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29 October 2014
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Title - Extra Norfolk

Stopping the "Mummerzet" bandwagon

Much has been made of the role played by the dialect coaches in the perpetuation of the Mummerzet School of Drama, including the implication that many of these individuals have "caught the wrong bus".

However, there is a group of people who have, so far, escaped censure in this debate, although I believe they are at last as culpable as our current bete noire. I refer, of course, to the scriptwriters.

(as heard on BBC Radio 4)

Actress Patience Tomlinson is a Friend Of Norfolk Dialect living and working in London - with proud Norfolk roots.

Last autumn she put authentic Norfolk on the national stage when she read some of Mary Mann's harrowing Victorian stories on BBC Radio 4.

Patience - and the irony in the name won't
be lost on those who have long campaigned for an end to gross misrepresentation - was born in Brancaster where her father was rector.

Her mother still lives in the county at Stanhoe, and Patience and her family are regular visitors.

"Let us hope this radio series heralds the start of a more enlightened era when it comes to the Norfolk tongue," said Patience, pledging her support for FOND and our growing band of members.

Let me give a "for instance". The dialect coach spends an inordinate amount of the limited time available with a particular teaching him to say the word "anything" in a Norfolk accent, because the scriptwriter has decreed that this word will be said.

However, the line to be delivered is "I didn't see anything," which is taught to the actor as "I din't see anything".

This statement has an automatic propensity to lapse into Mummerzet (you try it!).

Further, anyone in the know would immediately recognise that, in the context, a true local would invoke the double negative and roundly inform all who were prepared to listen "I din't see noffin'!". Thus the line is wrong in both accent and aesthetic sound.

In short, the scriptwriter has forgotten that local speech depends upon both accent and dialect. The best accent in the world sounds wrong if the words are not as a local would deliver them.

I suggest that there are very few scriptwriters, producing either original scripts or adpating books etc, for the screen, who actually take the time to listen to local speech before attempting to write it for characters to speak.

If a play is to be set in Norfolk, and the script makes it plain that is is set in Norfolk, then the words the characters utter should at the very least be written in the correct dialect.

Dependence upon accent alone will not produce an acceptable product.

One writer who was very conscious of this was Arnold Wesker when he wrote the play Roots. He lived and worked in the county, listened to the people and wrote as he heard. (Any players who get this play wrong perhaps should sack the dialect coach!)

But I am sure he is in a minority among his colleagues, and it is perhaps time for the likes of the Friends of Norfolk Dialect to redirect its righteous anger towards scriptwriters as well as dialect coaches who have misread the destination board.

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