Remembering voicesUntil I was 6, in 1960, we lived in rural Worcestershire, south-west of Birmingham. My father’s family was local; my mother’s came from not far away in Shropshire, though she’d grown up in London. My mother talked ‘posh’ - the genteel speech her parents had acquired in domestic service and passed on to their children (Nan was a parlour maid and then a cook, Grandad a groom). But my father, all his family, and many members of my mother’s family too, had the accent of the rural Midlands – an accent that I think is dying out now, along with the rural life they came from. It used to be heard on The Archers, but I notice that in fictional Borsetshire, not a million miles from Worcestershire, it’s also dying with the older characters. It’s a really distant memory, then, but as soon as I hear it, it feels ‘right’ and natural, takes me back to the first voices I ever heard.
So when I read about a new archive of regional speech, put online by the British Library, I was eager to search for those voices. I found them: voices like Edwina Austin’s - yes, she sounds just like my Aunts Mabel, May and Gladys. And Kenneth Yap’s - you can hear in his intonation that we’re not far from Wales: a rare overlap, I think, today, when you’re much more likely to hear the spreading influence of Birmingham and the industrial Midlands.