Created By: dragonslip on July 27, 2012 Last Edited By: dragonslip on July 27, 2012

Winston smith went to Eton

This is when supposed “every man” characters in British Sci-Fi are played by upper middle class sounding people

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Often in sci-fi works especially dystopian ones, the main character is often meant to be an “every man” whose experiences represent that of the many. Considering that you have to wonder why so often even today these characters are played with upper middle-class accent (only if the production has English cast obviously) that don’t represent that of the many at all

Years ago the reason for this was most likely just that most everyone in British TV and film sounded like this as the defult and these types of characters often don’t have a real life background with a set real world accent attached. More resent examples might generously just be the result of a disproportionate number of upper middle class people going into acting and American casting agents not know any better. More cynically it might be because often these characters are suppose to quite deep thinkers on some level and in some people’s minds it’s easier to take people seriously as civilised intellectuals if they sound like Stephen fry


Examples

Film
  • in the 1984 film version of Nineteen Eighty Four John Hurt plays Winston smith with his own upper middle class accent
  • in the film version of Vfor Vendetta Natalie Portman plays Evey Hammond with a posh English accent


LiveActionTV
  • the main character in the second episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror averts this but his reality TV star love interest does not


Community Feedback Replies: 12
  • July 27, 2012
    HonestGent
    At the risk of sounding stupid, who is Winston Smith? And isn't it bad practise to name tropes after characters?
  • July 27, 2012
    dragonslip
    the main character in 1984

    even if you haven't read it I included him in the examples
  • July 27, 2012
    AgProv
    Winston Smith was the central character in George Orwell's 1984. (Orwell was an Old Etonian, ironically).

    Also, another reason why BBC English plays best in the USA is the problem the Yanks have got with British regional accents. Look at the way "real" British regional accents have been softened for American ears, to a point where they frankly sound ridiculous to us - Dick van Dyke cockney, Scotty in Star Trek "Scottish", and Daphne Moon's peculiar Mancunian in "Frasier". Keeping it Standard English throughout is simply a better bet for Americans - it's the British English they're most used to.

    The second reason - you see this more in homegrown British drama, and in films/novels from the earlier part of the 20th century up till about, perhaps, the seventies.

    Standard Engish = upper classes = officers, gentlemen and leaders.

    regional accents = lower classes = sergeants' mess at best = followers.

    Class-conscious snobbery. There's also a notion that the lower the social class and the coarser the accent, the more likely the speaker is to be a caricature - either a salt of the earth rough diamond working class person, or an untrustworthy member of the criminal classes with no in between or nuances. Either way, lack of education or intelligence are presumed - these are people who need to be led and steered by a firm yet kindly hand.

    Examples:

    Comic books: Digby (lower class, other ranks) to Dan Dare (plummy officer, Space Pilot of the Future)

    Radio: Paul Temple - upper-class crimefighter. His manservant - isn't.

    Red Dwarf: Rimmer (upper middle class dork?) lister (Scouse and streetwise).

    Blakes' Seven: just about everyone went to RADA.

  • July 27, 2012
    captainpat
    See Trope Namer Syndrome. This name not gonna work.
  • July 27, 2012
    dragonslip
    Winston smith is the main character in one of the most well know novels in the english language
  • July 27, 2012
    HonestGent
    ^Ah, now I feel stupid... So does the name stay? My first instict would be to change it, but if he's that well known...
  • July 27, 2012
    abk0100
    Is this limited to Sci-fi? What about war movies where every character is played by an upper-class sounding actor, even when it doesn't make sense?
  • July 27, 2012
    surgoshan
    Is this Not Even Bothering With The Accent? Just for class rather than region?
  • July 27, 2012
    dragonslip
    @surgoshan

    This is more specific and I probably the result of snobbery not carelessness

    @abk0100

    This is more common in sci-fi because sci-fi characters often grow up in made up future worlds where accents can be less noticeably changed

  • July 27, 2012
    robinjohnson
  • July 27, 2012
    Sular
    Oddly Erudite Everyman?
  • July 27, 2012
    AgProv
    I've read somewhere that for a long time the BBC actually didn't allow any actors or presenters to use anything other than Received Pronunciation aka "BBC English;" so that's why (for example) cavemen in Doctor Who sound like they were upper-middle class. Also actors with the wrong sort of British Accent would learn how to speak RP in acting school - that way they could appear on BBC - so they were trained to talk that way. Regard the way Patrick Stewart's accent was refined by RADA training from Broadest Yorkshire into what we hear today.
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