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A Brief Explainer on British Accents

Published July 6, 2022

“English accents on Frasier,” English comedian, television host and novelist Richard Osman once tweeted. “Has there ever been a show this consistently brilliant that did one thing so badly?”

The accent that gets routinely criticized is the one falling out of Daphne Moon’s mouth. Actor Jane Leeves, who played Daphne, is originally from Essex, England, but she decided that her character needed to sound like she was from some 250 miles northwest. 

“Daphne has a Manchester accent,” Leeves told the Los Angeles Times in 1995.  “That’s because the character is a working-class character and it sounds more working class. If I did Daphne the way I talk, it wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t give her that working-class edge.”

Although it might not register to Americans as anything but “British,” the English have spent decades complaining about how wrong it is. “Any fellow Brits irked by the bad accents in Frasier?” one Reddit thread began, while the Frasier online message board also debated whether Daphne’s accent was “all wrong.” 

Despite what your roommate thinks when he does that hilaaarious “British accent” every 15 minutes, accents in the UK are significantly more hyper-regionalized than our American versions. Leeves’ real-life southern accent didn’t lend itself to a convincing Manchester version and, to the English, it sounded like it was from a little bit of…everywhere in the North. (And who knows how it felt to John Mahoney: the late actor who played Martin Crane actually grew up in Manchester.) 

“After landing the role of cleaner Daphne Moon in the US sitcom Frasier, [Leeves’] arpeggio of puzzling pronunciation — which variegated between Liverpool to the Punja —  caused astonishment among Northern viewers, although US viewers were happily oblivious to the conundrum,” the Manchester Evening News wrote, calling it the fifth-worst Mancunian accent of all time. 

In 2011, Leeves told BBC Breakfast that her on-camera accent was supposed to be “something an American audience could understand” before adding that “It’s not really right.” So there you go: it’s our fault. 

Somebody let Richard Osman know. 

The sitcom Frasier shows up in this week’s Video Rewind. Check it out!

Featured image courtesy of: Matt Groening, Public Domain