Episode 65 - Chocks Out for the Lads (Accents Week)
We were a bit late on this whole stockpiling milarky a few weeks ago and I went to do our weekly shopping one evening only to find that the shelves were almost totally empty. I’ll admit, I panicked and bought, en masse, the one of the few things I could find in abundance; honey.
At first I was very sure
That I needed more and more
So I filled up my shopping trolley, I was so happy!
Runny honey in my porridge, aha, runny honey
Runny honey in my yoghurt, fayer, runny honey
I’ve still got so much left
Even though I’m trying my best
I just don’t know what to do, I feel like Winnie the Pooh
Runny honey in my curry, err, tastes a bit funny
Runny honey with onion chutney, errr, very yucky
It tasted oh so nice
but now I’ve paid the price
I’ve feeling constantly sick, because I’m pre-diabetic
I needed to get creative…
Runny honey to wipe my bummy, oo ahhh, rather slimey
Runny honey to ease my thrushy, oo ahhh, slightly horny
It’s pooled in my underwear
When I fart it goes everywhere
I’m being followed around by bees, can you stop this please?!
One more time!
Donate honey to the nunnery, aha, honey nunnies
Flushing honey down Aussie toliets, aha, honey dunnies
… oh that’ll do
(None accent) So accents is the topic for this week!
Harder than I thought to research! Your see, the thing with accents and dialects is that they are like colours on an oil painter’s palette; there are definite concentrations of colour in areas, but they all mingle into each other. And they evolve every time a word is spoken. So they are incredibly complex. We’re shit at accents and have no linguistic understanding of what makes a French accent French, we just copy ‘ello ‘ello or various other comedy programs. Badly. So it’s bloody difficult to anything on this topic that actually does justice to why accents exist. One other thing, you can read about historical people and peoples, and get a great idea of what they were thinking, you can study artefacts and also get an insight into their lives. But apart from the last 150 years, you can’t hear any of them!
Fuck knows what Julius Ceasar sounded like; Dick Van Dyke for all we know; “Roman senators stab in time, Roman senators stab in time, don’t need a reason, don’t need a rhyme, roman senators stab from behind!”
Alexander the Great could have sounded like Brian Blessed; “You know those spears of ours? Let’s make them bigger! And longer!”
Edward II could have sounded like Elvis; “We’re caught in a trap, there’s no way out, we’re all gonna die at Bannockburn baby!”
I resorted to searching through famous historical sources, like the Venerable Bede and Icelandic Sagas, for references to people accents but found nowt!
Anyway, I was delighted to find out that you did not know the origins of the stereotypical Second World War RAF accents or the stereotypical West Country pirate accent. I thought these were reasonably well known, but I could well be wrong. Hopefully I surprise listeners. Interestingly, they both came from Hollywood and have no basis in fact.
Let me start with pirates! Haha!
Of course there would have been West Country pirates active during the age of exploration and imperial fighting in the New World, particularly the Spanish Maine (these are the pirates of popular culture; people don’t go to pirate parties dressed as Somalians, Vikings or Bronze Age Sea Peoples). But they were by no means in the majority, West Country would have been one of a wide range of accents, particularly as pirates came from all over Europe, Africa and the New World.
It all started with the 1950 Disney classic, Treasure Island, based obviously on the book by Robert Louise Stephenson. In this film, Long John Silver is played by an English actor from the West Country called Robert Newton. He went on to star in 1952 film Blackbeard and in 1954 he played Long John Silver again in a film called Long John Silver; Return to Treasure Island. (Pirate accent) This time, it’s personal! This film spawned a 26 episode mini-series, shot in Australia, called the Adventures of Long John Silver also starring Robert Newton. Apparently this was the first series ever shot in Australia; tv only started in Australia in 1956. Before that they were presumably having too much fun stealing, getting lost, eating each other and persecuting aboriginal Australians (if my research for this podcast is anything to go by).
And yes, he exaggerated his West Country accent in all of these rolls. He was particularly popular with lots of young boys, because of the films he starred in, so a whole generation of men grew up with the silly pirate accent. Essentially, the majority of pirate actors since 1950 have been impersonating Newton, not a real pirate. Even Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean is a variation on the theme, albeit a slightly more unique odd, grammatically questionable English accent.
Incidentally, in 1986 there was a series called Return to Treasure Island; guess who played Long John Silver? Brian Blessed!
Newton actually died in 1956, on a few years after his pirate heyday. He lived hard and died of a heart attack after years of chronic alcoholism and a chaotic personal life involving 4 wives and bankruptcy.
Right! Tally ho and chocks away for the stereotypical RAF accent.
Now when I asked you why RAF pilots from the Battle of Britain speak in posh accents, you said, because they were all posh. Well! You haven’t been watching enough QI Sam!
It turns out that this is another Hollywood invention, and I’d heard this Dad fact a few different times, including I think from my Dad, and when I researched it, it’s been discussed on QI also.
So, the RAF pilots during the Second World War were actually surprisingly middle class.
George Orwell, famously socialist and famously critical of other socialists, discussed the political consequences of Britain being defended by such a middle class group of men in his essay ‘The Lion and the Unicorn, Socialism and the English Genius’. Quote: “the heirs of Nelson and of Cromwell are not in the House of Lords. They are in the fields and the streets, in the factories and the armed forces, in the four-ale bar and the suburban back garden and at present they still are kept under by a generation of ghosts.”
Churchill himself, who famously said that “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” when referring to the RAF during the Battle of Britain, very much recognised how middle class the pilots had been. He observed that relatively few men from Britain’s private schools flew fighters. In fact, of the around 3000 pilots, only around 200 had attended elite private schools. In fact, around 574 weren’t event British! There were around 140 Poles, 130 Kiwis, 110 Canadians, 90 Czechs and then a whole host of other nationalities.
When Churchill heard, in late August 1941, that the Battle of Britain had been won, he said, referring to the state schooled pilots: "They have saved this country; they have the right to rule it."
So why are the RAF pilots thought of as posh; because they were usually played by posh actors in the aftermath of the war. Or so goes the theory! But I must admit this didn’t seem to be the case in my research. I started researching the stars of Battle of Britain films in the 1940s, 50s and 60s and I’ll have to admit the majority seemed to have middle class upbringings. The only exception I could find was David Niven, star of 1946 film ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, went to a private school and would have probably gone to Eton had he not been expelled from a private school for his pranks.
(John Wayne voice) I even went so far as to look at famous American WWII films like ‘The Longest Day’ starring many famous actors including John Wayne who plays stubborn, good ol American Lieutenant Col. Benjamin H. Vandervoort who insists on playing his part in the Normandy landings, behind enemy lines, despite having 5 broken limbs, all 3 eyes poked out and partially decapitated.
I suspect that it’s actually due to English actors being taught to speak all proper like, in Received Pronunciation, despite their upbringings.