Broadcast accents in UK
Anthea Fraser Gupta
A.F.Gupta at leeds.ac.uk
Sun Jul 17 08:28:51 UTC 2005
Some light relief from the UK parliament in a rather grim week...
In the House of Commons on 11 July 2005, David Taylor (who speaks with a West Midlands accent) called for support for regional accents in the Broadcast media, in the form of a question to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell). This is the report in Hansard (the verbatim account of parliament's proceedings (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/cgi-bin/newhtml_hl?DB=semukparl&STEMMER=en&WORDS=estuari&ALL=&ANY=estuary%20estuarine&PHRASE=&CATEGORIES=&SIMPLE=&SPEAKER=&COLOUR=red&STYLE=s&ANCHOR=st_63&URL=/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/cm050711/debtext/50711-04.htm#st_63):
Broadcasting (Regional Accents)
10. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): If she will make it her policy to promote regional accents in the broadcast media. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (James Purnell): The Government are strongly committed to regional broadcasting. Through the Communications Act 2003 and the review of the BBC charter, we will continue to ensure that programmes are made about and in every part of the United Kingdom. We
11 Jul 2005 : Column 558
do not have a policy on regional accents, which are a matter for broadcasters, but regional production might be expected to support them indirectly.
David Taylor: The rich variety of British accents and dialects is one of our great cultural assets, which should be preserved and enhanced. Does the Under-Secretary agree that not enough is done to combat the slow socio-linguistic convergence towards effete estuarial English, leading to its dominance in the broadcast media and around the Cabinet table? Is not that the sort of class barrier that inclusive new Labour was set up to break down?
James Purnell: I am not sure whether my accent is estuarial, but my hon. Friend will be glad to know that there is to be more regional production after the charter review and the review of ITV's obligations come into force. It would be very odd indeed if having more programmes made in and about the regions did not support much greater coverage of regional accents. I am sure that my hon. Friend will support that.
The issue was also discussed on BBC Radio 4 in the programme called "Week in Westminster" (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/cgi-bin/newhtml_hl?DB=semukparl&STEMMER=en&WORDS=estuari&ALL=&ANY=estuary%20estuarine&PHRASE=&CATEGORIES=&SIMPLE=&SPEAKER=&COLOUR=red&STYLE=s&ANCHOR=st_63&URL=/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/cm050711/debtext/50711-04.htm#st_63). You can listen to it 19 minutes into the programme.
Note that the terms 'Estuarial' English and 'Estuarine' English are used rather than the more usual 'Estuary'. Estuary English (a controversial term) is an accent associated with SE England (especially Essex, where the Thames estuary is). The discussion made clear that Taylor's main concern is with
(a) politicians of middle class background who have been to private schools and who move from their natural RP to a more street-wise SE England accent. Tony Blair is the classic example, and in the BBC programme clips of Blair speaking in RP in 1982 and in 'Estuary' more recently were played; and
(b) the use of the SE England Estuary by broadcasters in other regions of UK rather than either RP or regionally appropriate accents.
The Conservative MP who joined Taylor in the studio argued that lots of privately educated people still spoke RP, and that in parliament (both parties) and in the media lots of accents other than Estuary could be heard (he names names). Taylor also referred to Scottish and north-east accents as the most audible alternatives. I must say that on this discussion I agreed with Gove (I am not a Conservative supporter on the whole)!
Mind you -- I do have a north-east accent myself, which apparently Taylor thinks is the main alternative to Scottish and Estuary!
Anyway, for those puzzled by UK attitudes to accents, enjoy!
More information about the Lgpolicy-list