Love The Accent


Gordon Griffin, the actor who is playing me in the Magna audio version of my book ‘Paperboy’ is trying to get my accent right, and needs to know if I have a ‘Sarf Lundun’ accent. I’ve never thought of myself as having any accent whatsoever, other than what is know as ‘Received English’ – the way newscasters tend to speak, neither very posh or common. But hearing myself back, I realise that I sound very middle class. Daniel Day-Lewis went to the same school as me, and I can hear my sound in his voice. Ordinary but ‘nicely spoken’ as my mother would say.

It’s been famously said that there are more accents in a London street than there are in the whole of the USA. The saying apparently came about because until the Second World War, the average distance travelled by Londoners was just three miles, and without mass transit, accents stubbornly remained localised. In America, more people left home and travelled, blurring their accents. I certainly remember the neighbours from one end of our street not talking to the other end because they sounded common, and that was in the seventies. Nowadays there’s still a huge variety of accents, but it’s more to do with ethnic grouping.

What’s shocking now, of course, is hearing how TV presenters used to speak in earlier times. The children’s show ‘Picture Book’ from the 1950s featured a lady presenter with a classic cut-glass English accent. Here’s the multi-talented Jane Horrocks giving a terrifyingly perfect (and hilarious) impersonation of her, and it’s worth watching the whole sketch (just the first third of the segment). Did we really speak like this?

5 comments on “Love The Accent”

  1. Reuben says:

    I was puzzled by the opening sentence of this until I realized it said ‘Magna’ and not ‘Manga’. So there goes my question about how on earth you can a Manga audio book and does that involve someone using a dodgy (and squeaky) Japanese accent.

  2. Even accents from the eighties sound strange now… Early Grange Hill sounds as if it comes from a different country altogether (although it’s our young people’s accents that have moved to a different country, I suppose).

  3. Helen Martin says:

    When I was a child in the late ’40’s the Canadian Broadcasting Corp insisted on a modified Oxbridge accent. There was a children’s radio program called Kindergarten of the Air with a presenter whose voice was pitched like this lady’s, although her accent was more mid-Atlantic as I remember it (shudder). These days they don’t worry about anything much, as long as the words are clear. Chris, I didn’t notice any accent when we talked, but that might just mean that all the London accents had stunned my ears.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Conversation has been about nothing but accents the last few days. Saw a film about Bill Reid’s totem pole in Skidegate (Queen Charlotte Islands, now back to Haida Gwaii). He was a CBC announcer for a number of years and when he spoke to the interviewer the CBC voice returned. Then there was a film about “Charles’ Other Mistress”. Lady Tryon – “Kanga”. Now, in all those upper class voices you’d think one would notice an Australian accent, but no. So either she worked on it or it was beaten out of her at a private school. And finally, a new employee in our little lunch place. She was definitely from Oz although it was a bit strange. Heard her tell someone she was from Wales! You can’t tell anything about origins from voices these days.

  5. I.A.M. says:

    Remember that section in “A Study in Scarlet” in which Holmes tells a young policeman where he grew-up, where his parents are from, and where the policeman now lives? It’s entirely impossible now, isn’t it?

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