The Blog

There's No Accent in Show Businéss

It used to be that in order to get a job on the telly or in radio you had to speak the Queen's English. Now it seems Received Pronunciation is solely reserved for Radio 4. It wasn't always this way.

It used to be that in order to get a job on the telly or in radio you had to speak the Queen's English. Now it seems Received Pronunciation is solely reserved for Radio 4. It wasn't always this way.

Since the very first BBC radio broadcast on 14 November 1922, our regional accents in Britain have been slowly killed off and replaced by a bastardized English (note the Z) - namely the RP accent or what linguists call 'Standard English'.

Up until the first broadcast (but more accurately the late 60s when the television came into working class homes) the predominate English speaking voices you would hear would have been local ones. Broadcasts changed this; suddenly a plethora of proper pronunciations not native to the regions were entering the lingo.

Radio and television has changed the way we Britons talk to each other; research into British accents has shown most of our regional dialects are dying. I think the Received Pronunciation endorsed by TV and Radio (circa 1922 - 1979) has a lot to do with this.

TV and radio throughout the later half of the 20th century exploded into living rooms up and down our isle. Our fascination with light entertainment, celebrity and the arts encouraged our addiction to the wireless and the box - and with it - regional dialects softened.

Until the early 1980s TV & radio were mainly dominated by the middle classes adorned with BBC approved RP; thus affecting the pronunciation, vocabulary and colloquialisms of the regions and steering our accents towards a softer, homogenized British accent.

Our accents are incredibly important. They help shape our identity and employ pride in our heritage. They reveal our social status, background and place of origin, all which can be determined with just the word 'bath'. They allow us to build relationships with others immediately and trust each other; according to research, the Yorkshire accent is the most UK's most desirable.

The first act of defiance against this uniformed 'Standard English' came in 1960, almost 40 years after the first BBC radio broadcast. Coronation Street aired on Granada Television and brought the words 'chuck' and 'nowt' on to teatime TV, but The Street was a lonely island in diversifying and influencing RP on our screens.

Fast-forward to 2012 and a rather strange phenomenon has occurred - RP is in decline on prime time. In fact it's almost dead. It's become unfashionable to have the stern newsreader style accent that was once favored for broadcasting.

Many big stars in British cinema have regional accents and presenters with working class accents are heading prime time television programs - Ant and Dec, Tess Daly, Tulisa. The new Radio 1 breakfast show presenter is a lad from Oldham; to get a gig on BBC 6Music you must be a funny Northern bloke. But it doesn't stop there. Advertisers are now actively seeking voice artists with strong regional voices to promote their brands- Sean Bean's broad Sheffield accent for O2, Julie Walters and Jane Horrocks' 'Every Little Helps' at Tesco and the PlusNet broadband's entire marketing strategy celebrates their business based in Yorkshire with "honest" local voices in their call centres. The regional accent has become marketable.

Outré English accents have become the focal point of the prime-time dramality programs - Geordie Shore, Made in Chelsea (so posh it's beyond RP), Desperate Scousewives and most importantly The Only Way is Essex which has had such an effect on the national accent that words like 'vajazzle', 'is it' and 'shut-up' (pronounced 'sha-urpe') have entered the national vocabulary.

Television and radio not only inform us how other people in our country speak but it also informs how we speak. A received pronunciation is just that - received.

What's most exciting about this diversity of accents now being endorsed and encouraged by broadcasting is how it is making the arts accessible to the working classes. Not only does it open up opportunities for actors, performers, presenters and entertainers with regional, working class or non-RP accents, it's also engaging an audience in art forms that may have previously been perceived to be for the middle classes. Lenny Henry's broad Brummie playing Othello this year is a great example of this and could be the answer to the Arts Council's dilemma on how to engage the non-theatre goer.

With the RP accent in recession are we ever likely to see a resurgence of it or has it gone for good?

Not all regional accents are thriving though - Estuary accents associated with the south of the country are also dying out and dialects like the iconic Cockney could be gone within 30 years. Do we need to take action to keep these accents alive? Should we ask East London schools to add rhyming slang to the syllabus as the Welsh did to save their native tongue?

Whatever the future of voice of show business sounds like, revel in your accent, its intricacies and idioms- and be sure you keep your mother tongue alive.