How you say it puts the accent on success
By Kate Watson-Smyth
THE long-held suspicions of Scousers, Brummies and others that they suffer discrimination at work or when applying for jobs because of their accents has been borne out by new research.
The accents of Liverpool, Glasgow and Birmingham are regarded by some employers as particularly "negative", a survey of recruitment consultants found. One consultant said: "Let's face it, people with a Scouse accent sound whiney and people with Brummie accents sound stupid." By contrast, an upper-class English accent "positively incites hostility" in Scotland, according to a recruitment chief.
The Institute of Personnel and Development found that accents were seen as crucially important by many employers. A London consultant said: "They communicate background, education and birthplace and, frankly, some backgrounds are more marketable than others. I would advise anyone with a 'redbrick' or industrial accent to upgrade. Politicians and lawyers do it, so why shouldn't others?" A majority of recruiters agreed that people with strong regional or working class accents were most likely to suffer discrimination.
Public figures with recognisable provincial accents had mixed feelings about the findings.
The Liverpudlian poet Roger McGough, who was awarded an OBE in the New Year's honours list, said he thought that prejudice against regional accents had died out. He was sad that it seemed to be returning. He said: "I have lived in London for about 20 years and my accent has definitely softened, but I love regional accents. I think everybody should have one. As long as your grammar is good and you can speak properly then no one should take any notice of your accent."
The former Arsenal and England footballer Alan Smith now writes on soccer for The Telegraph, but said he feared that his Birmingham accent would obstruct a move into broadcasting. "I have done some radio, but I don't think that my accent would help if I wanted to make it a permanent job," he said. "Scottish accents work really well on the radio, but you don't hear many Brummies. I don't think it's discrimination - just that my nasal tones don't come over that well."
Edwina Currie, Tory MP for Derbyshire South and originally from Liverpool, admitted to adapting her accent to the nature of her audience. She said: "I used to have a really strong Scouse accent and in the 1960s it would open all sorts of doors, but it has softened a bit now. When I am in the Midlands I have a much stronger accent and if I am having an argument in a pub then I can do a Midlands voice as well as the rest of them. Nowadays I would say the biggest discrimination is against 'Oxford posh'."
Clare Short, the Labour frontbencher, said she believed that there was resistance to the Birmingham accent. "I have never tried to change mine and no one has ever been rude about it," she said. "But I think people have tended to look down their noses at the Brummie voice. We should hang on to regional accents and not try to iron them all out. That would be so dull."
One Dorset woman questioned for the survey said she had no idea of the strength of feeling about accents until she moved to London. "As soon as I opened my mouth, people would be queuing up to do Worzel Gummidge imitations," she said. "Some would even slow down or speak louder when they were talking to me."
The Midland Bank said that it had carried out extensive research before making the decision to base its telephone bank, First Direct, in Leeds. "Our research showed that people found a northern accent more acceptable," a spokesman said.
At the BBC, where programme controllers have sometimes been criticised for permitting too many regional accents on the air, a spokesman insisted with impeccable clarity that prejudice did not exist. "We do not discriminate against accents and neither do we have a preferred regional accent," she said. "Our recruitment policy is one of fair selection and accent makes no difference to the ability to do the job."