It is said that we Brits are obsessed by the way our fellow countrymen and women speak the English language. Indeed, in the past it has been claimed that the moment an Englishman opens his mouth he will be despised by somebody - anybody. Unlike almost any other nation on earth, it’s not what you say that is important, but - the way that you say it. This is supposedly because Britain has almost limitless variations of accents, which not only underpin where you hail from - but from what social class you were born.
I find it fascinating and at times hugely amusing; but many others find it socially debilitating and irritatingly snobbish. Take for instance the actress (can I say actress?) Jodie Comer who won a best actress Bafta for her role in the gripping television series Killing Eve a while ago.
Young Ms Comer played the psychopathic serial killer Villanelle in that show and as part of her role she changed accents from cut-glass upper class English to French, then Russian and back again. However, what dominated the British news and newspaper headlines the next day, was not Jodie’s brilliantly scary acting - but the fact that she had a Liverpool accent. How dare she! You see, Jodie Comer comes from Liverpool and she has a lovely soft scouse lilt to her voice, a fact that seemed to startle most of the middle-class ‘ACTORS’ at the event it seems, as well as the majority of the press corps in attendance.
Hey, I wonder how long it will take for the Duchess of Sussex to lose her Californian twang and start to sound like Mrs Bouquet? Anyway, what prompted me into this sudden interest in the way we speak, was an item in a fashion magazine that I was studying closely.
A poll had apparently revealed what was currently the sexiest British accent, and as if to prove its own diligence covered 50 different geographic locales and provided a list of winners and losers. If you come from Birmingham, you may wish to look away now! However, if you come from a county just north of London that starts with an E and ends with an X you’re quids in it seems. I don’t know how they rate this though, because much of the list appeared to be somewhat random.
I can just about accept the fact that a Northern Irish accent came second in the poll - so I can; but, a mostly incomprehensible Glaswegian rasp coming third? I do not believe it! Looking up-and-down the list there are a few surprises I have to say, but not a Geordie or South Wales voice, as it seems that they are often deemed lyrical by those who live outside the North East or the Valleys. One accent not to be rated as magical, was that of a Yorkshire person, which when I raised can clear a bar in thirty-seconds flat - but I don’t know why, do you?
However, with the possible exception of Birmingham and the more uppity communities of ‘Cheshire Actually’ - those with ‘country’ rather than ‘county’ accents, perhaps shouldn’t be looking for any type of sexual congress soon. This is because almost every west country voice from Cornwall to Gloucestershire via Somerset and embracing Wiltshire are not rated highly at all, in the “please don’t talk dirty to me in your daft accent” sort of way.
A pity, but there you are. Rather like my disbelief that anyone sane could find a Glasgow accent sexy, I’m a little at a loss to fathom why the cockney lingo should be just inside the top ten. This is because too many Londoners in the past have tried and failed to convince me of their authenticity, as in - “Cor Blimey and no mistake guvner!” or “Up the apples and pears, lovely jubbly” and other such nonsense.
Interestingly, something called the ‘Queen’s English’ is just outside the medal positions in 4th place, which rather surprised moi. I suppose that this, non accented English accent, is something that used to be called Received Pronunciation or RP for short. At one time, unless you sounded posher than the Queen you couldn’t get a job at the BBC - but alas standards have slipped somewhat and we have all manner of oiks with regional voices on the wireless nowadays don’t we?
I reckon we have in the United Kingdom a stream of almost endless dialects and accents. But even within our cities there are subtle differences in the way that people speak and sound. Not just the verbal pretensions of the socially aspirational either - but clear differences from one suburb to the next. In the UK I have lived in or around three major cities, if I put the obvious case of London to one side; both Southampton and Cardiff - had and have, very noticeable different accents in differing parts of those two typical cities.
Both are port cities and this is where you get the biggest ‘mix’ of accents. Liverpool is a case in point - we outsiders will recognise a scouse accent when we hear one, but Liverpudlians tell me that there are many slight variations that the outsider won’t always pick up on. This brings me back to Received Pronunciation (RP), or talking posh.
I wonder if the landed gentry, or the traditional toff will speak differently from, say - another ex public schoolboy whatever part of Britain they come from? Up until now, modesty forbids me from revealing the one accent that will instantly turn mild-mannered matrons into lust filled ladies, it is - yes that’s right, a semi-rural south Hampshire accent, with undertones of north Cardiff and a smattering of ex-pat Brit for good measure. As you may have guessed, I may have made some of the last bit up - and just in case, can I apologise in advance for being rude about your silly accent?