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Dick Van Dyke’s Cockney accent

July 23, 2017

I read that Dick Van Dyke has publicly apologised for his “Cockney” accent in Mary Poppins, a mere 53 years after the film was made. And indeed it was a terrible attempt at a Cockney accent. If it weren’t for the context – he played a London chimney sweep – I do not think I would have known it was even supposed to be a Cockney accent. I might have thought it was a West country accent, or an Australian one, but I probably would not have guessed Cockney.

Anyway, Dick Van Dyke’s apology was disarmingly candid and self-deprecatory. He says he had no idea how badly wrong he was getting it, and the director and other cast members were too polite to tell him. I find it surprising that a big-budget film like that could not afford to employ a voice coach for one of the leading parts, but there you go.

The atrocious accent used to annoy me at one time, but it doesn’t now; I just think of it as one of the film’s curious quirks, which actually adds to the fun. Besides, as the years go by the traditional, Alf Garnett-style Cockney accent is becoming rarer and rarer (at my son’s East London school the predominant accent is Black Urban Vernacular, spoken by black, white and Asian kids alike, which has very different vowels from Cockney). In another 53 years Van Dyke’s accent won’t sound strange, because no one will remember what proper Cockney sounded like. Or rather, all the accents will sound strange, Van Dyke’s no more than the rest.

Van Dyke (91) has a part in the forthcoming sequel, Mary Poppins Returns. I wonder what accent he’ll do?

P.S. May I bring to your attention my comic fantasy YA novel The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers – here is the link: https://unbound.com/books/adam-gowers . Go there and you will see a neat little 2-minute video of me explaining why the time for this novel has come! And if you support it you will get your name in the back and an invitation to the launch party.

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2 Comments
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    Wonder of there was ever a standard Cockney accent? Neither Sam Weller’s “werry vell” or Arthur Mullard’s “Yus my Dear” sound familiar nowadays.
    Documentaris from the 30s & 40s are full of chirpy cockernee Sparrars with their “Gawd blimey, Guv, yer a proper toff an no mistake” but giving the impression they were trying to sound a bit “posher” than they were.
    Possibly the truest idea of how old Cockney sounded is on recordings of music hall stars like Albert Chevalier or Marine Lloyd. Presumably Charlie Chaplin had a cockney accent but he’d lost it by the time he was recorded.

  2. Emma permalink

    I have a cockney accent as I come from Dagenham and there’s still plenty of cockney accents in Essex lol.

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