Julie Burchill has a high pitched voice with a heavy Bristol accent.
An interviewer asked her what class she considered herself.
She said working class.
The interviewer said, “You’re one of the most famous journalists in the land, how can you be working class?”
Julie Burchill said, “I’m like a pools-winner, I’ve got a lot of money but I’m still working class. If I wanted to be middle class I would have changed my accent wouldn’t I?”
And it reminded me of Alf Ramsey.
The only English football manager ever to win The World Cup.
He came from Dagenham, and in order to be taken seriously he took elocution lessons.
He had to make himself sound middle class.
A while back a client asked me to do a talk to a group of his senior marketing people.
Later on I met one of the people who’d been at that talk.
He said he hadn’t liked me at first.
It irritated him that I put on this cockney barrow-boy act.
East London accent, crude language, etc.
But despite that, he thought everything I said made a lot of sense.
He asked me if I’d do the same talk to the people who worked for him.
I didn’t know what to make of that.
I talk the way I’ve always talked, but he thought it was an act.
He thought I was putting it on.
While I was thinking about this, a different client asked me to do a talk for his senior people.
I said pretty much the same things I’d said to the other group.
The basic, common-sense facts of life and advertising.
And again, some time later I met someone who’d been at the talk.
He said, “We all loved you Dave and thought you were great, we even buy your cockney-geezer act.”
There it was again.
Cockney act.
If I talked in a cockney accent I must be putting it on for effect.
I tried to work it out.
Was the white collar world of marketing and senior management made up exclusively of middle class people with middle class accents?
Did they think everyone, everywhere was exactly like them?
Because here’s a funny thing.
Where I grew up everyone had cockney accents.
Around three million people.
And I’d lived my whole life without anyone ever commenting on it, until I started doing talks to people in marketing.
People who, apparently, never hear anything but middle class accents.
But marketing isn’t the entire world.
In fact nothing is.
And we’re in advertising, mass-communication, we should know better.
We can forgive people who don’t work in mass communication.
For instance, my Uncle Mick was a welder at Fords.
He lived all his life in East London.
He once said to me “How’s yer new agency going Dave?”
I said, “Very well thanks Uncle Mick.”
He said, “What about the blokes you work wiv, wot are they like?”
I said “They’re good guys. They come from all over England, so we’ve all got different accents.”
Uncle Mick looked puzzled.
He said, “But you ain’t got no accent, you talk normal like wot the rest of us do.”

You can forgive Uncle Mick.
But people who work in marketing should know better.


    Micky Flangan has made his name as a Cockney comedian, with routines such as The Cockney Walk’. Now he says he’s going to have to tone down the Cockney stuff.  “I live in Dulwich now and I’ve got an island in my kitchen.  You can’t have an island and be a Cockney”.

  • Mark griffiths

    ‘Two people who work in marketing should know better’ is what I think you ought to have said. Otherwise, it’s like saying ‘everyone who works in advertising is a dinosaur’, when they clearly aren’t. Only one is.

  • Reddick

    Marketeers, you should be bleedin’ ashamed.

  • Dave Trott

    The issue for me wasn’t that they didn’t know non-posh accents existed.
    But that no one who worked in marketing had one, or could conceive of anyone being taken seriously who did.
    So this creates a ‘them’ and ‘us’ culture.
    Not ideal for mass market brands you would have thought.

  • Paul Simons

    I was sitting in DT’s office many years ago chatting about something or other and he said “You public school types are all the same” or something very similar. It was a light bulb moment for me because I didn’t go to a public school, in fact I went to a dodgy school in the Midlands were the pupils were mostly from blue collar families. I did escape and went on to university. But DT had me down as ‘one of them’.

    To get into marketing in a blue chip firm a degree is essential so irrespective of background the boys and girls at Unilever went to a good university. Same for the bigger ad agencies. 

    My generalised theory is marketing folk in blue chip firms are influenced by aspirational marketing, that’s why BBH and AMV are a big draw for clients. Both are creative and a bit posh or more posh than Grunge & Grunge. I suspect most marketing folk would like to drive an Audi so being in the company of Sir John Hegarty is likely to be a plus – along the lines of ‘I was chatting to Sir John yesterday, yah’.

    Sadly this misses the point about content. DT is a very smart and insightful individual. The perception point though can confuse the listener if their frame of reference is speech patterns and accents. DT was/is a great teacher, a very big and positive influence on me.

    It’s a shame if people listening can’t distinguish between class thinking and class accents.

    • Dave Trott

      Thanks for that Paul,
      Mainly what surprised me was that marketing people thought I was putting on an act.
      As if there couldn’t be any other reason for a sane marketing person to talk like that.
      Someone told me years ago that a regional accent just said where you were from, but a London accent said what class you were.
      Like you I was surprised anyone still thought like that in the 21st century.
      Especially people working in mass media.


  • Aris Theophilakis

    Dave, great reading as always. As a Norwegian with a few years of working experience in London, I read this a class thing. It struck me when I had been there for a while how deeply rooted albeit invisible class was. And how it constrained social mobility. I could be wrong. But from the outside it seemed quite obvious.

  • Dave Trott

    You are absolutely right, from the outside it is obvious.
    I realised it when I went to college in New York and looked back at London.
    But from the inside you can’t see it.
    Like water to a fish.

    • Derek Mullings

      As a primary school kid I used to watch Millwall. Eventually, I thought they were too downmarket, so I started supporting West Ham!  :-)

      • Dave Trott

        At my school a lot of kids did the same thing with Leyton Orient

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