Sunday, June 12, 2011

You can take the girl out of Yorkshire and apparently take the Yorkshire out of the girl

The sculptor Barbara Hepworth came from Wakefield in Yorkshire and went to the Girls High School. At the age of 16 she went to Leeds College of Art and then on to the Royal College in London. She didn't return to Yorkshire and spent most of the rest of her life in St Ives. One thing that nobody seemed to mention when they opened the Hepworth Wakefield recently was what happened to her Yorkshire accent. Her father was a prominent civil servant and so it's likely that as a teenager she may have had a genteel Yorkshire accent but it must have been a Yorkshire accent nonetheless. It wouldn't be surprising if in the years living away the tone of her speaking voice had changed but that wouldn't account for her apparent transformation into the dowager we see and hear in this clip from 1968.

It's even more marked when you contrast with that other sculptor contemporary Henry Moore who went to school in nearby Castleford and was also at Leeds with Hepworth. His voice has obviously changed by about the same time but you can still hear the Yorkshire in it.

It's one thing to change your voice. In the case of Barbara Hepworth she seems to have adopted somebody else's entirely.


  1. Joan Bakewell underwent a similar transformation when she went 'up' to Oxf/Camb, I forget which. By her own admission she (seemingly overnight) got rid of her Lancashire vowels (and her factory lass dialect) and ended up speaking like a member of the family Windsor. Caitlin Moran did the same thing to get rid of her West Midlands twang. I suppose it's just an extension to the'telephone voice' syndrome.

  2. James Mason, Peter O'Toole and Dominic West are all Yorkshire folk, though you wouldn't guess it from their accents. Denis Healey was from Keighley, but listening to his Desert Island Discs podcast recently I would never have guessed.
    And it's interesting to hear how many upper class people (including Prince Harry/Wills) now lapse into a kind of Estuary English, innit?