Don’t tar us Norfolk types with a generic rustic brush

PUBLISHED: 19:05 08 November 2019 | UPDATED: 19:05 08 November 2019

Summit meeting over authentic country accents at Radio Norfolk in the 1980s with international playwright Arnold Wesker. His  play Roots is set in Norfolk – and he maintained the best production he saw and heard graced the stage of Norwich Maddermarket Theatre

Summit meeting over authentic country accents at Radio Norfolk in the 1980s with international playwright Arnold Wesker. His play Roots is set in Norfolk – and he maintained the best production he saw and heard graced the stage of Norwich Maddermarket Theatre


Keith Skipper says the much-treasured Norfolk accent is at risk from being dumbed down into a generic rural dialect

It takes something really special to lure me out of Norfolk. I start feeling homesick as soon as the Swaffham road to Brandon teases me into bad puns about "Brecksit".

Even so, there can be exceptions to most rules. My annual visit to Mummerzet House to register an official complaint leaves me feeling a bit better for unfurling the Norfolk flag and planting it among the doorway shrubs.

Such a gesture must one day inspire a vibrant crop of phonetically-modified trailblazers to Mummerzet House, a big building somewhere in London. Students can enrol for a course in country accents and dialects. It still attracts an Arts Council grant despite the cuts and a health warning when it comes to work in most rural locations.

The course has been criticised for not being broad enough, for pandering unashamedly to stock images, and for operating along factory farm lines to turn out rustic bit-part players, many of them believed to be direct descendants of peasant stock on the growl in television and radio dramas since the 1950s.

For all that, this course remains a magnet for aspiring thespians and there are high hopes of cameo roles for brighter students in a special episode of Midsomer Murders due to be set in Norfolk through a shortage of participants at current locations.

Even John Nettles, The Stinging Detective, has noticed a proliferation of Walter Gabriel and Rambling Syd Rumpo impressionists in more recent instalments highlighting life and death with an idyllic rural backcloth. "I haven't a clue what they're on about" he laments.

Little was forthcoming in initial stages of my yearly mission to Mummerzet House when I sought an audience with revered principal, Professor O.R. Piskey. He refused to see me on the grounds I was a known troublemaker and referred me to Country Accents and Dialects course tutor, Adge Scrumpy.

He was polite and sympathetic to my views. "Oi baint the one to help ye. They do say, when the moon be high and the wind do rattle, ole Mother Tinmine, she do come out an' ornt these parts. Be ye new hereabouts? Drink up thee zyder. I knows nothing an' I say less, oh arr, oh arr, oh arr, oh arr, oh arr, oh arr …"

He sounded like a Cornish ambulance in full cry. Most impressive without a script, smock or safety net. I told him straight.

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This was all very well but genuine Norfolk articles did not talk like that. They went more for squit, troshin', mardlin' and long meaningful silences, especially in the mating season.

"You wouldn't expect Billy Connolly to swear in a Brummie accent or Jethro to wear a kilt and play the bagpipes. And did you ever hear George Formby break into an Irish lilt or Compo and Nora Batty sound like Rhett Butler and Scarlet O'Hara?"

I continued my verbal assault, spiced with an occasional "Cor, blarst me!" and "All of a muckwash!".

He paled significantly. "It's simply not fair on our West Country cousins to suggest just about everybody else does a bad impression of them whenever a local character is needed to liven up a dull scene."

Mr Scrumpy looked very hurt. "Oi baint be to blame. Oi just follow orders, I do". He conjured a couple of half-baked pasties from a drawer and began to scoff noisily in a weak attempt to hide embarrassment.

"You must know RADA has been striving for years to give pride and proper recognition to each area with its own distinctive characteristics …" He nearly choked "I baint with you. RADA …?"

"Reasonably Accurate Dialect Association. Arnie Weskit -- sorry, ignore that - Arnold Wesker and I set it up in the 1980s to ensure Norfolk and other cultural hotbeds were not tarred with the same old rustic brush by seats of learning such as this".

I kept going … "I baint be leaving until you let me stick this Norfolk flag somewhere prominent". We compromised with a gap in the doorway shrubs. My parting shot had poor Mr Scrumpy diving for cover.

He finished his impromptu meal and turned a funny colour as I handed over a PS I had prepared earlier.

He promised to use it in the very first lesson of the new term after my heartfelt performance.

It read: "Aunt Agatha, she say .. Woss the point o'bein' diffrunt if evrawun else is the searme?"

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