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In tribute to poor old Cheryl Cole, whose natural mode of expression seems to have caused so many furrowed brows among so many hopeful performers on the US X Factor that she had to be sent home in disgrace (if we’re reading the tabloids correctly), here are five other regional accents which should have caused a similar reaction, and yet there are stars and shows who use them and seem to be able to make themselves heard right across the US of A.
1: Ricky Gervais
Now it’s pretty clear that while Ricky has something of an accent, it’s not an immediately placeable one; being part West Country burr and part London adenoidal whine. So while we know he comes from Reading, he could just have easily have picked it up in any number of satellite towns to some great metropolis or other. And for his role in The Office, having a relatively nondescript provincial accent helped flesh out the character of David Brent in a way which has proven to be startlingly effective. Since then, he’s taken that same accent into every role he has played, and it has turned out to be no hindrance to his work whatsoever. Although sometimes he does talk quite slowly, when he wants to be sure that everyone can get whatever barb he is throwing out.
Look, here he is talking to Elmo (don’t panic, these are outtakes, not actual Sesame Street footage).
2: London – Jason Statham
Oh we DO like a tough guy with a strong London accent, don’t we? Someone who can say all of their lines without once unclenching their teeth, and who’d stitch you up like a kipper as soon as look at you. It wouldn’t matter if Jason’s voice got even more gruff and those glottal stops rained down like confetti, everyone can still tell what he is on about. Ironically, his accent in Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels was stronger than in his natural speaking voice, and that was a hit everywhere. Maybe Cheryl should look into doing some action flicks?
3: Gavin & Stacey
Technically, Welsh isn’t so much an accent as the result of an entire nation — with their own language, thank you — being forcibly encouraged to learn English at the strongly-enforced whim of their oppressors. So to mock the accent for not being the Queen’s English (which some people do) is just piling insult upon ancient injury. Plus, and this is where the whole anti-Cheryl argument falls down, the Welsh accent, no matter how strong, is among the most appealing in all of the English-speaking nations of the world. In fact, many companies deliberately place their call centres in Wales and Scotland, and Cheryl’s native Newcastle, because people react more warmly to those accents than they do those of Birmingham or London.
PS: To characterise the accent of an entire nation as if it is essentially one sound is only going to cause problems for anyone from that area, so to save aggro, can I just say that I’m using the world ‘Welsh’ to distinguish a group of accents from those which are definitely ‘Not Welsh’. ‘K?
4: Craig Ferguson
The Scottish accent has much of the ame deal as the Welsh, really. There are a LOT of regional variations and at times it’s less an accent and more one language being spoken using the rhythms and inflections of another. Mike Myers likes to take his extraordinarily springy learned-from-his-dad Canadian Scots accent out for a stroll at every opportunity, and the accent of Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons is wrong more often than it is right. So, let’s have a look at someone who does have a strong accent, but who clearly does not struggle to get his point across to the American public.
See also: Billy Connolly.
5: Ozzy Osbourne
And this is definitely the point at which Cheryl should be stamping her foot and demanding equal treatment (assuming the whole accent thing wasn’t a collossal red herring in the middle of an even bigger publicity stunt, of course). Ozzy Osbourne is a man with a strong regional accent. His home city of Birmingham has left its mark on the way he speaks, but so has years of bad living, and he also suffers from a neurological condition called Parkin’s Syndrome, which accounts for a lot of what people assume to be drug-related slurring.
And people LOVE Ozzy Osbourne. Not just because of his musical legacy either. The Osbournes was a top rated show in which he did not perform Black Sabbath or Ozzy Osbourne songs (much). Instead he talked to his family, he shouted at his family, and he cleaned up dog poo, while swearing. AND his wife was a reality TV talent show judge. If I was Cheryl, I’d be wearing an Ozzy T-shirt everywhere I went, until common sense prevailed and I got my job back.
As with all of these things, it’s not really the sound of the accent itself which causes the problem, it’s the weight of cultural prejudice that comes with it.
To illustrate this point, and end with a laugh, here’s an excerpt from QI:
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic