When one gets to the point in life where you have outlived most of your friends and those you haven’t are probably in sheltered accommodation, one can be excused for questioning every change in the routine of life. My current problem is diction, other people’s diction, on television and on film. In an essay I did on secondary schools in the 30s, I recounted the fact that, in my school, in South London, the new boys had elocution lessons for one hour, every week for the first term to eradicate the Cockney accent. Later, post-war, the Rank Organisation trained all its actors to speak in the same way, clearly, succinctly, and with a manufactured accent, which I can’t bear to listen to now. However recently I have found it very difficult to understand what people on television are saying for a number of reasons, they are either speaking with regional accents, always regional accents at high-speed, or it could be that the bit of my brain which translates speech into thought is going to mush. Somehow I don’t think it is the brain, because when I see films made from the 40s to the 80s,I understand every word. The modern films made particularly in America, where people speak with American regional accents, often not moving their lips, and also at high speed, I find totally unintelligible, but. as some of my grandchildren recommended me to watch the films, I feel that the jury is out.
Writing about the films of those early days also brings to mind the fact that a high proportion was light-hearted, almost to the point of light weight, set in environments out of reach of most of those in the cinema, but they were fun, not to be taken seriously but to be thoroughly enjoyed. Round about the 60s we had that spate of the kitchen sink dramas, in which life was real and life was earnest. They had their day, and then there were the lighter films, like Notting Hill, and Four Weddings And A Funeral, but we don’t seem to get as many today as we did long ago. The ones in the 40s and 50s were clearly a reaction to public need having had four years of war. The fact that Pride and Prejudice is never off our TV screens is an indication that a lot of the public, tired of the headlines, the murders and the rapings, which are a daily diet, and the stresses of modern living, would appreciate amusing, clever, even if cynical, light-hearted films to be displayed on television. From where I sit, it seems that the films are enacting the headlines, or the headlines are paralleling the screen – what politicians would call a double whammy. I’m not against regional accents, I could listen to Sean Connery for as long as he likes. My problem is with those accents that are so thick and enunciated so quickly and indistinctly I can’t make them out, so the whole point of the film is lost
A final plea, to stop an old man wondering if he is either deaf or daft, let’s have some light-hearted, clever and amusing, films in which the diction is universally understood. I think it comes down to the difference between entertainment, the blanket term, and amusement, the latter raising the spirits at times when needed.