Gobs on Sticks

Thoughts mostly (but not always) about the voice-over business, from London Voiceover Artist, Mike Cooper

  • About the author

    My name is Mike Cooper. I'm a full time Voiceover Artist living and working in London, and this is my blog. Find out more about me on my main website (there's a link further down this column), or if you'd like to hear some of my work, check out the files below.
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Accent-uating the positive?

Posted by MikeCooper on October 20, 2008

The Daily Telegraph reports today that “cockney voices are the UK’s most hated regional accents”. This came as a bit of surprise to someone who grew up in Wolverhampton and who spent most of his formative years (and a fair chunk of those since) trying to lose his own regional “twang”.

Granted, I grew up on the edge of what my parents used to refer to as “The Connurbation”. We were a short cycle ride away from where the bleak, seemingly never-ending industrial sprawl that takes in Wolverhampton, Dudley, Walsall, Birmingham et al gives way to rolling fields and the countryside of Shropshire and Staffordshire. To be sure, my immediate family never sounded as “broad Black Country” as some of the kids I went to school with, either. And yet, despite the fact that I was encouraged to talk “properly” (as my Mum would put it whenever I came out with some dialect word or other, or ran my consonants together too lazily), I was acutely aware, from the age of about eight or nine, that no one on the radio or television sounded either like me, nor like anyone else I knew.

That’s right – in the West Midlands, with the notable exception of one or two “local characters” like Tony Butler (an ex-colleague for whom I have a few choice descriptions of my own to add), no one in the local media sounded like they came from the area!

And so it was that, as I grew up developing a keen interest in the media, and taking the view that radio and television were things to “be on” rather than to listen to or watch, I gradually slipped out of my West Midlands accent (don’t ever call it “Brummie” – that’s something else entirely…) and into a more neutral gear. Fair enough, people are always asking me where I’m from, but that’s mostly because they can’t place me anymore. They will, of course, agree that they could tell all along once I’ve pointed out my roots, but they’d never guess on their own. In fact, the most regular question I get asked nowadays is whether I’m Australian – but I guess that’s one of the hazards of living with a Tasmaniac.

It has puzzled and perplexed me, in recent times, that even the least desirable accents, such as those I grew up surrounded by, are now seemingly coming into vogue. Adrian Chiles would never, I imagine, have got his own show on national television a few years back, sounding, as he does like a broad Brummie – he’d have been relegated to the role of “comic relief” on something like That’s Life. And yet there he is at 7pm on BBC One. Well done that man!

For my own part, I’ve always tried to resist attempts to pull me back to the Black Country way of speaking, despite suggestions that it might help me to carve my niche and break through into areas of work which are crying out for regional accents. In my own case, I think it’s because I just don’t like the way that accent sounds. Not only that, but to do Black Country properly, there’s a big chunk of dialect in there too. I’m still not sure that the British public at large is ready for “Owm yer gooin’ arr kid? Am yow alroit?” And something in my upbringing, rightly or wrongly, made me think that “talkin’ loik that” would make people think I was a bit “stoopid”.

Then, last week, along came a script for me to audition for, for a local radio station in Birmingham. It called for a West Midlands accent, and I decided to have a go. It felt very weird to be putting the accent on after all this time. And when I’d finished I really wasn’t sure I’d pulled it off, so I had to play my clip down the phone to my parents to check whether it was authentic enough. I was relieved, in some ways to hear that it was, indeed, authentic, but more so that it sounded like a “high end West Midlands accent”. Phew, not Lower Gornal then after all…

Estuary accents, my voice coach tells me, develop for a very sound reason (no pun intended). Those who live near the sea are constantly blighted by the chill winds and salty air coming off the coast. The natural defence is for the body to drop the soft pallate at the back of the mouth, to reduce the amount of dry, salty air reaching the throat. The result? Nasal resonance is invoked and the Estuary sound is born. This seems to apply from London to New York and wherever there’s a prevailing sea breeze.


One Response to “Accent-uating the positive?”

  1. […] London, even if you live there. Our listeners don’t tend to trust them…” Last year I blogged about a report in the Daily Telegraph that claimed “cockney voices are the UK’s most hated […]

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