Open Culture posted a fantastic video of the late Arthur C. Clarke discussing the future. The clip is remarkable for its prescience (Clarke seems to predict the emergence of the internet), and is fascinating on all levels. Given my interests, of course, I also noted something striking about Clarke’s speech: he maintained the West Country accent of his upbringing (he was from Somerset). Here’s the full clip:
Clarke didn’t go to university due to finances, only earning a degree some years later. I can only wonder how different his accent may have been had he gone to Oxford or Cambridge as a young man. Although Received Pronunciation seemed something of a standard among British intellectuals in the mid-20th century, it’s clear there were some who bucked this trend.
Clarke is one of several great thinkers, writers or other intellectuals who maintained strong regional accents before it was entirely acceptable to do so. The great physicist Richard Feynman perhaps owed some of his charm to his strong New York Accent:
Feynman’s accent, one of America’s more stigmatized, becomes a strength rather than a weakness. It is a sad fact that we easily underestimate people because of their accents. But in Feynman’s case, this prejudice becomes an advantage: his students are perhaps disarmed, feeling they are talking to a man on the street rather than a stuffy professor.
Even in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, when one might assume the Queen’s English to be at the height of its influence, there were nevertheless those who did not adhere to the ‘learned accent’ of the day. George Bernard Shaw, despite the Englishness of his plays, maintained some of the rhoticity of his native Ireland:
I’ve long hoped for a world in which we no longer associate certain accents with intellectualism. And while such a world may never be possible, it’s worth noting that genius speaks in many different voices.