Dennis Richards: Putting the accent in the wrong place

Prince Harry with 'Yorkshire lass' Meghan Markle

I did have a mid-life crisis once due to the realisation that I ran the risk of spending my entire teaching career within a thirty mile radius of Wakefield - which just seemed a tad limited.

Holmfirth was as far as I had got in my not quite so stellar career. Hubris on my part led me to believe that the capital city was ready for my impact. It wasn’t.

North London is a hard unforgiving environment for outsiders. As I discovered within days. The whole grisly experience was compounded by the fact that it was a single sex boys school.

I should have remembered that psychologists had been telling me, as part of my training, that adolescent boys mature at a much slower rate than girls.

An almighty ruckus broke out in one of my very first lessons. Given the social issues in the area, I immediately imagined a drugs battle, or a gang feud.

When order was eventually restored and the combatants separated, we quickly got to the cause of the bitter furore: “Jason nicked my pen”.

It got worse. At the end of the first month, the caretaker told me he had discovered that the kids were building a tunnel in the back corner of my classroom, out on to the adjoining playground.

In the end it was the Yorkshire accent that really did for me.

Looking at the staff duty rota for the week, I noticed I was down for Tuesday as E. Bargum. The kids all hummed the Hovis tune as soon as I walked into a class.

When they spoke, they sounded like cockney spivs. When I sounded off, I came across as a country bumpkin from Last of the Summer Wine. More Compo than Capone. It was hell on earth.

All of which goes to explain why I have a love hate relationship with the way Yorkshire is perceived as “odd” in terms of the way we speak.

This week a Daily
Telegraph article about Prince Harry’s blossoming romance was headlined, “Ey up! Harry’s girl Meghan is a Yorkshire lass”.

There is, apparently, some remote connection with a 19th century family called Sykes from a coal-mining region. By the time you had finished reading the article, you could be forgiven for thinking that Meghan sounds like Nora Batty.

Earlier in the same week came the news that an operatic production has entered rehearsals featuring the cadences of South Yorkshire. This time the headline read “Get thi’ coat, luv, you’ve pulled off opera singin’ in t’Yorkshire accent”.

We are informed that it is “sung in a local accent with plenty of owts and nowts”. The artistic director of Heritage Opera says that as a joke they are considering projecting dictionary entries above the stage for some of the words. OK, fair enough, we can have a laugh at the way we speak and the culture of God’s own county, but I do just worry that it can be used to put us down as well.

As may unwittingly be the case with recent publicity about Oxbridge admissions. This was not the familiar independent school/state school debate. Nor the myth that state schools do not encourage students to apply. Oh yes they do, believe me.

David Lammy MP has discovered a quite shocking geographical divide. Students in five of the leafy home counties on the fringes of London received more offers than the whole of the North of England put together. Oxbridge interviews begin shortly. Polishing your vowels may serve you better than enhancing your CV. And that’s not funny.

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