|Played it to perfection in Robin Hood as the Sherriff of Nottingham.|
Just another article by Perter Hitchens, having the ability to write that it is easy to read and stays on the story line beautifully. A major talent and a man with a greatly admired ability.
George Bernard Shaw said rightly that no Englishman could open his mouth without making another Englishman hate him. As an Irishman, he could see from outside that the curious code of accents, mingled with class and education, as well as with region, was a potent form of wicked magic.
The British military and naval classes, into which I was born, were less sensitive about it than most because they lived their lives in strictly ordered hierarchies where there wasn’t much resentment. I think this was because of the shared danger and adversity, in which everyone had seen everyone else, scared, dirty and swearing, with the wraps off - and because so many people actually avoid responsibility. Who’d want to be an officer, the first to be blamed? It was cosier further down the list. This is a more common feeling than most people want to admit.
But by the late 1950s, even naval officers were beginning to disguise their cut-glass accents. They were all too redolent of a pre-1939 age which obviously wasn’t coming back, of ‘young masters’ and ‘my man’. It accelerated after that, thanks to TV, which gave other accents airtime and dethroned the old ones. In a way, I’m rather sorry about the accents, though not about the old class distinction – I share Nevil Shute’s loathing for the silly waste and snobbery it caused (very well described in a neat novel about the early years of World War Two, called ‘Landfall’, which I greatly recommend. Shute’s dislike of snobbery was one of the reasons he went off to live in Australia).
I get a thrill of recognition whenever I hear Celia Johnson, as the Captain’s wife in ‘In Which We Serve’. It’s almost as good a gateway into the imagination of the past as the sight and sound of a working express steam engine (not that I’d compare Miss Johnson to a locomotive).
But I digress. I never really understood how much my accent annoyed another people until I was in my late twenties, living and working for the first time in London, and heard my voice being mimicked, in an exaggerated lahdidah, as I went into a cinema in Swiss Cottage. I’m sure this wasn’t the first time this had happened. It was just the first time I had noticed it. I’d already unconsciously toned down my prep-school voice. But from that day on I toned it down still more. I noticed, a few years ago, that my brother, finding English public-school accents went down very well in the colonies, had actually become grander-sounding during his years in Washington, and though he would pronounce such words as ‘dynasty’ in the American manner (‘die-nesty’), he made no other concessions.
But in any case, there’s really no hope for me in the world of Estuary English and fake American. My voice (and my failure to disguise it further) immediately identifies me as privately educated. That is in itself a sin to many people. My use of formal grammar identifies me –accurately - as a believer in order, precedence and probably some sort of hierarchy. I think that’s what people mean when they describe me as ‘pompous’ a word they often can’t even spell. I think it’s what the crude caricature of me on ‘What the papers say’ was intended to suggest, plus a bit extra. These things are important. Czech exiles, returning from Britain after to the war to the new Communist Prague, were shocked to find that their precise grammar-school Czech was now considered too middle class, and that officials and political leaders were all speaking the Bohemian equivalent of Estuary, no doubt for fear they would sound ‘pompous’.The rest of the article click the link in the title.