I often get this request, which isn’t terribly surprising as I hail from the gritty North. (South Manchester, actually. Well, North Cheshire if you’re being picky or talking to my Auntie Maureen). I like to think my natural, everyday accent is fairly neutral. A sort of vanilla, placeless kind of voice.
I realise I’m deluded.
My everyday Cheshire voice is a big part of who I am. It’s my identity and I refuse to erase my native northernness. And for work, few people want me to use my ‘real’ voice. So I usually bloom out the vowels into Received Pronunciation, or at the very least, Estuary English.
My southern friends will greet me in voiceover recording session with a jaunty ‘Ey up chuck!’ thereby reminding me that my natural vowels are as flat as an Eccles Cake (which, for the record, are actually domed*). Some will ask what the weather’s like and will be oh-so-surprised if I say it’s sunny (as it is this very moment in fact). They scoff as if they don’t really believe me, as if I’d lie about meteorological phenomena, just to fit in.
I can absolutely promise that the north of England is a beautiful, rugged land full of people who look you in the eye and aren’t scared of smiling. It’s a lovely place to live – just an hour away from the Welsh coast, a couple of hours away from the Lake District, mere minutes away from the rich culture offered by Manchester. (It’s also about forty minutes from Liverpool, but we’ll gloss over that…) It’s handy for the airport, it’s two hours from London on the train and it’s got a mixed terrain with a pleasingly eclectic climate. (It’s not unusual for us to get four seasons in one day up here. In fact Crowded House wrote this song** about South Manchester).
But people still think it’s a backwater. A hinterland where snaggle-toothed grey-faced paupers wander the cobbles in ragged shell suits, hollow-bellied, gummy-mouthed and desperate, desperate for a money-smothered crust tossed from a Southern table buckling under the weight of quinoa.
The north of England is SO not like that. As anyone who’s seen this programme will tell you.
So I have a conversation with a client asking me if I can read his script in a northern accent because he wants to capture a certain mood. “We’re after a sense of futility,” he says.
We’re. After. A. Sense. Of. Futility.
He actually says that. I mean, he WAS joking…a bit. But nevertheless.
I’ve written elsewhere about how accents are perceived, especially in the weird post-recession world of advertising. And still now, such prejudices, such assumptions prevail.
Where I live in Altrincham, it’s actually really rather well-to-do. There are 4 x 4’s, avocados, Ocado vans and Shellac nails.
But I’m not defensive about it. AT ALL. OK?
* Not to be confused with ‘doomed.’
** Not really.