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Y’up Mush! (Change Your Accent Part 3)

 Imported from old blog at tanyavital.blogspot

“Y’up Mush!” colloquial Bradford slang for ‘Hiya mate, how’s it going’?

‘Mush’ – An old Romany word, meaning “my good friend”.

“He’s a right Chava/Chavo” – colloquial Bradford slang for ‘he’s really common’.

‘Chav’  – has its origins in the Romani word chavi meaning child/youngster or chavo meaning boy.

The picture for this blog was chosen for its ambiguity. I googled the term “Yorkshire person” and out of the top few images that came up not one of them looked like me. This has been something that I have lived with most of my life. Not to say that there aren’t people in Yorkshire that look like me – there are! Tons! There are many descendants from the Caribbean, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Romania, Africa and now more recently other parts of Eastern Europe but, if we were to go on what we are being or have been shown in the media, you would sill believe that the biggest county in the whole of the UK is full of Seth Armstrong types living on farms.

If you read my posts regularly you will know I speak of ‘type’ a lot. For the longest time in my career as an Actor I was trying to figure out my ‘type’. Where was my place in stereotypical society? What was my niche? As a novice in the industry I clung to the most obvious ones with the most obvious and cringe worthy names such as ‘urban’ and ‘street’, to which I’m sure I probably still belong, but as I got older and more experienced in my career, I began to realise that actually – there ISN’T really a stereotypical media ‘type’ I fall under. It is in fact a mix of a few that I have fused together in my own head. The ‘type’ I thought I belonged to, as far as Acting goes, doesn’t really even exist!

In my mind I would fall under such umbrellas as: urban, street and gritty. You know all the crappy terms that describe poor black culture/art. But then I would also fall under: northern, working class, brassy, ‘salt of the earth’, common. You know, all of the usual stereotypical terms that describe poor white culture. So for image I’m one box and for personality I’m the other, which is a big problem for casting (by today’s standards in the UK).

Now forget for a second that I am of dual heritage and focus on the ‘of black descent’ and ‘northern’.

Now I’ll give you 30 seconds to think of 10 people in the media  (Actors, Sports Personalities, Musicians, Presenters etc) that are of  ‘black descent’ and ‘northern’. Get ready – no cheating – GO!


Now whether you used the timer or not I bet you had a difficult time naming 10. You probably got 5 tops and most of those were from Xfactor, Corrie or very recent Olympic winners? Am I right? And even they were mostly very light or mixed race females am I right?

I reckon I’m almost right! You see on the whole northern ‘people of colour’ don’t seem to exist in the minds eye of the media. We have the ‘urban, street, gritty’ poc people of the south on one hand. You know your Top Boys, your Kidulthood’s that kind of thing. Then we have the working class, common, ‘salt of the earth’, white people from the north on the other. Like Trollied etc. Two separate entities and as it seems never the twain shall meet.



There is still prejudice against northern accents and a ‘north/south divide’. I get asked all the time – by southerners “do you ever have to change your accent?” or “are you keeping your own accent?” It always makes me laugh and sometimes I ask back “yes, are you keeping yours?” The look on their faces is a picture! You see it would never occur to someone with a southern accent to change theirs unless the part specifically required it, yet with northerners its often expected, required or not.

There is an unspoken tradition/train of thought that a northern accent is bad, undesirable and low class. An expectation that I should somehow be ashamed of my accent and try and hide or alter it as a southern accent is more desirable and has connotations of high class.

I’m so adamant about keeping my accent and being a pioneer for northern performers standing by their accents, that I almost go Seth Armstrong myself when I’m working. I first noticed it on ‘Kerching!’ I was surrounded by southern accents, some cockney even, which is just as regional! Hearing these and my flat, broad Bradford accent at the side of theirs, I realised that I had unconsciously started making my accent even stronger. As if my mind was staking a mini protest that my accent was here and staying. Luckily the people at Kerching! embraced my northern-ness and even incorporated it into the show, but not everyone is as forthcoming.



In Bradford we have a huge melting pot of so many cultures, especially for a small city. All of this has had direct influence on the language we use, our slang and the way in which we speak. And as everybody else does, we speak differently depending on who we are speaking to. We all have a ‘phone voice’ and a ‘speaking to our nan voice’ etc. Amongst others, a big influence on some of our language has come from the travelling community, so words like mush, chava, cushti bari will mean nothing to most of you but most of my Bradfordians will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Slang, accents, colloquialisms all take time to be established. Unlike with the world of twitter and facebook, traditional slang took lifetimes to be passed down and rooted. There is history in the words, there has been struggle and there is meaning. Accents have history and a story behind them. For someone to assume that we have no history, no culture, story or presence because we don’t have a southern accent, is ignorant.


So whats my beef?

Well my questions started when I saw this picture of Jessica Ennis and her family. I saw her dad and saw a black man. A black man who was probably born and lives in Sheffield South Yorkshire. A region of Yorkshire that has a strong accent. Then I realised that we STILL have hardly any black northern personalities on the TV. Yeah we can assume that Jessica’s father is from a Caribbean background and has a way of speaking that is both bits of patois and standard English, but there is still going to be some ‘Yorkshire pud’ in that talk. Where are the men like him on our screens? Where are the women?

The last part of advert below shows a guy called Desmond I think, and he was featured on a show called ‘Make Bradford British’. Didn’t watch the show because I didn’t believe in the agenda, but this is just one example of how 1 black Bradfordian speaks and guess what? He’s a proper Yorkshire pud! Yeah sure he too probably goes in and out of broken patois but he is as broad as the day is long.



I want to see more variation on the northern stereotype on our screens! I want to see a Rastafarian Landlord in the Rovers Return. I want to see my Aunty Regina sat on the checkout on ‘Trollied’ (not literally she can’t act). I want to see my mate Dermot teaching his kids on Waterloo Road instead of always drafting in a southern teacher (who would NEVER come up here to work on a northern wage anyway). I want to see Milky’s dad on ‘This is England’!

As long as I live I will keep my accent. Of course if a role requires me to adjust it I can and will but, beyond that nobody will ever make me feel ashamed or make me turn away from my history, my roots, my culture or my background.

If it’s good enough for Sean Bean – its good enough for me!


“Why Are Cinema’s Leading Ladies All So Posh?”

 Imported from old blog at tanyavital.blogspot


Just another reason to Love Maxine Peake:

The Manchester Evening news did an article on Maxine Peake back in February 2011 and the piece struck to the very heart of some of the things I’ve been feeling are happening in this industry and what I began saying in my blog.

Maxine is a brilliant Actor/tress and one of my favourites. Not because she’s Northern (although that does go in her favour), but because she’s extremely versatile. I’ve seen Maxine play a few different roles but she is probably best known for her role as Veronica in ‘Shameless’. Her broad Lancashire accent (and her RADA training of course) probably helped her bag the part of Veronica, because that is most likely what casting see as her “type”. She’s working class, northern and probably not a natural blonde. She (in the eyes of casting) is Veronica. The fact that she trained at one of the top Drama Schools in the country is a bonus.

In the article she talks about accent and class snobbery still being rife in the UK arts industry. She goes on to say “If you look at actors, loads are working class. But look at women and there’s only Samantha Morton, really. All the others – Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Emily Blunt, Rebecca Hall – they’re all brilliant, but there’s no female working class.”

So here she’s highlighting the fact that leading ladies, in this country in particular, all seem to be from a privileged background. Apparently she was even told at Drama School that was told at drama school that ‘she was not leading lady material’.

Now if Maxine went to a top Drama School, received the best training money can buy, has a top Agent and has played a variety of roles and STILL cant bag a top end leading role, I ask what hope is there for the rest of us lowly working class/lower middle class women? We shall find out.

Maxine goes on to say “I remember feeling at drama school that if you were male and working class you were a bit of a poet, a working class hero, but if you were female you were just a bit gobby and a bit brassy and common.”

This comment in particular strikes a chord with me because, I’m at the stage in my career where I feel I have hit a glass ceiling. I’ve been working for over a decade, had some great Agents and some not so great. Done the rounds, met a lot of the Casting Directors in the UK, went to NYT and know a ton of people in the industry, BUT I still, on the whole, get cast/audition as the cheap, gobby, common, Northern, barmaid. Is this because this is my “type”? Are the odds worse for me than Maxine because I never trained at Drama School?

Even the media that reports on Maxine’s ventures have a snobbish tone. She goes on to explain that when she played the posh wife of a lawyer in TV drama Criminal Justice. “One paper said, ‘In the opening scene you see her getting into a 4X4 and at first you assume she must be stealing it.’ They’re so classist in this country.” This comment made me question whether these notions are so ingrained into our society that they filter into Art or could she have been ‘type cast’ by her Veronica role?

When is comes to her accent again (if you read by previous blogs ‘Change Your Accent 1 & 2, you’ll know this is really a pet peeve of mine) she says, “For Silk I had to soften my accent. They go, ‘OK, so this character is from the north but she went to university, Maxine, and has lived in London for 10 years.’ So I went, ‘OK, well I went to RADA and lived in London for 13 years,’ and they go, ‘Yeah, but she’s lost her accent a bit more than you have.’”

Does this mean that a Northern accent still suggests uneducated? Common? Classless? Or was it simply that her accent was still so close to that of Veronica and the production team wanted to steer as far away from that as possible? Was it right for the part or in their ignorance did they think she sounded like a Council Estater?

The only time I ever get cast against my “type” is if the production is Independent. Why is that? Is it because they are more willing to take chances and go against the norm? Is it because they are only worried about the Art and don’t have to worry about ‘bums on seats’?

So straight from horses mouth, the odds are stacked against many of us. But I’m not into self pity at all, I’m into trying to bring about change however small. So what can we female Actors with no training, possibly of colour, probably a bit dumpy or small and from the working classes do to improve our chances?

Well first up we can try and get some damn training. At my stage in life it’s probably a little too late to go back and do a 3 year degree course, but there are 1 year M.A’s, Summer Schools and short courses. Yes they’re expensive. Yes it is possible to get work without it, but would it improve my chances? Yeah I reckon so. Even though Maxine is saying its very difficult to be taken seriously, I bet her RADA training didn’t hurt her CV or technique.

Again we can ‘fake it until we make it’, by playing our “type”, however annoying and disheartening it may be and play it well. So well that eventually, we raise our profile slightly enough for casting to consider taking a chance on us. My example is Suranne Jones. When she was playing Karen McDonald in Corrie she was great. But could I imagine her playing anything else other than a common, brassy barmaid? No. At the time that’s all she was. But she played that part until she sweat blood and tears and has managed to not be type cast and has done some really great things since Corrie. Was it luck? Probably partly, but I reckon it was a lot of good organisation on her part. She was able to get her foot in the door and she knew where she wanted to go with it. Luck can only take you so far.

Will the classist, elitist attitude ever go away? Probably not. C’mon this is England. We’re the snobbiest nation in the World. That type of attitude will always be around. I’m not stupid enough to think I can change the World, but I’m damn sure clever enough to adapt and find the loop holes. There are things to try before I give up.

If we look at America, again I’m not daft enough to think that we can all go to America and we will be cast that very day in the latest blockbuster as the leads, but I do know that everyone gets a fair crack of the whip there, black, white, Asian, man, woman, child. Their industry and casting system is a little different to ours and I’m sure this is true of a few other countries, so we should explore a little further than our own back yard.

Yes inevitably we are going to come up against discrimination and prejudice. Is it fair? No it sucks – but that’s life. It doesn’t make it right and we don’t have to accept it, but we must understand what we are up against if we are to know where we are going. What I’m saying is there are many more ways to skin a cat. If we are truly devoted to this career, we need to be savvy enough to try all angles and understanding the nature of the beast will put us in good stead. A very good Actor friend of mine says “in this country acting is an expensive hobby, in America it’s a business”. We must take a look at our career and decide whether we’re in it for the “Craic” or to work.


Change Your Accent Part 2

 Imported from old blog post at tanyavital.blogspot

So a strange thing happened after Part 1 of ‘Change Your Accent’. There was a HUGE controversy over a new children’s programme called ‘Rastamouse’. for those not in the know, Rastamouse is a mouse who happens to be Rastafarian) and he and his pals solve mysteries using intelligence and intellect. The programme is an offshoot from the original books, written in fact by a real Rastafarian.

Now there was a huge debate over how, if in fact at all offensive this mouse was to black people (which got my goat a bit since it was in fact written by a black Rasta) and whether it was poking fun. But what also came from the controversy was the fact that popular Presenter Reggie Yates was the voice for this mouse.

It seems that Reggie is of African decent and the fact that he was changing his accent to play a Caribbean role infuriated some people. . . . At first I wasn’t sure where I stood on this issue and then I began to think about my 1st ‘Change Your Accent’.

As an Actor I know that it is imperative at times to indeed change your accent. We are Actors and within this definition we pretend to be someone else. I myself have played and spoken with Caribbean, RP, American and Scouse voices. Did this make me a fraud or a phoney because I am a native Yorkshire lass? I believe not! I’m an Actor and the part required me to PLAY, to PRETEND.

I then began to look at other Actors, Naomie Harris (Tia Dalma in Pirates of the Caribbean) is Native London, Aml Ameen is in the US playing an American in Murphy’s Law, Idris Elba, Eammon Walker, Miss Joselyn Comedienne (in fact all comedians), Sean Bean, Ewan McGreggor, the list is endless!! These people all change their accent depending on the roles and have NEVER had as much stick as poor Reggie.

It’s a strange phenomenon and I’m not sure if it is a universal ignorance or one restricted to just the black community? I completely understand a need for a culture to be represented authentically and there are possibly a million Caribbean Actors who could have given Rastamouse an authentic voice, but I think this controversy answered my initial questions in ‘Change Your Accent Part 1′.

When it comes to Art and Play, I think we have to be a little flexible. For an Actor/Performer it may sometimes be necessary to change our accent, but as long as we do it as truthfully and as representative as possible, does it really do any harm? Answers on a postcard . .