A few years ago, a Liverpudlian friend of mine who is of Indian descent (by which I mean to explain she has a gentle voice) went to Glasgow for the first time.
When she came back, she told me: “At first, I couldn’t understand why everyone I met was so angry and why they were all so angry with each other. Then, after about forty minutes, I realised it was just their Glasgow accents.”
That was no joke. She genuinely was initially confused.
It came to mind today when I heard Glasgow comedienne Janey Godley discussing Scottish football managers on both BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and on BBC World Service’s lunchtime Newshour. (There are now seven Glasgow-born managers of English Premier League teams.)
“There’s something that’s come through so much today,” Janey said in the Newshour interview, “and it’s that a Scottish accent equals aggression. It’s something that people like me have had to fight for a long time. People don’t say I’m a strong comic; I’m called a tough, aggressive comic because of my accent. But our accent isn’t always synonymous with aggression.”
Janey puts the “don’t mess with us” accent down to “gritty Celtic upbringing” in Glasgow.
But the bizarre other side of the coin is that British telephone call centres are often based in the lowlands of Scotland because a Scottish accent is also found by English people to be comforting and honest.
I am old enough to remember when this started and it was specifically to do with soft-toned Glasgow-born actor Gordon Jackson who, in the early 1970s, appeared in the high-rating ITV series Upstairs, Downstairs as calm, reassuring and authoritative butler Mr Hudson.
To cash in on his TV image, a financial services company had him voice their TV commercials and their business rocketed. He – and other Scots ‘voices’ – became much in demand for financial ads. One bonus was that, unless the words were rasped out in a clearly scummy Rab C Nesbitt type accent, the English were unable to socially place any Scottish accent: they could not label the accent as belonging to any particular ‘class’ or any particular area… the accent was just “Scottish” and came with images of financial probity and Mr Hudson style trustworthiness.
Cliche images, of course, are a fascinating area of illogicality. as with Rab C Nesbitt AND Mr Gordon Jackson both being the epitome of cliche Scottishness.
The Scots have an unusual dichotomy of cliche images. They are seen as both drunken petty criminals and morally-strict Calvinists… as both penniless jack-the-lads and dead-honest people canny with their money.
Perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United lies sandwiched somewhere between Rab C Nesbitt and Gordon Jackson.