Wednesday, June 06, 2007


My Cornish teen drama thing seems to be moving on apace, and there is now a not-entirely-discountible possibility that a pilot episode will be made this summer. Obviously just by mentioning this, the whole project is now massively fecked, but I thought I'd use this as an excuse to set some pointers on doing accents: specifically Cornish.

The Cornish accent is something an awful lot of people get horribly wrong. Standard procedure, when I mention I'm from Cornwall, is for people to say 'ere now, ooooaaaaargh, har har'. Which is actually an impression of a mad pirate. From Devon.

I, personally, myself, was born in Blackpool (with little or no assistance, I had to do most of the work myself), then moved down to Cornwall in my eights (as nobody says). The local children received my thick Lancastrian vowels with a mixture of hysterical giggling and poking with sticks, so as a brave act of self-assertion and political defiance, I shed it overnight, to be replaced by a rather old-fashioned Received Pronunciation, although words like 'buried' still betray my shameful northern lower middle class upbringing (I thought I was properly middle class until I started working in television/blogging). Apart from when I'm pissed, when I do, to be honest, sound a bit West Country. It's like getting drunk with three different people, all of them quite likely to go on about roleplaying games and Sophie Ellis-Bextor* rather too much.

I have also claimed in the presence of a proper american film producer to be 'jewish actually, although I don't go on about it' (because I'm not). We planned to go to Israel together and have a shalom (I'm hazy about the details), but then the whole thing was abandoned, as we only did it to wind up a nearby television producer who we suspected of rabid anti-semitism. It worked rather too well, and she's now in prison.

Once, for about a day, I decided I was kind of Native American, because of something a girlfriend at the time had said (specifically: 'you look a bit Native American sometimes') but no-one at Waterstone's believed me, so I let it drop.

Anyway (Jesus, let me get on with it!), the bona fide Cornish accent can be characterised by its two central ingredients: a gentle quizzicality, mixed with an implied threat of extreme violence, thusly:

"Tis good to see you having a nice party, m'andsomes, but if them bangin' 'ouse tunes don't get turned down to a considerate level come 'leven, me and Piran'll be back dreckly, whereupon we'll smash you all up."

And lots of people from Cornwall don't have strong accents at all, so if you're an actor and you're thinking of being in my pilot episode, only do a Cornish accent if you're from there (and the plan is to hire only people within a two-mile radius of my flat), otherwise, don't bother.

That's all I wanted to say, really.

* Who does not, by the way, look like she has 'a cat's face stretched across a plate' thank you Patroclus. Or if she does, it's a lovely cat, and a very nice plate. But obviously you're much prettier, and what does SE-B know about Neal Stephenson eh? Nothing, that's how much etc.


kaiki said...

strange, i did exactly the opposite james. i was born in treliske but when i moved to the big smoke nineteen years later (“it’s another world over the tamar”, a cornish friend once genuinely said to me), my accent was received with lot of ooooarrrrs, repeated singing of wurzel’s lyrics and, memorably –“what’s with your voice, man?”
i promptly dropped it and now have a weird estuary noise in it’s place. except when i’m drunk. then i’m a roight maid.
proper job post by the way. i haven’t heard “wozzon ?” for years.

patroclus said...

I don't remember ever saying that about Sophie Ellis-Bextor, but I wish I had, because it's very funny.

james henry said...

kaiki: it bloody is another world over the Tamar. A wrong one, with too many people in it. I like saying 'wozzon', particularly at funerals.

P: Actually, it might have been PEANUTS who said that. I shall credit both of you together.

Good Dog said...

Actually, if you come from Devon (as one does), people either do Cornish accents that don't sound Cornish or Somerset accents that sound like they're gargling a fresh cow pat.

And then they bang on about freaking cream teas and pasties. bastards!!

thegirl said...

Patroclus, Peanuts or James, S.E.B./cat + plate thing was hilarious.

And totally spot-on, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Hey James,

i hope you don't mind me popping in a comment about this:
but i read about it on flickr, and thought since you had a few posts a while ago about people in bands getting ripped off by evil companies, you might have some sympathy for this girl, who has had her photo nicked and stuck on the cover of a porn dvd... and she was only 14 when it was taken! people suck. anyway, i'm just de-lurking to try and get your (and everyone elses) support for her!

p.s. I love your blog, read it most days at work to get me a laugh! oh, and i used to live in St Ives, and i loooove the accent!

Marsha Klein said...

Is that a quote from your rpg-ing local PC? If it isn't, it should be.

When non-Scots find out you're from Scotland, they invariably say:
"Och aye, the noo" which, as far as I'm aware, no-one ever says (or ever has said). It translates roughly as: "Oh yes, at the moment" which you wouldn't say apropos of absolutely NOTHING, would you? Mind you, I'm very grateful to Green Wing (for SO many things) not least of which is the fact that, these days, as a Scot you're quite likely to get asked to say: "Crispy? Crispy? Creepin' Jesus, these were supposed to have been WAASHED!"
Which is better than "It's a braw bricht moonlicht nicht, the nicht" any nicht of the week in my book.

Hamilton's Brain said...

My favourite place of origin caller response, or POOCR, is the following:

"So whereabouts in America are you from?"
"New Jersey."
"Ah! Noo Joisy!"

I'm lucky, and grew up in Buckinghamshire, where we do not have accents. *sniff*

Valerie said...

Sorry, Patroclus' description of Sophie Ellis-Bextor is frighteningly accurate. (My own man thinks Heather Graham is the bee's knees. Which is fine, because she looks like an insect. A very cute and appealing insect, but a bug of some sort nonetheless.)

I spent most of my childhood in Michigan with Californian parents, so I have a mixed-up California/Midwest accent, and say words like 'route' and 'roof' with both a long and short 'oo' sound by turns. I did, however, quickly learn to stop saying 'crick' (for creek) when we moved back to California...

patroclus said...

PEANUT confirms that it was he, not I, who so accurately described La Bextor. He would also like to make it known that a peanut is not a nup, it is a legume.

Anonymous said...

>>>> marsha klein said: "It translates roughly as: "Oh yes, at the moment" which you wouldn't say apropos of absolutely NOTHING, would you?"

You might in response to someone asking "Are you planning to do a ridiculous Scottish accent any time soon"?

Jen said...

Marsha Klein... totally agree with you there.

My strong west of Scotland accent's been causing me problems lately. I phoned yesterday at work to head office (where undoubtedly they sit in big chairs, fondling cats) to ask for 'low-level checkout stripping'; I was greeted by a pseudo-Australian who, on answering the phone, 'sort of covered' the speaker and said 'bwah ha! Scottish!', then was absolutely sure I was saying 'Wool Label' and wouldn't take 'NO YOU MORON!!' for a legitimate argument.

She probably thought I said 'new moon', like I was the mad flute-wielding hotelier from Little Britain... I wish I'd laughed at her accent, now.

Erse. This was why email was invented.

Your borrowed description of 'So-pheline' Ellis-Bextor brightened my mood, however.

nanga parbat said...

I'm from Carlisle, meself, amd remember the specific moment all of my "Brideshead-esque" fantasies of university-life were smashed when some genius asked me why I didn't have a Welsh accent.

My reply was both strongly worded and markedly Cumbrian in tone which is IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND YOU WASSOCK!

I'm over it now.
I've always thought SE-B had a face like a buttock, btw.

Dave said...

I shall be visiting Cornwall in two weeks time. Am I wrong to assume that I shall be living exclusively on pasties and clotted cream teas?

I shall try to avoid doing accents while I am there.

Sal said...

Again, off topic, and I apologise for that, but I wanted the thank fellow commenty people for their positive reviews of Landscape With Weapon. It was thoroughly enjoyable and well worth the visit to 'The Smoke' even if I did get covered in rice and water from a fighting JR-T!

(Sorry James, for ruining topic thread!)

Orb said...

I sometimes get confused between photos of Sophie Ellis-Bextor and photos of the Lovell Radio Telescope at Jodrell Bank.

Oli said...

Also from Cornwall. Don't have an accent, watched too much telly growing up, sound a bit like John Craven.

Wishing you well with your Cornish teen drama thing whilst simultaneously hoping it doesn't shit all over my Cornish teen drama thing. And that's writerly ambivalence at its finest.

Imo said...

when my sister was about 8 she managed to persaude her teacher that she had a Chinese grandmother!! We couldn't be more British white middle-class if we tried!

Anyway talking about Cornish accents, I wonder what people's opinions are on Dawn French's attempt at Cornish in that BBC comedy that was set in Cornwall (sorry can't for the life of me remember what it was called)

james henry said...

Oli: ideally my pilot (or whatever) will be so enormously succcessful, it will usher in an era where the BBC commission nothing but cornwall-based dramas.

I only saw a few minutes of Wild West, then got distracted - I've heard DF do a good Cornish accent before, but then she's from Plymouth, I think, so has probably heard the lilting strains of the Janner floating across the Tamar.

Everyone else: stop hating on Sophie. I think she is AMAZING to look at, and one day hope to employ her just to hang around the house and sigh languidly (because I think if I hired her for anything else, that's what she'd do anyway).

violetforthemoment said...

I am also Cumbrian and have been accused of myriad nationalities based on ignorant southerners' impressions of my accent: Socttish, Irish, Welsh, French, and even bloody Canadian. The guy who suggested the last one was a bit pished, to be fair to him.

Kalista said...

Accents are a funny thing, even though I am from the north I do not have much of an accent, but here at uni in the south nobody has been north of the watford gap. They find my northern vowels very amusing, most of the following words provoke amusement and some sort of joke about me living in a coal mine (even though I come from a mill town, tsk they know nothing): grass, glass, bath, and for some strange reason polo mint.

realdoc said...

Is Cornwall a bit like The Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf in London then?
I hope not as we're going there on holiday next month.

Oli said...

"Is Cornwall a bit like The Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf in London then?"

No, but I like that people think it is.

Actually, there's a village near to Bodmin called St. Teath. That is.

Imo said...

So glad to hear that Dawn French's Cornish is realistic.

Do you really want someone to lanquish around your house sighing lanquidly - it could get very annoying and you'd only have to hoover around her.