Tuesday, November 03, 2009

'Spoken with the charm and purity of English vowel sounds.'

A few passages from one my current reads:

There is a continuing debate about how much blame the British motion picture industry must accept for the American domination of the inter-war market. At the peak of production British studios made only 30 per cent of what was on offer to British cinemas. But there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that the American invasion met with only token resistance -- even though, initially, the natives were far from friendly. 'The public at first found the American accent bewildering and missed much of the dialogue.' Instinctive resistance was, naturally enough, strongest outside London. 'The English working class and the northern working class in particular exercised a strong suspicion, not to say hatred, of the American idiom.'

Some British producers attempted to capitalise on what they hoped was anti-American sentiment. British International Films advertised its productions as 'Spoken with the charm and purity of English vowel sounds'. Gradually the cultural chauvinists were won over. By 1935, when Winifred Holtby wrote South Riding, the working class had actually absorbed the idioms they heard at the cinema. Elsie, the South Riding housemaid, was 'like most of her generation and locality...trilingual. She talked BBC English to her employer, Cinema American to her companions and Yorkshire dialect to old milkmen like Eli Dickson'. She, no doubt, subscribed to the ideas advanced by a working man in the Bolton survey.

British films are tame. The actors are self-conscious and wooden, the setting easily recognised as the work of novices. The man in the street likes pictures which advertise an American cast. One often hears the remark, 'It's a British picture, let's go somewhere else.'


From Roy Hattersley, Borrowed Time: The Story of Britain Between the Wars (London: Abacus, 2007), pp. 310-11.

3 comments:

mikeovswinton, nr Bolton said...

So off he went to the ABC on Churchgate. Or perhaps the Odeon near the Market. I used to spend a lot of time in the cinemas of Bolton. (No sign of package yet, BTW)

mikeovswinton, puzzled said...

Hold on: a working man in Bolton saying "One often hears the remark"? I think someone may just have misheard.

John Carter Wood said...

What, don't they talk that posh up Bolton way?

It's hard to tell from the cite, but I think that might be a paraphrase of stated opinions. Translated into something more...standard.

But, maybe they just misheard it.

(Parcel, by the way, was sent only yesterday.)