The Flying Yorkshireman

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Most people have an image of a typical Yorkshireman. These days that image might be corrupted by non-standard, media-influenced examples such as Geoffrey Boycott or Michael Parkinson. But not so long ago, it would have resembled Sam Small.

I suspect, though, that many people, then or now, would find the idea of someone who was not only a Yorkshireman but also could fly, deeply disturbing. But such was Sam.

Being from Yorkshire myself, I was bound to be attracted to Sam. I first encountered him (ignoring the other Sam Small chronicled by Stanley Holloway, who refused to pick up his musket before the Battle of Waterloo) fifty years ago when my dad passed over a book he’d acquired some time before: Sam Small Flies Again (1938) by Eric Knight. I say ‘acquired’, as it contains a label which indicates that it was due back at a library on 1 August, possibly in 1946. Anyway, I was instantly enchanted by these ten varied tales. Knight spent his adult life in America, writing newspaper articles and film scripts, as well as short stories and novels. The Sam Small stories were, he said, inspired by homesickness for his native county and by memories of stories passed on by generations of Yorkshire folk.

They tell of a little, not-so-young fellow, full of the standard Yorkshire virtues – ‘courage, patience, truth, sticking it out as best you may’ (to quote the author’s introductory note). Of course, he’s also not above taking the chance to make a bob or two here or there – like finding a fine dog perhaps before it becomes entirely lost; or training it to retrieve dropped florins but forgetting to teach it to distinguish coins dropped by other people. The introductory note omits other characteristics, such as magnificent arrogance and a capacity for rigid obstinacy, but they appear clearly in the stories, making Sam and his friends all the more lovable, oddly enough.

The friends are often encountered in the Spread Eagle in Polkingthorp

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About the contributor

John Emms, an East Riding lad, misguidedly emigrated to Nottingham for a while before settling in the West Riding. He worked as a sort of lawyer for the councils of Barnsley and Kirklees, where his insight gained from Eric Knight was invaluable. He knows how to pronounce ‘bath-bun’.

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