The Problem of Proletarianisation

Miss Sylvia Peters, one of the three regular announcers on early 1950s television

In a real world announcers from television stations to railway stations speak the Queen's English
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Notes on the barbarising of gentlemanly culture

It is no exaggeration to say that the single phenomenon which has done most to turn Britain from the thing it was before the Eclipse to the thing it is now is that of proletarianisation. It is to be seen in every walk of life. Wireless and television announcers have turned from figures of gentlemanly (or ladylike) authority to whining sub-Cockneys. Announcers in any public place have lost their crisp, clear English enunciation and talk like plebeians. Upper and middle class speakers below the age of thirty (and many below the age of fifty) have adopted a phoney and embarrassing pseudo-proletarian drawl marked by the revolting thin "oo" sound ("Tyeeoo o'clock in the afterneeoon").

An American who was up at Oxford in the 1970s remarked that on visiting it in the 1990s, the most immediately noticeable change was the almost complete demise of what used to be called the Oxford Accent, which on his first visit had been all but universal there. He remarked that the sudden and complete changed seemed "spooky"; and it is.

Are we speaking, then, merely about the way people talk? Not at all. We are merely noting that as the primary symptom of a much greater change: a change not merely of style, but of ideals -- or rather a change from ideals to anti-ideals. Throughout modern British history, the social ideal has been that of the Gentleman. The precise definition of that term has never been easy or even fully possible, and that is hardly surprising in the case of something so all-embracing and fundamental to our culture.

Debrett and the College of Arms defined a gentleman very precisely in terms of social class. The sons of a family which had been armigerous for at least three generations were entitled to rank as gentlemen. Matthew Arnold defined a gentleman as "one who never willingly causes pain." In between these two definitions, the one tight and class-based, the other loose and morally founded, lies an ideal that has shaped a nation. An ideal which, has permeated English scholars, churchmen, academics, soldiers and statesmen. An ideal which imbued British films and broadcasting until the Eclipse, giving them their air of calm authority, fairness and decency, civilisation and charm.

From early in the century the gentlemanly aisance has been under attack by the proponents of a bogus cult of "social equality" (a phrase which serves, as it has always served since its first application in the French Revolution, the replacement of one ruling elite by another and usually worse one). This attack had little effect in cultural terms until the time of the Eclipse.

In the first decade of darkness there was a great campaign in favour of what was termed "working class culture" -- an absurd concept. There had certainly been an authentic rural culture in this country, with its own folklore and traditions, but the working people herded into the cities by the Industrial Revolution retained nothing of this(1). Their "culture" was nothing but a very impoverished version of the "middle class" culture of their employers, the very engine of which was an aspiration to gentlemanly culture. The culture of the English gentleman was the only surviving culture.

What happened throughout the legitimate part of the 20th century was an extension of this culture through the mass media to an ever wider section of the population. The tendency of spoken English, for example, influenced by the B.B.C. and by films, was generally upward. Among lower middle class people, the tendency was for the younger generation (especially women) to speak better than their elders. At the same time, educational levels were rising, adult literacy was increasing. More and more of the population were aspiring, and being helped, to move toward the level of the gentlemanly class.

Now we do not either advocate, nor see these things as evidence for, a complete democratisation by "levelling up" -- though those inclined in that direction would be perfectly at liberty to do so. Certainly a degree of democratisation was taking place, and certainly, insofar as it was the process was a "levelling up". This, surely, is the only acceptable form of equality and we approve of it. Nonetheless, in our view culture must always be led by an elite. Should a true and Total "democratisation" take place (which, in any case, we should argue is not possible), we should witness a rapid deterioration owing to the absence of a leadership to maintain standards. However, this was by no means the case. While the standards of many people were rising, this was taking place within a class-based society whose tone was set and leadership was undertaken by its hereditary upper classes, kept vigorous, as it always had been, by regular infusions of the best blood from below. And as people made their way upward, they naturally aspired to better themselves, taking on the tone, manner and qualities of the leading class. This is how a civilised society operates.

The concerted attack on gentlemanly culture, which has been pursued with unabated ferocity by the mass media since the Eclipse has reversed this situation. In the Pit it is not the aim of the lower orders to better themselves, but of the better orders to lower themselves. Children at public schools learn to talk the "Tyeoo o'clock whine", shielding themselves, with this false accent against the embarrassment of talking like gentlemen. Just as, in the 1950s, a lower middle class family would speak better in each succeeding generation, now in any British upper or upper-middle class family, one will find that the grandparents speak perfectly, the parents accent is rather flattened and the children have a pseudo-proletarianised whine.

And, as we began by saying, this vocal degeneration is not merely an isolated phenomenon but a symptom of a much wider degeneration -- a degeneration of the ideals of a whole society. The many other idiocies to which modern people have so supinely succumbed, from the absurd casual "clothes" which desecrate the streets of the Pit, the revolting advertising campaigns, the decline of grammar and vocabulary, the "acceptance" of foul language, the blank-minded acquiescence in the destruction of the country's culture, institutions and very existence, are all but secondary symptoms of a people that has lost its dignity, its identity, its aspirations; all of which were inextricably bound up in the ideal of the gentleman and of the lady.

For the British people, perhaps more than any other, the way we speak, the sound of Received English, is essential to our identity. Language is the medium of thought, and when language degenerates thought inevitably degenerates with it. This is a problem with the spread of impoverished modern argot everywhere. But in this country, the spoken language has also another significance, and one of cardinal importance. In America, I believe (I stand open to correction by those who know America better than I), a restitution would be a somewhat simpler matter than here. A return to more traditional values, still partially held by many; a return to civilised dignity could be effected by the removal of the grip exercised over the nation by post-Eclipse ideology and "pop" values.

In Britain, even a complete rejection of the false values and ideologies of the Pit-plutocracy would leave the nation rootless and dispossessed of identity if its leaders, its broadcasters, its entire elite were still talking like whining lackeys. Without the return of patrician speech, and of what that symbolises and embodies the spirit of -- a caste that has been systematically demolished with its own cringing co-operation -- Britain can never come to itself again.

This then raises a number of questions for the future. Is it possible to resurrect a class that has virtually ceased to be? Has it died or is it merely lying dormant? Is it that class -- as embodied in certain families -- that must be revived, or is it not rather the spirit of that class which has, after all, been embodied by different families and individuals at different times? Is it a particular historical social structure, or is it a form which might be inherited by another order, provided it were a properly stratified one, that is vital to our identity? And if (as we would suggest) the latter, how can we preserve, maintain, develop and re-embody that form which, without embodiment, must confront extinction?

For the secessionist this is a part -- and by no means the least important part -- of the wider question of the creation of the New Sensibility, a process which must be effected both by thinking and by living. In this context the question will arise as to how far an "ideology" (often considered a relatively abstract thing) can affect the speech and culture of a group of people. The answer to this question is "absolutely", and proof of this may be found in the development of the Pit accent itself. This first arose among left-wing "yeeniversity scheedents" in the 1970s, who, arriving at the University speaking Received English were so imbued with democratist ideology that it became a vital psychological necessity for them to cast off their patrician speech which had become a genuine embarrassment to them. To adopt phoney Cockney accents would have been too obviously false (and therefore also embarrassing), so the semi-proletarianised whine with its flagship "tyeeoo o'clock" vowel was born.

There are no doubt linguistic laws akin to Grimm's Law (which describes the 16th century Vowel Shift in the English and German languages) for the gravitation toward this particular vowel-sound which is found in no natural English-speaking accent except the Australian (where it has quite a different intonation). However that may be, the bongo whine, beginning with hard-core leftists, spread to other "scheedents" most of whom at that time were infected by milder forms of the same ideology and therefore were easily affected by the same form of class-embarrassment. Then it became the speech of the broadcasting-media (or rather of those broadcasters who were not selected for their genuinely common or regional accents), of the type-three professions like advertising and journalism. Later it became de rigeur in the English public schools, where the children of the better classes now go to un-learn Received English if their parents still speak it. Finally it has become the argot of nearly the whole upper and upper-middle class below the age of fifty. We should like, at some time to pursue this question of how the bongo accent is in its deepest core an embarrassed accent. It is awkward, artificial and gauche. It is spoken by people who know how to speak Received English and also know that they are not allowed to, despite the fact that this is the only natual speech available to them. It is one of the oddest linguistic phenomena we have encountered. We would urge you, if you find yourself in the uncomfortable position of listening to such people speak, to listen carefully to its artificiality and awkwardness, which is still present even in younger upper and upper middle class speakers.

In the meantime the accent has spread its influence downward so that in these days the most egregious "Tyeeoo o'clock" noises can be heard from genuine lower class girls who serve in shops and restaurants. Again listen out for this. You will soon begin to get the feel of the phenomenon in its differing nuances throughout the social scale.

Interestingly, it is mostly girls among the lower and lower middle classes who speak this way. It is not heard so much among men of that class unless they are in jobs that bring them into contiguity with type threes. And interestingly it is found among precisely the same sort of girls who in the fifties and sixties would speak something closer to Received English than the respective man.

All this is matter of no small sociological interest, but we cannot allow it to detain us here.

What is important from our present point of view is the fact that this way of talking was shaped from the beginning by an ideology, was developed in the first place by highly ideologically-motivated individuals (mostly unconsciously, and through sheer pressure of that ideology and the class-embarrassment it engendered) and spread to other individuals still ideologically-motivated though less so in a series of outward ripples.

The implications of this for an opposite movement -- a reform of language and manner -- are clear. It can be done because it has been done the other way, not as a "natural phenomenon" or shift, but as a semi-conscious ideological initiative. Ours will be a fully conscious one, at least in its inception (as the former one in its inception may have been).

It goes without saying that the development of the bongo accent was fuelled by an ideology which was being forced into the very bones of the younger population by the mass-media and most of the "education" system. We shall not have that power at our command, but the entire premiss of secession is that we can and will forge our own Image-Sphere outside the prefabricated one created by the Pit's mass-media. We can do it in this matter as in all others.

How far our "outward ripples" can spread without the support of the Pit's propogation media is another question; and to this the answer is the perennial secessionist one. Our present job is to create a civilised world among ourselves. We may well be building the New Sensibility, the pattern on which a future restitution may be modelled. We may well be laying the only intellectual and cultural groundwork that any one is laying, in these monolithic (2) times, for a new future. But if not, we still secede, for in doing so we make a civilised life for ourselves here and now.

For a rather eccentric lesson in real English speech, click here!


(1) We should be the last to deny that with the loss of British rural culture a great deal of value was destroyed, but it was destroyed by the same forces that were creating the modern industrial/commercial state and as a part of that creation. Whether this constitutes a "progress" or not is a question in itself; but in any case the facts remain.

(2) The pit may be described as "a monolith of interlocking pseudo-alternatives" all of which, of course, embody essentially the same spirit. Alternatives that in any respect genuinely oppose the Pit rather than forming part of its deracinated mosaic are demonised as "cults".