Saturday, 3 April 2010

Oh it's a luvlee 'oliday with Marry

Listening to a topical satire programme on the radio a couple of weeks back, I was surprised to hear a comedian doing a routine on Dick van Dyke’s accent in Mary Poppins.

Now I know what you’re expecting and doubtlessly a smile is reaching across your features as you prepare for the chucklesomeness that comes from observing the failure of an actor to master an accent. But first consider this. Mary Poppins was released in 1964, which means that we’ve been chortling over Dick van Dyke’s accent for 46 years. That’s close to half a century. People, I put it to you that this joke is old and maybe it’s time to move on. I know it’s a bad attempt at cockney and while I didn’t notice it when watching the film as a child, it was genuinely startling the first time I heard it as an adult.

And it’s not even as though it’s the only bad accent out there. James Doohan’s Scottish accent as Scotty in Star Trek springs to mind (a tradition kept alive by Simon Pegg in the latest film version) as does Sean Connery’s attempt at Irish/American in The Untouchables and there are others including, I’m told, some remarkably odd attempts at Mancunian in an episode of Frasier. Yet still it is almost impossible to talk or write about Mary Poppins without referencing the accent. The Times recently printed a list of top children’s films, and even though only fifty words were allotted to each one, the accent was commented on. When Mark Kermode discussed the film in an article a few Christmases back it was startlingly noticeable that he did not mention it at all.

So why this defensive kneejerkery whenever Mary Poppins is mentioned? We are all aware of van Dyke’s deficiency in the cockney accent department and it’s not as if a new adult British viewer is liable to miss it. There really is no longer a need to point it out and, quite frankly, riffing about it on a topical comedy programme is downright bizarre. Come on Marcus Brigstocke, why not really stick it to Palmerston while you're at it and Mitch Benn can do a funny song about the charge of the Light Brigade. This is moving away from being humorous and drifting into the realms of OCD. Are we so desperate to reserve our cool in the face of an openly sentimental children’s film? Is it because it is cockney he cocks (sorry) up? Had it been Somerset or Geordie would there be such a fuss? I suspect not.

So here is my clarion cry, and I’m surprised how nervous I am making it. As John Cleese once commented, an Englishman would rather be told that he is a bad lover than that he has no sense of humour, but I shall be bold. Leave it people. The joke’s old and obvious and it’s time to move on. Let’s laugh at James Cameron’s name for the ultra-rare substance the humans are looking for in Avatar, ‘unobtainium’. Now that really is funny.

Happy Easter

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