reputation for lifting his subject matter well above the country yokel and 'bit of a larf' level. Tha's a Rum'un, Bor, Tha's a Rum'un, Tew, Wotcher Bor! and A Year Go By netted total sales of about 30,000 – remarkable figures for poetic offerings, not least those carrying a quaint brogue supposed to be dying out fast.

And just like those evergreen epistles drawn from the very heart of Norfolk country life, JK's verses will enlighten and entertain for generations to come because they are unpretentious, gently amusing and enhanced by a gloriously durable dialect, never swamped by it.

His writing and performing stressed how a Norfolk man could have several sides, all of them equally challenging and uplifting. Employing his native tongue with its irrepressible humour and colourful vocabulary simply gave this village headmaster an extra qualification to impress.

Here is an example of his work:

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Bor, ha' yew noticed yew hin't far t'saarch

In Norfick, if yew wanter see a Chaach?

In Breckland, Broadland, fen-land, ennawhere,

Yew'll find'em, large an' small, some far, some near.

Jus' yew go uppa enna little hill.

An' yew'll see sav'rel Chaaches, that yew will.

I reckon that oon't dew fer us t'say

We can't git there corse tha's tew far away!

For more of John Kett's Norfolk dialect verse see the EDP Sunday supplement in this Saturday's EDP.