Saturday 22 July 2017

Can I Have A Word?

The tidal wave of apologies continues. Today's leading sorry statement has come from Dick Van Dyke once a star of TV and film in the 1960's and after. In the popular film of 1964 "Mary Poppins" he played a London chimney sweep, Bert, and his "cockney" accent was alleged to be as bad as it gets.

The film was neither documentary nor serious drama, it was a way over the top musical for the delight of young children and their parents wanting a simple noisy bit of fun. It was well done with popular songs and dance routines and a film to relax to.

His accent may have seemed bad, but there was form for this. Ever since sound and film came together and especially in Britain the accents and bearing of the actors were sometimes a little or a lot removed from reality, especially the cockneys, who featured on film more often than particular provincials.

Parallel with "Mary Poppins" the 1964 film "My Fair Lady" had topped the ratings, from a musical based on the early 20th century play "Pygmalion" by GB Shaw, in which a language scholar takes a street girl, Eliza Doolittle, to change her voice and therefore her status in society.

In this film it was Marnie Nixon who did the singing while Audrey Hepburn did the acting. The casting raised some questions about why Julie Andrews had been dropped who had played Eliza on the stage, but that was Hollywood at the time, Julie was thought to be too English.

When GB Shaw was walking between his home in Fitzrovia and work in Fleet Street, Covent Garden was on the way and he would have met many street sellers and traders.

He was a progressive of his time and a believer that national compulsory education would mean a people not only able to read, write and count but to speak their language clearly and understandably.

It is a pity he failed.


  1. Yes, many accents in older films were were well removed from reality. Oliver in David Lean's version of Oliver Twist for example. Not quite what one would expect from the workhouse.

  2. And nowadays it is the mode to speak dead common - dropping 'T's and the like.
    'Equality' I suppose well - till Pakistani takes over.