Sir Roger Moore: Why I'm gunning for people who don't talk proper
Can you imagine James Bond speaking cockney? âOi, Miss Moneypenny! Get off the Dog and Bone [phone] and gi âus a Heavenly Bliss [kiss].â
Or how about him ordering a Martini â shaken, not stirred â in Brummie or Scouse. It just wouldnât be 007, writes Sir Roger Moore in the Daily Mail
Commander Bond has to speak the Queenâs English â and how I wish more of us would.
I have always spoken that way. But if I were a young actor trying to find work today, the way I talk would be a handicap.
In fact, my actress daughter, Deborah, who also speaks like me, claims she regularly struggles in auditions because her accent âisnât regional enoughâ.
For it seems that these days no one wants to speak like Her Majesty, especially on stage and screen. This is a great pity.
I love local accents, but some are so strong that people from another region havenât the slightest hope of understanding them.
On the other hand, I defy anyone not to be able to understand someone speaking the Queenâs English, regardless of where theyâre from.
Received Pronunciation is a wonderful leveller. The only problem is that it has become terribly unfashionable.
Itâs all Michael Caineâs fault, of course. Not to mention Albie Finney, Tom Courtenay and the great âArfurâ Mullard.
After years of film, theatre and radio performers speaking âproperâ, this group of actors broke the mould in the Sixties and popularised a more informal use of language.
Unfortunately, this spelled the end of the Queenâs English.
These days, you just donât hear it on television.
Thanks to a kind of reverse snobbery, even newsreaders and reporters, who once spoke like Bond, are expected to have a regional twang and a colloquial turn of phrase.
This is a great shame. For to my mind, not to speak properly in public is pure laziness.
Ladies and gentlemen should speak with the round sounds and nicely shaped vowels taught by Professor Higgins, the language expert played by Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady.
Unfortunately, the trend has now gone so far in the opposite direction that even Fergie and Diana used to try to speak Estuary English.
Not for them sounding like a couple of Sloanes saying âhiceâ when they meant âhouseâ. They, too, often preferred the rather ugly âouseâ.
But then, when I was growing up, I would have got a clip round the ear from my mother if I slipped out of the Queenâs English.
She was very strict about the way I spoke. If I as much as dropped an âaitchâ, I was consigned to the naughty step.
My mother was born in India, but came from Staffordshire.
To be completely honest, some of her vowels were a little unformed â although I would never have dared tell her that.
She would never, for example, have called a âbathâ a âbarthâ, as I do.
For the most part of my childhood I grew up in Stockwell in South â or as they would say, âSarfâ â London.
Of course, I tried to look tougher than I was.
I tried to speak like some of the rougher boys, and when my mother first took me to school, I begged her not to kiss me goodbye, in case it made me look soft.
But she didnât have any time for nonsense like that. She, after all, had a strong sense of how one should behave and speak â and I was expected to follow her lead.
âDonât be so silly, Roger!â she would say in her posh voice, whenever I tried on one of my verbal affectations.
I remember one of the other boys asking me: âIs that your mum? Sheâs a right good-looking tart.â
I thought she would be flattered when I reported this back to her, but I got yet another clip round the ear. âYou mustnât speak that way, Roger!â she said.
My father was a born-and-bred Londoner, but youâd never have guessed it from the way he talked.
He had this stage accent that he used for his amateur dramatics and he sounded very posh indeed.
It was the model I was expected to follow, one that my mother said would mean I would be clearly understood by anyone I spoke to.
âSome people speak so sloppily, you canât understand a thing they say,â she told me.
Of course, as an actor I can turn my hand to lots of accents.
For my first audition to get into RADA, I gave them a selection. First, I did a scene from John Galsworthyâs The Silver Box. I played Jones, the charladyâs cockney husband.
I had to say: âIt was Bank âoliday, anâ Iâd âad a drop to drink. I see this young Mr Barfwick tryinâ ta find the keyâole on the wrong side of the door.â
The second piece couldnât have been more different. I recited Lord Alfred Tennysonâs ballad The Revenge:
âAt Flores in the Azores Sir Richard Grenville lay,
And a pinnace, like a flutterâd bird, came flying from far away:
Spanish ships of war at sea! We have sighted fifty-three!â
There are about 15 verses in similar vein to that and you canât say any of them without enunciating them properly, just as the Queen would.
Then I did a spot of Bardolph from Henry V. Shakespeare describes him as âa commoner from London who serves in the war with Henry and is hanged in France for lootingâ. I gave him a West Country accent â all âoohsâ and âaahrsâ. I can do them all. Even French.
In fact, when I first went to America in 1953, I landed a part in a play for producer Robert Montgomery.
I was cast as a French diplomat working for the UN and I must have played it with a pretty decent Gallic brogue because my agent soon got a call asking: âYou know that French actor, can he play French with an English accent?â
My agent said: âI think he can do that.â
In fact, my two strongest suits are accents and smiles. (When I started in repertory in Palmers Green, north London, the first director I ever had said: âYouâre not very good, so remember to smile whenever you come on.â
So thatâs what I did, I smiled even if I was reporting the death of the cat.)
There are lots of wonderful accents that should be celebrated as part of our rich heritage.
I like the Welsh lilt and the Scottish brogue. I love Billy Connollyâs Glasgow twang.
Nor would I want to go back to the snobby old days when you were sneered at for not speaking or acting properly.
When I was at RADA, the principal, Sir Kenneth Barnes â known to us as Granny Barnes â was a crashing snob.
Later, after Iâd joined the army, I returned to the academy and paid him a visit.
âAh, Moore,â he said. âWhat regiment are you in?â
âRoyal Army Service Corps,â I replied. And that was that. Because I wasnât in a posh regiment such as the cavalry, he turned his back on me.
But there is a lot of difference between that attitude and speaking in a manner so everyone can understand you.
The Americans used to say âGee, you have a cute accentâ, and I would reply: âI donât have an accent, Iâm English.â
And that is exactly how it should be. The point of language is to communicate your thoughts in the shortest possible time and in the clearest possible way.
The Queenâs English excels at that â why be ashamed of it?
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