Saturday, May 03, 2008


James Higham writes how the nation likes to look down on the humble Brummie. Having lived here for over 30 years, I should like to say something in reply, as no doubt he knew I would:

First, I think the affected contempt for Brummies is a displaced scorn for industrial labour perhaps impermissible to express so baldly in relation to Yorkshiremen and Lancastrians. Imagine such contempt shown for miners!

This is not universal: German engineers put Ing. in front of their names, and may have a kudos similar to that of the medical profession; but British engineers are treated with patrician condescension. Think squaddies in oil-stained Khakis. No place for officers there.

Or picture Repton-educated (though expelled) Jeremy Clarkson, cheerfully displaying his ignorance as he drives the latest wonder constructed by "four blokes bashing metal in an industrial unit". Decades of regarding going into industry as the wooden spoon in life's competition, has brought Britain to our current sorry pass.

Thickos associated with Birmingham include Matthew Boulton, James Brindley, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, JRR Tolkien, John Baskerville, Sir Edward Burne-Jones etc.

But mostly, Birmingham was too busy making its own and the nation's prosperity - the "cheap tin trays" of Masefield's "Cargoes". Ugh, the proles. Who also made the chain, the anchors, the presses, the lathes and so on that liberated us from guarding sheep as we read our Bibles with frozen fingers.

There may be a London-centric jealousy because Birmingham is not Britain's Second City, but, technically speaking, its first in geographical area and population. It is the largest local authority by a country mile (the "Mayor of London" controls a larger budget, but that "London" is an sort of urban conglomeration imprecisely related to the City of London, the surrounding boroughs, and other local authorities in the greater metropolitan area).

As to accents, few outsiders could pass for Brummies. Attempts to imitate the accent usually sound like a Scouser being strangled; and what is often thought of as a Brummie accent (say, Timothy Spall's Barry in "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet", or Julie Walters' Mrs Overall in "Acorn Antiques") is more like West Bromwich.

The Black Country abounds in accents; when I first came to Birmingham a Black Country-born history teacher told me that it was once possible to identify by his speech not only the village of the interlocutor, but sometimes even his street.

My personal preference is Sedgley, an exceptionally musical tone. Their pronunciation of the word "flowers" makes me think there must indeed have been a Golden Age in which men sang rather than spoke.


Semaj Mahgih said...

Incorporated in my post. Excellent, Sackers.

hatfield girl said...

The smaller HG, who went to live in England's First City aged 4, can speak Brum with the perfect intonation, vocabulary and style of the native speaker. She can swear on her mum. hush her mouth, turn round, misspoke herself, and still says, yi, for yes.
It is a language so cadenced it is more sung than spoken, at its most fluent - and the complex vowel sets lie comfortably side by side with their Italian counterparts. Pronouncimg 'why' in Brum has much in common with 'aiuolo'. I miss my azaleas and magnolias, I sometimes catch myself worrying about dry rot - so I suppose I miss that too.

And dining out was like stepping into the pages of W.H.B. Court.


I've gotten as far as "Orright?" and "Tararabit".