Studs Terkel discusses the changing role accents play on class distinctions in England with guests in the parlor of the Mayor in Stratford-upon-Avon ; part 2
BROADCAST: 1962 | DURATION: 00:33:02
Studs Terkel gathers a cross section of opinions on accents and their changing role on class distinctions in British Society. He asks the Mayor and Mayoress of Stratford-upon-Avon, the Huxleys, their opinions on the influence of education on accents and class. Also present to offer opinions are Mr. & Mrs. Lawrence, pub owners from Lower Quinton near Stratford-on-Avon, and Mr. Morris, a London stockbroker and his wife. Bookending the conversation at the mayor's home are two conversations with Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence.
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Mrs. Lawrence Oh, yes. Definitely. But, of course, we we were never publicans. We we took this five years ago simply and solely because our only child got married and we thought - I don't know - I I thought I wasn't the type to sit on committees very much and do things like that. I'd like to get my teeth into a business, and I asked my husband to go into a country pub, and he said, "No." And then one day he he came in feeling a bit disgruntled and banged his briefcase down and said, "Well that's it. We'll get a county pub." And we did.
Studs Terkel Yes.
Mrs. Lawrence Yes
Mrs. Lawrence I see. Oh, well. Well, she has married a tradesman who is very well off. And, well, she's very fortunate. She has a lovely home and everything that goes with it. But, of course, years ago the person she's married probably would have been an absolute nonentity. But today, because his father owns 7 businesses and he's the director of it, he's he's quite an important person.
Mrs. Lawrence Oh, well of course that's what we hope will happen. That is where money will help, because it will send them to good schools and they will possibly move on and be, well, better spoken and all the rest of it. Not my daughter because she's [convent?] educated and she's very [charming?]
Studs Terkel Near Stratford-on-Avon. Lower Quinton near Stratford-on-Avon in case there are visitors from Chicago passing. The Lawrences. It's called The College Arms. Your comments I find most interesting, indeed.
Studs Terkel On this drizzly, it's still drizzling, this Friday night and I'm in Stratford-upon-Avon, and we'll talk about that preposition 'upon' in a moment. The significance of it. Came ostensibly - no, really - to see Paul Scofield, and perhaps I'll be able to see him tomorrow and Peter Brook, the director, perhaps I'll be able to see him tomorrow. But something else has happened, though. As in life things are - work out improvisationally, so you improvise. At the Falcon Hotel I met Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence and we had an interesting conversation and now I find myself in the parlor of his worship, the Mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon, Councilman Walter Huxley with Madame Mayoress and some friends including the Lawrences, and a rather convivial and sparkling Mr. Morris. And I thought, if if we could, if we could Mr. Mayor, the nature of the community itself. We think of Stratford-upon-Avon as the place where tourists come to see Shakespeare well-performed. Is this the prime source of the city's--
Walter Huxley Well, of course, tourism is very important in the town, but it is not the most important industry. The most important industry is undoubtedly agriculture. And that's why I'm here tonight as a principal guest at the Farmers Ball.
Walter Huxley The town is known as Stratford-upon-Avon. The rural area, those surrounding area to the borough is Stratford-on-Avon and we're very jealous of the 'upon', because that is in our charter.
Walter Huxley Well--
Walter Huxley Well, we have become a more affluent society, of course. Mechanization has entered into it. And, of course, we have these subsidies which we must protect our agriculture. Because we're so dependent on foreign countries and our colonies for our produce.
Studs Terkel If we may, for the moment, leave the economic scene and perhaps include all members of our little congregation here and discuss something else. I noticed when I first came to England, first got off the plane at at Orly I was about to say - at London airport, I was taken with a fantastic variety of accents. The fantastic variety of accents. The young man who drove us from the airport to the hotel. The waiter was someone else. And I was told, and I've been speaking to different people since, that accent still is the determining factor in what makes up the class structure of British society. Others tell me is it is collapsing. Others say it is hardening. And some say the dollar as in America is becoming the dominant factor. I was curious because I know that Mr. Morris has a wholly different accent from others about. Mr. Morris? Would you mind expressing your feelings on this point?
Mr. Morris My background? I come of simple stock from around here and we've lived around here for a long time. It's awfully nice to come meet you in the Falcon tonight and I've never been in 30 years in the Mayor's parlor before I don't think. And I've never had a free drink in here for a long, long time [laughter] which is splendid stuff. But I think that the accent, the question of the accent is important. I think there will always be an accent. You have the North Country and the South Country and you have got an accent where you think you've got an educated background or not. Yeah, [changes accent] I can talk Birmingham. I come from Birmingham you see, where I work, and that's how they talk down there, which isn't what I talk normally, you see?
Studs Terkel No.
Mr. Morris Mm?
Mr. Morris That's what you call somebody who goes around tearing around selling stocks and shares in America, I think. We do it rather quietly here. [laughter] Probably very much better; we don't make so much money, if you appreciate it. And that's what I do. I'm a stockbroker.
Studs Terkel I think there is, yes, there is there is from the 18 - from the the 1900s or 1910s and 1920s, you got a leveling out due to the national state. We're we're becoming a national state and I think we shall go on being a national state. But whether you're in Russia or whether you're in America or with McCarthy, you're going to have a - there's always a grade between the top and the bottom strata, I think.
Mr. Morris Oh, terribly rich. [laughter] Terribly rich. Terribly rich. I had to sign a check to come out of the Falcon, but never mind now. [laughter] Terribly rich. But we're going downhill fast. [laughter] My dau- my daughter goes out to work now. She's on the streets at the moment. [background conversation and laughter]
Mr. Morris No fair. No, I'm not. I'm I'm not at all. I am terribly pro the other side and I'm not upper middle class. I'm very very much the other way. No. No, no. No, we build up we build up a shell, you see? No, you're not--
Mr. Morris I don't think anybody is building up. You're not betraying any class. I think that it's going to be a leveling out system, but it may take 100, 150 years. And that's the strength of the welfare state in my opinion. It must it must level out. You've got the old Duke of Bedford who is today selling his old garter. Do you know the Duke of Bedford? Have you heard about the Duke of Bedford, haven't you? [laughter] He's selling his garter which is studded with diamonds, and he's selling it at Christie's next week. And he's doing that to get some money to try and go on fighting on, you see? And I'll tell you this before I go, because I must go.
Studs Terkel No, I I should like to come back to you, Mr. Morris. There's some more-. No no, please don't go. Just stay for a moment, if you may. Madame, Madame. Madame Mayoress, you've been listening to Mr. Morris here. You know, he's filled with a good deal of humor and wit. At the same time a certain basic truths he feels he's saying.
Madame Mayoress Yes.
Madame Mayoress I I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Morris. I don't think there should be any class distinction in this 1962 era. I think we're all gathering up to to - what can I say? Not to distinguish between the lower and the upper class. I think the education of today is rising people and England's one of the finest countries in the world and we're doing all we can. To rise people.
Studs Terkel I was wondering about - Mr. Mayor, and Madame Mayoress - you said be- be- before Councillor Walter Huxley became Mayor. The nature of - well, Councillor Huxley. It's Councilman Huxley, isn't it? Am I right? Or what--
Studs Terkel It's an honorary job. Then I hear this talk and this is rather interesting. I hear the talk that barriers are breaking down and yet - I don't want to turn my back on the ladies here - say that I hear talk, too, that it is hardening. How can you explain this difference? Anybody? Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence?
Mrs. Lawrence The system of education is altering completely and Madame Mayoress doesn't hold the same views as I do. I'm not - I'm sorry about it. I'm sorry that - I don't know. Speech has gone to the wall, and everything else and we don't get the voices we used to get. And I think they're all en bloc from one school to another and that's the way it goes. But I've already said that before, so I'm not going to say any more now.
Madame Mayoress Now I, I disagree. I think there will always be, and I hope there always will be in England, the Scots accent, the Welsh accent, the Northern accent, the Southern accent. And I don't think - it doesn't matter how you are educated. I do think that that will always be and I hope it always will be.
Mrs. Lawrence Oh, public schools, yes. [background conversation and response] Of course, it comes from-. But, where you used to get - no, where you used to get a scholarship child going to a secondary school, it was taught by those girls in the secondary school the better manners, the better way of speech, and everything else. Now you move them en bloc from an elementary school to a grammar school and I think it's all wrong. I don't agree with it.
Madame Mayoress Oh, I do. I most certainly do. I think every child should have as much education as it can get and uplifted. Even the poorest child today in England, if it has the brains can get into the upper set and it's up to its own personality, its own drive.
Mrs. Lawrence I'm not talking about universities. I'm talking about the old secondary school, which is now secondary modern, which has nothing to do with it. My father sent me to a secondary school, which was one of the best in London. And we had about 20 scholarship girls and what those scholarship girls lacked in manners and speech they were taught by the other girls and and and they they measured up. They came up to it, and they were clever. They were always the ones in the A-Form. I never was.
Studs Terkel I think, pardon me, I think there may be one bit of confusion. I was not talking about dialects such as the Scottish, the Welsh, the North, the South - I'm talking now about something else. There are dialects that are regional. I'm talking now about accent--
Madame Mayoress Well, I heard a very interesting thing on the BBC the other afternoon in a school's broadcast. And the boy said because he hadn't got the Oxford accent, when he went up for a job if there was a boy there that had the Oxford accent, he would get the job in preference--
Mrs. Lawrence He's quite right. That that does happen. Although they've got the system of education and and everybody is equal and all the rest of it, you get the boy with an Oxford accent or a public school accent and he is going to get the job.
Mrs. Lawrence Yes, but, Madame Mayoress, that boy from a public school gets the opportunity. But if he hasn't got the brain to carry on, he will be put out, but he gets the first opportunity because he's got a public school accent.
Madame Mayoress Well, can I tell you something? I have a young son, Roger. And he was a grammar school boy and my eldest son was a public school boy. And this young son went to London for the three-days examination competing with university boys for a for a very good job in the Foreign Office. And Roger has brains and it made no difference, my dear. He he climbed over the university boys and got the job.
Studs Terkel If I may, this is a very - I don't want to interrupt. I want to come back, return to the ladies. I want to make it now a triumvirate, rather, and Mrs. Morris has been seated here quietly. You've been listening to this.
Mrs. Morris Yes, I have. Well, I think as regards the accent of these days I think it's all due to the television, the children listening to well-spoken people on the television, which has improved what we would call the common accent of the different parts of the different counties in the country. And I think that is a very good thing. You rarely hear children speaking in a real broad, common accent. Which I think it is all due to the television and wireless that has taught them unconsciously, perhaps.
Studs Terkel No--
Studs Terkel Well, there is a point I'd like to raise now, if I may, hearing this. There may be eventually a standard accent. Something that Madame Mayoress said earlier that interests me. She says, "if everyone speaks exactly the same way", you know, "won't some color be lost?"
Studs Terkel Please.
Madame Mayoress I meet hundreds and hundreds of Americans during a season in my little hotel and I can tell whether you're northern or southern or western. You have the accents the same as we do. You see what I mean?
Studs Terkel Indeed. The point, the reason I raised this point to begin with, is that in America the dollar, apparently - not apparently - quite obviously, the dollar is the line of demarcation between say upper/lower class.
Mrs. Lawrence Yes.
Mrs. Lawrence At one time you would have been, if you'd have been sort of, what shall I say? A clerk in an office or something, you would not have walked into the Ritz Hotel. But now that wages are higher and you're enabled to do this thing, you walk in and Jack is as good as his master. I'm as good as anybody else.
Walter Huxley Slowly--
Mrs. Lawrence That is why little public schools are coming up now charging exorbitant fees just for somebody to say my son went to a public school. Because still in this day and age you cannot get into Eton and Harrow and places like that, unless you're real people.
Mr. Morris Yes. Well, now I think one of the great - we'd rather gone off the track of the argument of this of this thing that we're now talking about in dialects rather than accents and the social class distinction. And I think one of the great levelers was that there's a wonderful pub in London called the Berkeley [pronounced "Barkley"] Hotel. You may know it or you may not. It's known as the Berkeley or also the Buckley [pronounced "Barkley"]. And during, or before the war, unless you had money and a certain amount of standing you would never go into the Berkeley. But during the war, thanks to the leveling-out process when the very best of chaps who hadn't got commissions in the ordinary way got commissions, became officers and gentlemen and the best [will?] in the world, were able then to go into the Berkeley Hotel. And as a result over 5 years you had a complete change of atmosphere in hotels and everything else. I think, Walter, you would agree with that. The social structure was broken down a little bit during the war years, and as a result you have got places which normally you would have thought were preserves of the old, if you like, the old regime, which are no no longer there, and the atmosphere has changed and accents have changed and the whole things have changed, I think. The whole thing has changed.
Madame Mayoress Well, I, I say this: There's always got to be the master. And there's always got to be the worker. And they can't merge to be equal, but they can share. They can share in the prosperity of the country. That's my little final--
Mrs. Lawrence I don't agree with the 3 people who have spoken at all. I don't. I think that if you were the child of a professional man, if you had no money at all, you had a little bit of standing. Now it doesn't even mean a thing. Schoolmasters are even, to me, illiterate. They don't even speak properly and I hate it all. I would like to get back to the old days when people were people and they they had a certain standing in life. And now it seems to me that as long as you've got money, that counts and nothing else matters. And that's the way I feel about it.
Mrs. Morris Well, I think the only people who are really feeling it are the titled people, the real backbone of England. I think they are noticing that and feeling the change that's going on more than anyone else. They're the people disliking it. The other people who are coming up in the social scale, they're enjoying it. But I don't think the real gentry, the backbone of England--
Mrs. Morris Well, I don't feel anything, really, about it. I think it's a very good thing. It's all due to this free education and all the education that the children are getting now. I mean they are being educated as well as some of the so-called public schools. So that it's bound to happen.
Mrs. Lawrence [Unintelligible]
Studs Terkel I'm delighted to hear what is obviously a cross-section of opinion. Not everyone thinking the same and being polite and agreeing, but on the contrary, expressing their points of view, and I think I find this very exhilarating, and I like Stratford-upon-Avon very much, indeed [response from group]. Mr. Mayor, Madame Mayoress, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. [pause in recording]
Mrs. Lawrence I thought - I have always thought that John Morris would look wonderful in hunting pink. And every time I see him he conjures up in my mind a picture of a gentleman in hunting pink. But he can be terribly vulgar. But he's so he's so educated that he can get away with it. The ordinary, average person, the ordinary kind of man, would never get away with it but he does and people accept it because he's the person he is.
Mr. Lawrence You've got to go back a few years ago when you spoke of a [common?] farmer who's now dead, poor soul, and you said he could walk into the Grosvenor in a dirty old jacket and still be accepted in the Grosvenor.
Mrs. Lawrence Exactly. You see, that is that is what breeding does for you. You could go into the best hotel in London, if you've got breeding and a beautiful voice, and you would get away with a dirty old jacket and dungarees. And they would accept you, but you go in there and say, "Oh, my God, isn't this a dump" [speaking in a cockney accent], you would never get anywhere. You'd be put out.
Mrs. Lawrence Oh, they would. But, see, you wouldn't care. I mean we went to the races at Plumpton near Brighton, didn't we? And the man at at the little place around the corner where we used to go to eat he asked us to take him to the races. And his conversation was overheard by these toffy-nosed sort of upper-class people, and they were sneering at him. And I saw it. And I hated it. But it still happens. Must do.
Studs Terkel Well, this is amazing. I mean, I'm just listening, it's interesting, listening to this. The little sidelights. I'll keep this on and off when anything else occurs to you. If I hear you say something I like, well, I'm just going to switch this thing right on again, if you don't mind!
Mr. Lawrence The accent here is totally different from the Londoner. The London is classed as a cockney, if you like. Everybody calls me a cockney. I'm not a cockney or I haven't got a cockney accent.
Mr. Lawrence West.
Mrs. Lawrence Yes.
Mrs. Lawrence You will hear a Quinton dialect because in the Midlands, each each place in the Midlands has a different accent. Now these you couldn't hardly understand, if they're really, you know, cross and getting annoyed with each other. They really go to town.
Mrs. Lawrence They're just different. They're not, as I said before they have no finesse at all. They just wade in and say what they think and then consider themselves forthright and think that that covers a multitude of sins, which in my opinion doesn't.
Studs Terkel Ah!
Mrs. Lawrence By saying something then I wouldn't say it. I know the Mayoress understands me well enough to know that if I don't agree with her, well, it doesn't matter. But if I thought I was hurting somebody I would be very careful not to do it. But they don't care.