04 May 2017
The Lost Cockney Voice, BBC Radio 4
“They don’t speak cockney in Poplar any more,” lamented June Brown, Albert Square’s Dot Cotton, halfway through this hugely entertaining inquiry into the argot of the East End (28 April). Though hot in pursuit of socio-linguistic change, presenter Cole Morton also had a much more personal quarry in mind – his late grandmother, Gladys, born in Stratford in 1917, whose distinctive way of speaking had, he maintained, almost ceased to exist.
One ex-East Ender who sounded uncannily like Gladys was Dame Vera Lynn, whose recitation of “Up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire” instantly returned Moreton to the world of his childhood. What we were listening to here, he explained, as this odd combination of street-sharp vowels and upper-class lilt faded away, was “Queen’s cockney”, an upmarket variant inspired by well-spoken radio announcers, and a key stopping-off point on the path to upward social mobility.
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