Thursday, August 5, 2010

Stuart Hall's English lesson for the BBC: Plummy-voiced broadcaster attacks obsession with regional accents

His warm, distinctive tones have enlivened football coverage for decades. Now the BBC's Stuart Hall has criticised the corporation's obsession with regional accents and backed Received Pronunciation, the 'Queen's English' way of speaking.

The former It's A Knockout host intervened after the BBC's head of television, Jana Bennett, said a new wave of voices from across Britain would go on air in an attempt to more broadly reflect different areas. She promised an increase in 'distinctive voices' which have 'authentic senses of place'.

But 80-year- old Mr Hall, from Lancashire, criticised the plans and defended Received Pronunciation, saying that in his experience it was what the audience wanted. He told this week's Radio Times that for English to remain an 'international language' it had to be spoken in a 'recognisable tongue'. He denied he was proposing the death of on-air regional accents but said they must be justified by context.

Mr Hall, who is still a regular football reporter on Radio 5 Live, said that in his experience properly spoken English had been what most of the audience desired because it represented a neutral voice. He added that it also did not 'detract' or 'distract' from the material.

He criticised Jana Bennett's comments, saying: 'She wants distinctive voices that have an authentic sense of place. As there must be 100,000 dialects in England alone, I am dashed if I know what Jana means.'

His comments come after Sir Roger Moore complained that actors and presenters now need a regional accent to be successful. The 82-year- old actor, whose clipped tones graced seven James Bond films, suggested that if he were starting out now his ability to speak smoothly in the Queen's English would actually hamper his career rather than help it.

Mr Hall looked back to the time when he was working in regional news in the 1960s and 1970s. He said: 'We had an enormous audience, including thousands of Asians living in Bolton and Blackburn. They listened because the spoken English was what they desired, neutral-voices that never detracted or distracted from the material. 'They wanted the English of the Raj where the letters T, B and H were pronounced trippingly off the tongue. 'It was a matter of great pride that we crossed the borders of class and race. We didn't need authentic regional stuff, neither did the viewers.'

Mr Hall added: 'If you imagine I am proposing the death of regional accents, let me put it in perspective. I value them in context. Give me Charlotte Green for my news, Alan Green for sport' - a reference to the Radio 4 announcer known for her classic RP voice and the Northern Irish sports commentator.

A BBC spokesman said: 'Our audiences have told us very clearly that they expect and appreciate being able to hear a wide variety of regional accents across the BBC. 'The whole of the UK pays for the licence fee so it is quite right that the whole of the nation should hear and see itself reflected back on screen and on air.'


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