It’s Not The Sound Of My Own Voice I Hate — It’s My Accent!
Growing up, I spoke like everyone else on my street. A garbled slurry of truncated consonants, overaccentuated O’s, and drawn-out vowels that characterised the flat and lazy accent of my city.
‘I caaaan’t!’ I used to say to my mother when I couldn’t do something.
Not that I remember. This was Leeds in the mid 70s and as no one had a camcorder, there is no record of how I spoke. As kids, we probably messed about with a cassette recorder, but any tapes we made have long since vanished — if they ever existed.
When I hear the Yorkshire born actor Tom Wilkinson speak, I imagine that’s how I might sound if things had been different. Instead, I sound like Paul Betanny in A Beautiful Mind. The personification of the British private school accent.
So what happened?
My mum died, that’s what happened. Then my father sent me to boarding school.
This was 1982. My father had big ideas for himself and his company. He travelled a lot and worked late. The last thing he needed was a seven-year-old boy gumming up the works. So he sent me to school on the English/Welsh border one hundred miles from where I grew up, where people spoke more Welsh than English. A school populated by the boys of wealthy military families. Great…!
You can read about life at boarding school in other places, I’m not going to write about it here. But in short, I hated every minute of it, even if I can’t really remember much about it.
All I do know is that ten years later, when I finally left, my Yorkshire accent was gone. Replaced by the British Boarding School Accent (as I call it) that I’ve carried around with me ever since.
I still say bath and glass like a Northerner — you can’t take that away from me! — but everything else has gone. My lilting Leeds accent replaced by a self-important public school one that I’ve always despised.
A few years after I left, I went to visit some old friends in Yorkshire, and they barely knew who I was. My father left Leeds and moved away to Chester shortly after I went to school, so I hadn’t seen these people for nearly twelve years. I was now twenty-one, and the last time they had seen me I was nine. We…