I used to find the BBC (RP) accent annoying, the clipped consonants, the carefully rounded vowels, it felt like a lecture – this is the only correct way to speak English.
It came across as a mark of superiority, looking down on anyone who didn’t speak perfect BBC English.
Well it turns out I was wrong, the original intention was exactly the opposite.
The BBC didn’t exist until 1922, before then it was just a loose collection of people transmitting over the wireless.
The government thought these should all be unified and taken into public ownership.
John Reith (later Lord Reith) was given overall control of this new medium.
As it was the voice of the nation, Reith thought it should steer clear of regional accents that might be difficult for people from different regions to understand.
For instance, Reith himself was from Glasgow and he said the word ‘soot’ would sound like ‘suit’ in his natural accent.
In London, the word ‘bus’ sounded like ‘bahs’ but in Manchester like ‘booz’.
In London, the word ‘bath’ sounded like ‘barf’ but in Yorkshire like ‘buth’.
And the posh accent was even worse, ‘tower’ and ‘tyre’ would both sound like ‘tar’.
‘Hello’ would sound like ‘hair-lair’ and ‘spending thousands of pounds around town’ would sound like ‘spending thysands of pynds arynd tyn’.
The biggest problem was the differing vowel sounds but some accents, particularly London, also dropped or changed consonants, so ‘wheel’ would sound like ‘weyuw’, ‘three’ would sound like ‘free’, and ‘nothing’ like ‘nuffink’.
All-in-all what was needed was a non-regional accent that everyone could understand.
And so for the first time BBC English was launched, English pronounced without any accent.
The intention being to have English spoken the way it was written, you can’t hear an accent when you read the printed word, Reith wanted BBC English to sound like that.
This was especially important for overseas broadcasts, where people had learned English without regional accents, they had learned the words as written.
But of course, because the BBC was the voice of the nation, BBC English was heard as the CORRECT way to speak.
Consequently, ‘no-accent’ became an accent itself and it became a mark of prestige to speak with the BBC accent.
That’s often what happens, our best intentions become twisted over time.
BBC English was a very good idea because, like all good ideas it was simple and impactful.
Simply in order to get into people’s minds an idea must have impact.
And to have impact it must be powerful, in which case it won’t remain neutral.
Something that forces its way into the public’s attention will create differences of opinion.
So that’s something to consider before we spend money advertising, do we want to be controversial?
Because we can’t stand out unless we’re willing to be powerful and distinctive, and that means our idea will be controversial.
The dictionary defines controversy as: “a discussion marked by the expression of opposing views”.
But that isn’t what a lot of clients want, they want an idea that absolutely everyone loves.
The bad news is that isn’t possible, the best way to do that is not to advertise at all, not to waste the money.
As Bill Berbach said: “If you stand for something you will find some people for you and some people against you.
If you stand for nothing you will find nobody for you and nobody against you.”