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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Falling into the "oop north" trap

I don't deliberately pick on the BBC website but this extract from Razia Iqbal's blog about meeting Alan Bennett caught my eye:
Watching the play, I found myself thinking about how successfully Bennett has mined his past and his upbringing, and how lovingly he has given voice to working class life and communities, without being either nostalgic or sentimental.
I've seen nearly everything Alan Bennett has written and I can't remember much that's concerned with what I would call "working class life and communities". I've seen lots of lower middle class characters with strong Yorkshire accents. I suppose it's all the same from Planet Shepherd's Bush, isn't it?

18 comments:

Clair said...

Hear hear. I feel Yorkshire is the spiritual home of the lower middle class, typified by couples in Polyester outfits, her usually in a hat, on a day trip to Bolton Abbey or Scarborough.

Mark said...

Is it really surprising that people's interpretations are subjectively biased?

BLTP said...

Mark: it's not but if you come a place that's always portrayed in only one way by people you suspect have never been it gets tiresome.

I was listening to AB last night on compilation of his BBC stuff and he's got more northern as time has gone by. There's an early recording of him and it sounds really strange he's got a high posh slightly prissy voice. The piece is just as funny it's just odd.
One thing you never see discussed is that AB has lived in London for 50 years and yet his work hardly mentions the place.

Michael said...

As someone who grew up in the same suburb as AB, I've always felt that Alan Bennett was never writing about Yorkshire. Where are the Vera Duckworths and Billy Caspers in his writing? In the same way Graham Greene wrote about Greeneland, AB has created a kind of Bennett-ly that represents postwar provincial English suburbia. More Harrogate than Hunslet.

David Hepworth said...

I don't know whether it's quite Harrogate - though he did do a wonderful documentary about the Crown Hotel in Harrogate - but it's certainly not Hunslet. His father was a butcher and he was a grammar school boy. His characters are often teachers and nurses and civil servants. They're not working class and would probably be horrified to be regarded as such. I was just interested in the original quote because I think most southerners are tin eared when it comes to the nuances of the way people north of Watford talk (as if they all talked the same). They seem to regard anyone whose vowel sounds are short as some sort of horny-handed son of toil.

michael50/50 said...

My in-laws are working class from Huddersfield and they are the snobbiest gits you'll ever meet.
Just thought I'd get that off my chest. Thanks

Five-Centres said...

Not ALL southerners a deaf to nuances, you know. I can tell my Blackburn from my Wigan and I'm not alone.

BLTP said...

I think AB show's that Hunslet (wortley surely) etc aren't monocultural. In the piece about the hotel in harrogate he mentions that his mum could delineate people class/type in a hundred ways based on how people tlaked , how they cleaned their house or if they juts "common". Even in Corrie they have Vera duckworth and emily Bishop.
Oh and Kes isn't a work of fiction it's the CCTV camera footage of very games lesson I ever had!

BLTP said...

Sorry can't type this morning!

melville said...

I'm not sure that it is simply Southerners not hearing the nuances of Northern accents. People across the country are often not attuned to accents outside their immediate area. I went to a very large comprehensive in Hampshire where the Standard English or RP accent was widespread in children from working class and lower middle class backgrounds. I know from my experience and that of my friends, that when we moved away, we were ofen assumed to have been to private or public schools because of the way we talked. And it works both ways - I had a friend from Gloucestershire, the son of teachers, who got a bit bored with being asked about how things were on the farm, because of his accent.

londonlee said...

There's a lovely long piece about his family and Yorkshire background in 'Untold Stories'

One thing that always bothers me about 'The History Boys' is that it's something of a fantasy of Bennett's. Schoolboys are/were never that casual and open-minded about homosexuality, even clever Oxford-bound grammar school ones.

Douglas said...

On a related theme, the only thing my admittedly highly attuned West of Scotland ears found slightly jarring about the otherwise godlike The Wire was the idea that all cops are sent on their way to a Jameson-fuelled, one size fitz all (see what I did there?) Too-Rye-Ay rendition of The Pogues 'Body of an American'. I can see that in the mass waves of immigration through Ellis Island 'Irish' was a convenient shorthand, but is this really still the case in 21st century Baltimore?

office pest said...

DH, isn't the traditional phrase 'North of the Watford Gap', not 'North of Watford'?

David Hepworth said...

Douglas: I asked David Simon (*clang*) about the cop's wake and he told me it was entirely made up. Then again most Americans claim some kind of Irishness.
Office Pest: yes, they did call it "north of Watford Gap" but I get the impression they increasingly call it "north of Watford".
I think the former expression dates from the days when motorway service areas were rare and consequently rather well-known.

Rob Spence said...

Yep. Just heard John Macarthy on Excess Baggage interviewing someone who's just published a book about Pendle Hill. We had to have five minutes on exactly where Pendle Hill is, with the writer being obliged to give detailed directions, as if he were discussing an obscure mountain in Bulgaria. I don't think we would have had that if the writer had written about the Sussex Downs...

office pest said...

And maybe from when the geographical features of the country were still taught in schools? :) Oh dear, there I go again!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watford_Gap

Matthew Rudd said...

You should hear what us northerners say about you southerners. It'd make you more green as cabbage-looking, I tell thee.

Paperback Rioter said...

Praps our Guardian friend meant Alan Sillitoe but, contrivance ahoy, I would do such is the loneliness of the long-distance punner. Still, as Stan Barstow nearly said, it's a kind of living