The Daily Telegraph - Features
Amol Rajan’s attack on ‘posh’ presenters is pure inverted snobbery
Thanks to the collapse of the pound, eye-watering mortgage bills, the threat of nuclear apocalypse and Gareth Southgate’s refusal to replace Harry Maguire at centre-half, watching the news is already depressing enough. For the BBC’s Amol Rajan, however, the experience must be even more painful.
Because he simply can’t stand the newsreaders’ voices.
In his view, they sound far too posh. And, as a result, he believes they’re utterly unrepresentative of the wider public. According to Rajan, only 10 per cent of British people speak RP, “Received Pronunciation”. Yet among news presenters, he claims, it’s 70 per cent.
I must admit, I was surprised by this figure. Mainly because I was under the impression that at least 80 per cent of all programmes on TV and radio were now presented by Amol Rajan himself. And Rajan doesn’t do RP – he speaks with a south London accent.
At any rate, Rajan is determined
Justin Webb will be calling in a voice coach to teach him how to speak like Rab C Nesbitt
to end this tyranny of the wellspoken. Not only is he making a documentary on the subject, he’s urged Tim Davie, the BBC’s director-general, to give more jobs to people with “strong, regional, working-class” accents.
Davie has promised that he will. This worries me slightly, because whenever a job opens up at the BBC, it invariably goes to Rajan and, what with his existing commitments on the Today programme, BBC News, Amol Rajan Interviews…, The One Show and University Challenge, I fear that the poor man may become somewhat over-stretched. Not even a man of his extraordinary stamina can present everything at once. (“Back to you in the studio, Amol. Thanks, Amol. Now here’s Amol with the weather.”)
In any case, though, I think it’s best if Davie ignores his suggestion. For the very simple reason that it’s nonsense. First of all, today’s news presenters are not “too posh”. If Rajan thinks they are, perhaps his older colleagues could tell him how things used to be, back in the 1980s, when Rajan was at primary school. In those days, far fewer presenters had regional accents – and those who did were subjected to appalling snobbery.
For example, when Susan Rae started reading the news on Radio 4 in 1983, she received hate mail about her Scottish accent – even though it’s as crisply immaculate as Miss Jean Brodie’s.
Snobbery within the industry itself was just as strong. When Kay Burley of Sky News was a teenager in local radio 40 years ago, she overheard a colleague mocking her Wigan accent. The only way she was going to make it in news, she realised sadly, was to get rid of it. And as she couldn’t afford elocution lessons, she trained herself, in private, to adapt her vowels, using a tape recorder.
These days, both society and broadcasting are vastly less snobbish. So there’s really no need to start setting quotas for regional accents. For one thing, there’s little, if any, demand for it. Audiences want presenters to speak clearly, in a manner intelligible to all parts of the country. As long as you do that, they no longer care what accent you’ve got.
And anyway, how would the BBC go about clamping down on RP? Fire their existing presenters, as punishment for going to public school? Or order them to change their voices? It’ll be like Kay Burley’s experience in reverse. Instead of presenters with regional accents trying to sound posh, we’ll have posh presenters trying to sound as if they’ve got regional accents. Justin Webb will be calling in a voice coach from Rada to teach him how to speak like Rab C Nesbitt. Sophie Raworth impersonating Danny Dyer. Fiona Bruce doing Yosser Hughes.
In my view, complaining about RP is pure inverted snobbery. Still, Rajan does have a grain of a point. There is elitism in broadcasting. But it’s not about accents. It’s about education.
The BBC is stuffed to the gills with Oxbridge graduates. To change this, perhaps Rajan should urge the director-general to replace them with people who left school at 16, and thus didn’t go to university at all. This would instantly make the BBC both more working-class, and more representative of the public.
Unfortunately, of course, it would require the departure of Rajan, who graduated from Cambridge in 2002. But in the fight against elitism, we must rule nothing out.