Russell Crowe’s accent in Robin Hood reminded me of my time on Working Lunch – based in Nottingham but taking in the whole country.
At the risk of being accused of having dead ears, I heard South Wales, Liverpool, Middlesbrough and yes, Irish, in there. But not a trace of Nottinghamshire.
And for once, I can speak as an expert, having been brought up in a village in Sherwood Forest myself.
Admittedly, It’s not an easy accent to do, being a mixture of the flat vowels of the north fused with the richer, fruity tones of the Midlands. It presents an age old problem to actors. I remember a TV adaptation of DH Lawrence with “authentic” accents in which everyone just took a stab at sounding northern, with varying degrees of success.
I heard Evan Davies trying to get the right tones on The Today programme, although he slightly missed the point, getting someone to coach him in a Yorkshire dialect. Sherwood Forest, it’s in Nottinghamshire, Evan.
Mind you, he could have got off to a good start by simply effing and blinding. My memory of the local conversation was that every other word was a crude oath and some even creatively wove several swear words in one single word.
My favourite ever line was heard in Ollerton Miners Welfare after England beat Argentina in the 2002 World Cup and a drunk in the toilet beamed at me; “At least we effing effed the effing Argen-effing-tinians.” Now that would have been a great line to use about the French in the film.
Whilst I was admiring the almost Shakespearian creativity of his swearing he then bent over and asked me if he really did have a love bite on his bum, as his mates had been claiming. He didn’t, but I told him he had just to keep his mates happy. Robin Hood might have gone, but the Merry Men of Sherwood are everywhere.
Anyway, back to the Sherwood accent and the hardest thing is that really, there isn’t one. Not any more. The old forest area is now populated by former pit villages, full of mining families who travelled there from all over the country. So my own Nottinghamshire accent has a bit of geordie in it, whilst others will include Welsh, Lancastrian and Irish — hey maybe Russell got it right after all.
But there are some definite local peculiarities. Perhaps the most famous being the greeting ; “Eyup me duck”, or if you really like someone, “Eyup me owd duck”.
Then there’s the strange habit of men addressing each other as “youth”, no matter what their age. Hence you can get two 80 year olds in a pub saying “It’s tha round, youth”. Again, if we’re going for real authenticity here, you should pronounce “youth” as ‘yoth’.
Then there’s words like “snap” for a packed-lunch, “mardy” for , well, mardy – or sullen, it’s become a bit of a better known word in recent years, but I first heard it in Notts.
“Tabs” are ears and there’s the positively medieval habit of calling sweets “spice”, or again, if you want to get the local pronunciation “spahse”.
Finally, the one that always makes me laugh is the habit of pronouncing “house” as “arse”. It provides endless laughs “he’s got a green ‘arse” , “he’s in t’ dog arse again..”
So if I’d been left in charge of the dialect we could have enjoyed scenes like this;
Robin; “Eyup Marian me owd duck, tha’s got lovely tabs on tha.”
Marian; “Eyup Robin, yoth, fancy coming round to my ‘arse for some spice?”
Now that would have pulled the punters in.