Does accent matter? Well Professor John Honey thought so. Or to be precise (which he certainly was), he DID think so, when he wrote the book Does Accent Matter- The Pygmalion Factor in 1989.

I remember interviewing him for BBC radio and his comments resulted in loads of callers to the phone-in.

John was highly critical about the way that English was taught in schools and upset large sections of the educational establishment (and one or two linguistic experts ) with his forthright views on poor grammatical and  elocution standards.

I feel sure he would have agreed with Lord Digby Jones the ex-Director General of the CBI who achieved much publicity recently by criticizing the sports pundit Alex Scott for dropping her ‘g’s when pronouncing words like ‘fencing’ and ’kayacking.

She fought back on twitter –”I’m proud of my working-class background and accent and I won’t change”.

Lord Digby Jones replied – “..please don’t play the working class card. You are worthy of much better than that! I admire and often publicly praise the adversity you faced and defeated to achieve all the success you deserve.

“Not sounding a ‘g’ at the end of a word is wrong; period.

“It’s not a question of class.”

A Scouser at the Beeb

When I started at the BBC in the 1980’s I had a relatively strong scouse accent (compared to today) & I had been encouraged by some lecturers on my radio journalism course to ‘tone it down’ while others said  ‘don’t change’.

If I’m honest, I did tone it down when in front of the microphone but then away from the studio reverted back to type.

Then when I came home and bumped into a mate after 3 or 4 months the first thing he said to me was ‘You’ve lost your accent’. I was horrified.

It was part of me, part of my identity and he’d said it had gone.

Then when I returned to London one of my fellow students remarked ‘Your accent’s got stronger’.

You can’t win.

Personally I don’t have a bit of a problem with the way Alex Scott talks. Her accent IS part of her identity, whether Lord Digby Jones (brought up in a corner shop near Birmingham) likes it or not.

But is it really a ‘class’ thing as she argued?

‘orses for courses?

Does it matter that she drops her ‘h’s and her ‘g’s ? Not, I would argue, when she is commenting on and lending her expertise as a sportswoman during a football match or the Olympics coverage.

It’s what she says that matters. Although you can still have a local accent without dropping ‘h’s or ‘t’s or ‘g’s.

However if she was reading the 10 o’clock news it would be different ; our expectations are different, or at least mine are, and, I suspect, consciously or otherwise, so are those of most viewers and listeners.

We expect standard English/British pronunciation and although you WILL hear newsreaders with non-Standard English accents on the BBC national news today – they will tend to be the Scots, Welsh or Irish of their standard variety rather than Glaswegian, Cardiffian or Tyrone.

Similarly you will hear the odd local or regional twang in a national newsreader or reporter’s voice but they will be ‘acceptable’(to whom? ah, that’s another blog)…rather than broad Scouse or Cornish or Geordie.

To state the bleedin’ obvious, there is no point in having a national newsreader that only people from a certain location can fully understand.

So things have moved a bit over the past 30 or so years but, I would argue, not that much.

Crisis in communications? Nah.

In terms of interviewees however things certainly have changed.

Diversity of voices and faces  is actively encouraged in the BBC and with the other national broadcasters.

When I’m conducting my media training workshops one of the first things I point out to trainees is NOT to worry about their accent, but concentrate on the message.

I’ve NEVER met a trainee who admits to liking his or her own voice ;most people don’t like the sound of their voice at first and certainly don’t like the way they look on tv. But I find they get over that self-consciousness quickly.

Our workshops are designed to make people more confident about their communication skills and not to worry too much about their accent or pronunciation unnecessarily.

It’s different for professional broadcasters.

So, Does Accent Matter?


I prefer to leave the answer to that one with George Bernard Shaw, the celebrated Irish playwright whose observations in 1916 of the English class system still stand up in 2021 – although certainly less than 100 years ago.

‘It is ‘impossible for an Englishman (or woman! ) to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.’

Knowworrameanlike, Digby?