Saturday, 31 May 2008

Accentuating the negative

Harry Brighouse reports secondhand that a British survey (of Radio Times readers) found that Hugh Laurie on House has the fourth-worst American accent by a British actor.

Commenter Matt McIrvin thinks things generally have improved:

There used to be a lot of British actors doing terrible American accents. You can hear them if you watch old sitcoms and Doctor Who serials from the sixties and seventies (the rocket pilot in “Tomb of the Cybermen” is a particularly choice example). Most of them seemed to be doing one of two accents. One was an outrageously exaggerated cowboy drawl used mostly for comic effect; but the other, used for non-cowboys, sounded sort of like an attempt to imitate the style of 1940s radio or newsreel narration—this rapid, somewhat nasal, loud barking patter that I’ve never heard any American use in actual conversation. I assume that acting classes were actually teaching it as a generic American accent.

Used to? For all my love of Inspector Morse, I don’t think any of the alleged “Americans” on that series ever managed to sound like an American—most sounded like a British person trying to imitate John Wayne and failing miserably because they weren’t John Wayne and no other American talks like him. More recently, the less said about the accents of any of the actors in Dalek during the first season of the Doctor Who revival, or the president they killed off last year, the better.

John Barrowman sounds like an American on Torchwood, but that’s largely because he is one. (The incongruity there is that nobody ever seems to be very bothered by the fact he’s running around Cardiff dressed like Bomber Harris and talking like an American, not even the people who ought to be predisposed to dislike Torchwood. Or Americans, for that matter, which may be an overlapping set.)


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.
[Permalink] 1. mjweir wrote @ Sat, 31 May 2008, 4:14 pm CDT:

Gee Chris could you say that again? That part about John Barrowman being an American? There seems to be some loony idea among the UK Torchwood fans that because he was born in Scotland that makes him British despite the fact that he has a Midwest American accent so flat you could fry eggs on it. And the fact that he grew up in Illinois and lived in the US most of his adult life until he decided to try his luck in the UK, seems to be conveniently forgotten. I know it seems as if he’s all over the Barrowman Broadcasting Corporation, but really, he is one of ours.

If British actors want to try their hand at American accents, they don’t get much more American than John Barrowman. Imitate him and you’ve got it. Nobody but a boy from the Midwest can get those vowels quite that flat.

And incidentally, we love Torchwood in the US. We just wish you’d do real seasons of 23 episodes. ;)

[Permalink] 2. sphinxvictorian wrote @ Sat, 31 May 2008, 6:20 pm CDT:

I think Hugh Laurie’s accent is generic but really good, actually. But yes, there have always been British people making a hash of American accents on British shows and movies, just as there have been Americans making a hash of British accents on American shows and movies. I love Gwyneth Paltrow and Renee Zellweger, but really their British accents are unlike any I’ve heard when I’ve been in Britain. I also love Jeremy Northam but his American accent in Cypher and other films is just not that believable. So like I said, it goes both ways.

[Permalink] 3. Steven Taylor wrote @ Mon, 2 Jun 2008, 9:01 am CDT:

I think that Laurie’s accent on House is pretty good.

But yes, there have been some not-so-good ones on the new Who (let alone the old one—Nicola Bryant as Perpugilliam Brown comes to mind). The woman they use for the AMNN anchor on the new series has an accent that grates on the ears.

And yup, Barrowman sounds like Barrowman sounds—just find a clip of him on YouTube in an interview or a non-Who/Torchwood setting.

Jamie Bamber’s accent on BSG is pretty convincing as well—I had no idea he was British until I read it somewhere.

The chick on Bionic Woman was fairly decent, but had occasional lapses.

[Permalink] 4. Steven Taylor wrote @ Wed, 4 Jun 2008, 12:22 pm CDT:

The following occurred to me later: what was up with Barrowman’s pronunciation of “estrogen” in the first episode of Torchwood? He pronounced it “eeestrogen”.

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