Ooh la la and allo allo already

By Simon Round, December 4, 2012

For the first time ever, I feel sorry for Joey Barton. Normally, I have no time for footballers who are randomly violent and excruciatingly pretentious but, having heard his recent post-match, French-accented interview, I do empathise with him a little.

Poor Joey was just doing that thing where you put your interlocutor at ease by mirroring their voice patterns. I do it myself. When I'm hanging out with my Liverpool friends, I often refer to things as being "dead good" - I find it helps them to calm down.

To be fair to Joey, his French accent is not bad. I say this as someone whose most significant talent in life is the ability to do accents (that and making scrambled eggs).

It doesn't make me popular. My children hate it (though they quite like the scrambled eggs). When I'm driving them around at the weekend, I find myself lapsing into Ulster or Yorkshire without realising it - until they remind me that I "sound stupid".

I don't agree. Accents definitely have their place. Certain words just sound better when delivered in a particular dialect. For example the word "ratatouille" should always be delivered in a lilting South Wales accent whereas "paté" should be pronounced in Geordie, and "diabolical" in Glaswegian.

Being good at accents not only makes you unpopular but it can also be incredibly frustrating when you realise that certain dialects are beyond you - Norfolk, for example (although, to be fair, there are a fair number of East Anglians who can't do that one) and Nottingham.

Then there is the problem of the "Jewish accent". Years ago, Jews, particularly those whose parents came from eastern Europe, did have a certain Yiddish inflection to their voices. But they didn't sound like Fagin. Nobody did - not even Fagin himself. So it drives me mad to hear actors - often Jewish actors- adopting a faux Jewish tone to their voices the minute they get near a Jewish sitcom.

I particularly hate that thing of inverting sentences. So instead of saying, "I like cake", they say, "Cake… I like"; or rather than say, "I'll do that for you", it's, "For you, I'll do that". Just in case any sitcom actors happen to be reading this column, I can confirm that this kind of thing, nobody does.

Probably the most irritating example is the German war-film syndrome. Films like Where Eagles Dare feature British actors speaking to each other in English but, because they are playing German characters, zey speak like zis, which sounds just as ridiculous as when Joey Barton or Shteve McClaren speak in French/Dutch accents.

But there is joy in being able to do an accent well (as long as no one else is listening). So if you, like me, can't resist trying, and you don't have children, here are some tips. If you want to say "bacon" in a Jamaican accent, first make sure your rabbi isn't listening and then say the words "beer can".

For "the peg is in my tent" in a New Zealand accent, simply change the vowel sounds to "the pig is in my tint". An Israeli accent? Well, just wait until Joey Barton is transferred to Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Last updated: 10:45am, December 4 2012