Triumphant Bainbridge enunciates her mind

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The Independent Online
THE NOVELIST Beryl Bainbridge won a major literary prize yesterday and followed it with musings that are unlikely to be beaten for political incorrectness in the whole of the prize-giving season.

First, she called for elocution lessons to be made compulsory in schools. In case that was not politically incorrect enough, Ms Bainbridge then guaranteed the wrath of her home city.

Although she is one of Liverpool's most famous daughters, the 64-year- old writer and former actress urged that all young people from the city endeavour to lose the Liverpool accent, which she described as "nasal" and "stupid".

Exuberant at winning the pounds 10,000 WH Smith Literary Award for her novel Master Georgie after missing out on the Booker and Whitbread prizes, Ms Bainbridge nevertheless played down both the value of book prizes and the love of reading in Britain.

Receiving her prize from the Arts minister Alan Howarth, who is promoting the Government's "Year of Reading", she said that she did not believe that the percentage of the population now reading novels was much greater than it was in Dickens' time.

"Sometimes I wonder whether I'm being given prizes at my age out of sympathy or pity ... I'm rather fortunate that all these things that are happening to me in the last two or three years are happening late enough for me not to take them too seriously," she said

Speaking later, she explained why she did not take book prizes too seriously, and did so with a reasoning unlikely to be endorsed by Mr Howarth, her home city or the nation's largest bookseller, which was giving the prize.

She said: "I'm not sure that prizes have a great deal of effect on the majority of people, but then the majority of people are uneducated.

"When I grew up in Liverpool in the Forties, I was in the Young Communists League at the age of 12, and it was people who were interested in politics who encouraged me to read.

"What would help England now would be to have elocution lessons in all schools. I had elocution lessons from the age of 11. I went with Jean Alexander [who played Hilda Ogden in Coronation Street] and they help you, not just to speak, but to enjoy language and reading. The uneducated now cannot spin out a sentence. You cannot have an education system that works for the majority if you publish a newspaper like The Sun."

As part of her drive for elocution for all, she advocated that Liverpudlians should lose their accent. "It's not a dialect," she said, "it's nasal, and that's what they should get rid of. My father didn't have that stupid Liverpool accent.

"Have you ever listened to them on Brookside? They don't speak the English language."

Mr Howarth said that he had been delighted to present Ms Bainbridge with her cheque and noted that it had been an excellent lunch.