The tendency of English characters in American works to speak with upper-class accents (the academic term is Received Pronunciation
; more colloquially, it's called the Queen's English or BBC English) even when played by actual Brits, who may well "posh up" their accent. It's a case of Britain Is Only London
but even more so. It's like Britain Is Only Mayfair (a very high-class area of London).
This trope is about Hollywood thinking RP is the only British Accent
, or that it's the only one the educated English use
while everyone else talks like they had a Cockney jammed down their throats.
To contrast, the trope is
often lamented by the English who speak one of myriad other accents available and rarely get recognition, and can fuel stereotypes and people assuming there's a (nonexistent) 'British Accent'. As the page quote suggests, this might stem largely from the fact that many people think any 'non-rhotic' accent (where the 'r' is pronounced 'aa' as opposed to 'arr' in words like car
) is English (Estuary accent, as a result, is often confused with RP itself). In reality, both the UK and the USA have their fair share of both rhotic and non-rhotic accents to go around.
On the other hand, this trope is heavily justified in England itself. If someone mentions a "correct" pronunciation or if they have "no accent", they do mean RP, which is both relatively "posh" and the formal "standard", also known as "Newsreader English". This is similar to how Americans say they have "no accent" when they are actually referring to Lower Midwestern US pronunciation. Only so long ago, people paid for "elocution" lessons to learn to speak "properly", and actors from all over the UK were encouraged to lose their natural regional accents in favour of RP - for example, Patrick Stewart
is a Yorkshireman
by birth, but speaks like, well, Patrick Stewart
. It should be mentioned, though, that modern RP is significantly less posh than the standard 'English' accent you will hear on American TV. The accent in question tends to be tied to a Private or Grammar School education, and it is entirely possible to identify students of particular schools in a city or region by their pronunciation.
A Running Gag
among Britons (and somewhat Truth in Television
) is that Americans will always assume any British accent other than the posh 1950s one is Australiannote
. Somewhat forgiveable with Estuary English, but completely bizarre when applied to Oop North
. Referenced in, among other things, Top Gear
. The Quintessential British Gentleman
probably speaks this way.
Also consider that foreign speakers (at least in Europe) often learn this variety in school, especially at university, where RP is the standard. In other countries, like in Latin American ones, for obvious reasons
, learn American English, and others, like those from the Sinosphere (China, Japan, South Korea, etc.) can't decide which one is the right one to teach.
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Anime and Manga
- The English dub for Yu-Gi-Oh! gave Bakura a Very British accent as a cultural counterpart of his very polite speech patterns in the Japanese script.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series (made and voice-acted by a Brit) parodies it to hell and back by giving him lines like "Cor blimey! That was a smashing manoeuvre! Good show, chaps!" and "Lashings of hot ginger beer for everyone! ...I'm British, you know."
- Surfaces in the original dub of Sailor Moon as the accent used by Minako when speaking English. Justified as, in the anime, she did live in London for a while...
- Astérix and the Britons has every single Briton talk like this, complete with expressions like "goodness gracious", "jolly good fellow" and "Stiff Upper Lip". This is particularly notable in the English translation, to distinguish them from the Gauls. (In the original French version, much of the distinction is created by having them speak French with English syntax.)
- Keira Knightley in most of her movies. Not so much in Real Life. This makes it extremely jarring to hear her speak in an interview for the first time.
- Inglourious Basterds example: when Hicox is getting briefed for his mission, they all sound so English it hurts. Then you suddenly recognize Dr. Evil talking, and you realize that everyone in the room is a Fake Brit. Sort of Truth in Television — there are still people in the UK who talk that way, they're just few and far between (see Stephen Fry for a famous example outside the Royal Family). Fifty years ago, even more people talked like that, and whilst the common soldier would sound far more ordinary, the top brass would be more likely to be made up of the upper classes.
- As was pointed out in an episode of QI, the classical English pilot of the movies talks in this fashion because the actors who played them were almost invariably upper class fellows like David Niven. In Real Life, the RAF of World War II drew most of their pilots from the middle classes, but ask anyone to do an impression of an RAF pilot and they're practically guaranteed to attempt a Received Pronunciation "Tally-ho." They also had pilots from a wide variety of other countries.
- Selena Gomez in Monte Carlo when she's playing an American character pretending to be a different, British character, taken to an extreme when she momentarily forgets to do the accent and tries to retroactively make up for it. Also, the British character Gomez's character is pretending to be, also played by Gomez, but justified in that she is a posh heiress and her accent is more convincing than the American's.
- The first half of Oliver!, where the difference is made stronger due to a juxtaposition of 'proper' and Cockney.
- Richard E. Grant's super-posh accent in most of his films (e.g. as Withnail) stems from his childhood in colonial Swaziland speaking exaggeratedly upper-class "period English," overlaid with drama-school RP.
- Field Marshall Bernard "Monty" Montgomery in Patton. Patton even mockingly imitates him in one scene.
- Chris Egan's ridiculously poshed-up accent in Letters To Juliet (Egan is Australian by the way). Even more noticeable when he's speaking with Vanessa Redgrave, whose accent is clearly what he was going for but doesn't quite make it.
- William Moseley in Walden Media's The Chronicles of Narnia films speaks on a completely different level of English-ness than his fellow cast members (including his own siblings). With his few lines in Voyage of the Dawn Treader he still manages to out-Brit the rest of the cast.
- Funnily enough Richard Dempsey who played the same character in the BBC adaptations of the books did exactly the same thing.
- English actor Burn Gorman does such a terrible attempt at a "British" accent in Pacific Rim, to contrast, listen to his normal accent playing Owen in Torchwood.
- One of character actor Terry-Thomas' trademarks was his very British RP accent. He is quite possibly the trope codifier; most people that pretend a RP accent these days are doing an impression of him.
- X-Men: First Class attempts to explain why Xavier (who is American in the comics) has a Received Pronunciation accent. He is half-British, half-American (or alternately, he's fully British, but his family moved to the United States before World War II broke out in 1939), and his speech pattern was influenced by his posh English mother; it was later reinforced when he studied at the University of Oxford.
- Redwall uses a wide variety of accents: searats Talk Like a Pirate and hares use the "tally ho, wot wot"-type of speech (based on the WW2 RAF no less).
- In the Doctor Who|Expanded Universe book "The Pirate Loop" the Doctor and Martha meet a group of Badger-headed pirates, most of whom speak in an English -specifically Southampton- accent.
Live Action TV
- Katarina Waters aka Katie Lea Burchill/Winter has an RP accent but did posh herself up considerably when she was in WWE and then again in TNA. Any non-kayfabe interviews will show a big difference between her real accent and the one she uses in promos. Possibly justified because in professional wrestling, the wrestlers are taught to speak slowly in promos and enunciate so that the audience can hear them clearly.
- Katie Lea's "real" accent is actually very Germanic, as she was raised in Germany. In a Colt Cabana podcast she relates that to English ears she sounds German but she gets away with it in America.
- William Regal poshed up his Lancashire accent when he was first in WWE as his character was meant to be a proper British upper class twit and would naturally have a posh accent. He dropped this around 2004-ish and has used his normal accent ever since.
- Booker T and Sharmell gave themselves over the top British accents when they became King Booker and Queen Sharmell and started acting like bumbling upper class twits.
- Layla El is British but has lived in America for a long time so her accent has faded quite a bit but she did posh herself up when she hooked up with William Regal as his "Queen". She did a similar thing when she formed Lay Cool as a listen to one of her promos from then and a regular interview will show a huge difference.
- Metal Gear usually plays this straight where English characters have English accents, with varying levels of justification. Major Zero is an ex-SAS man from Exeter and Liquid Snake is... well, Liquid Snake. Slightly less justified is the supposedly Mancunian Strangelove. The only exception is the Praying Mantis advert narrator.
- The Icarus from Sacrifice is an obvious 'stereotypical RAF pilot' reference and speaks in an extremely posh upper class accent (in contrast to the rest of the Yeomen, who mostly speak with various lower-class accents from both Britain and the USA).
- Venus Dare from Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is one of the few characters in the game not to have an American accent, and she speaks in incredibly plummy RP.
- South Park - Zig-Zagging Trope - First, Pip has this accent. In "The Snuke," the Queen has one too, but her underlings don't. They also give Gordon Brown a London accent that sounds a bit like their version of Russell Crowe even though Brown is from Scotland. Finally, they don't give Richard Dawkins this accent even though he does have one. (When asked about his portrayal in Real Life, Dawkins responded that they could have at least hired an actual British actor.)
- On Phineas and Ferb Lawrence Fletcher, the dad, has this, but Ferb seems not to, though as a child that has spent his formative years in the United States he can reasonably not have one.
- In an episode of Pinky and the Brain where Pinky assembles the world leaders, Prime Minister John Major has a stereotypical English accent instead of the South London accent he has in real life.
- Thomas the Tank Engine: Extremely noticeable with Gordon in later episodes. He is even based on the same model as the Flying Scotsman, an actual steam locomotive that was manufactured in Britain.
- One of the Sports Popples, Big Kick, talks with a British accent.
- Axe Cop.
Axe Cop: "What's wrong with your voice?"
Isabella M: "Nothing. Everyone from London, England has to talk like this."
- Inverted by George Thomas, 1st Viscount Tonypandy, who, when he was the Speaker of the House of Commons, said in his native Welsh lilt, "There are many accents in this house. I sometimes wish I had one myself."
- British actor Terry-Thomas made a career of it.