Stately vowels of England lost

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The Independent Online
PRUNELLA SCALES, the actress who played the long-suffering but well-spoken Sybil Fawlty in the television comedy classic Fawlty Towers, is spearheading a national project to remind Britain how to talk "posh".

Years of worshipping regional and working-class accents have, it seems, had one unforeseen consequence. Actors do not know where to learn the cadences of the upper-classes, and, faced with a play by Noel Coward they are likely to struggle for the right accent. Few have had to play "posh" at a higher level than Prunella Scales; she was the first actress to play the Queen on stage.

"More and more over the last few years I've noticed what I can only describe as an inverted snobbery in actors, in terms of speech," she says.

"Young actors especially will, quite rightly, take endless trouble to perfect a regional or urban working-class accent or dialect ... but when they appear in, say, a play by Wilde or Shaw or Coward, they don't seem to ask themselves, `How did this particular person speak, given the life they led, the people they met and the period they lived in?'"

Scales contacted Crispin Jewitt, director of the National Sound Archive at the British Library, asking to hear recordings of past aristocrats, politicians, clergy, members of the Royal Family, debutantes, society hostesses, masters of foxhounds and actors of bygone years. She says she is "delighted and moved to discover there is an interest at the [archive] in compiling what I call a library of `posh' speech.

"It is very difficult nowadays to find records of people from `grand' backgrounds, or any such people who are prepared to impart their speech habits or offer advice."