IT ISN’T often that a continuity announcer makes me rage at the radio in the kitchen, but it happened a few evenings ago.
“Eh oop,” she said in an exaggerated accent which was no doubt intended to be Yorkshire. “We’re off to Bradford.”
What? Are my ears deceiving me, or did Ms Announcer on BBC Radio 4, home of weighty political discussion and the shipping forecast, where the chimes of Big Ben are heard at six o’clock on the dot to herald the news, actually just come on like a bottom-of the bill comic?
Yes, she did. And presumably, had there been more time, she’d have added something along the lines of “where the streets are permanently gloomy and rain-lashed, and populated by men in flat caps walking their whippets home before having bread-and-dripping for tea then settling down for an evening of homespun philosophy such as, ‘Where there’s muck, there’s brass.’
Talk about misguided. Oddly enough, you never hear a Radio 4 announcer start doing comedy accents and say “Hoots mon, we’re off to Edinburgh”, or “Yaki da, we’re off to Cardiff”, nor do a rotten impersonation of The Wurzels in telling listeners that we’re heading for the West Country. They wouldn’t dare. There’d be complaints to the switchboard and possibly even a question in the House.
But when it’s Yorkshire, people from elsewhere in the country – the South in particular – seem overcome by an irresistible impulse to trot out their best Geoffrey Boycott impersonation in an attempt at humour.
Possibly the previous time I shouted at the radio was a few years ago when another announcer on one of the national stations dropped his usual impeccable diction to preface something about Yorkshire with the words “Nah then”. Predictably enough, he didn’t attempt a Scouse accent for the item about Liverpool that followed.
Ms Announcer was introducing an episode of the comedy panel game I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, recorded at Bradford’s St George’s Hall, so presumably thought a bit of ho-ho-ho at our expense fitted the bill.
Well, leave the gags to the panel, thanks very much. I shouldn’t have let it get to me. Like everybody else in Yorkshire, I usually just shake my head and smile when the stereotypes of us surface, but I never cease to be surprised at how much of it we attract.
Whilst working in other parts of the country, I’d have been a wealthy man if I had a pound for every time the flat-caps-and-whippets thing came up, or the stuff about being tight-fisted. I shall never forget being asked out of the blue by an otherwise delightful family in rural Essex if I kept ferrets, for no better reason that they thought all of us did.
It’s phenomenally widespread. Ms Announcer sent me to the internet to Google “Yorkshire stereotypes”, which returned 257,000 entries. Or depending on your viewpoint, 257,000 repositories of caricatures. Sure enough, there they all were.
There were earnest entries on dark Satanic mills, meanness, stubbornness and dour behaviour. There were helpful guides to characteristic Yorkshire sayings – yes, you guessed it, “never do anything for nothing unless it’s for yourself” and “where there’s muck there’s brass”. There were acres on ferrets and whippets, and, of course, flat caps.
One particularly helpful site was at pains to ensure that somebody in, say, Tasmania could not fail to identify a Yorkshire native with unerring accuracy should one unexpectedly appear by offering head-and-shoulders pictures of unsmiling types wearing flat caps.
This site carried the implied guarantee that these were genuine Yorkshiremen in caps because they all looked dour. All it lacked was a supplementary set of pictures of them holding on tightly to their wallets.
And the image is believed. I became rather irritated with myself for unwittingly perpetuating the stereotype in France a few months ago, when I struck up a conversation with a group of people planning to visit Yorkshire for Le Grand Départ.
They’d never visited us before, so I asked them what they knew about Yorkshire. “Everyone wears caps like yours,” replied a woman without a trace of guile, to which her companions nodded solemnly in agreement.
Well, it was perishing cold and raining, so of course I had my cap on when I opened the door of the cafe, and if I looked glum, it was because I was soaked to the skin.
Even so, I had an unsettling flashback to the conversation when I found the website featuring Your Guide to Yorkshiremen in Caps. “Look,” the French people must have said. “It is a Yorkshireman. He is wearing a flat cap and he looks dour, just like the men on the website. He will not offer to buy us a drink but then he is probably missing his ferrets.”
So I bear my share of blame for the stereotype. But could we just announce that we’re off to Bradford without doing the comedy accent? We know how to smile at ourselves, so please, let’s have a fair crack of the whippet.