Laurence Fox’s terrible Northern accent in White Lines reveals TV’s London bias: Anthony Clavane

It had to happen. After a succession of highly entertaining, sprint-to-the-finish Netflix triumphs – Black Mirror, Sex Education and Money Heist to name but three – I finally came a cropper with White Lines. Everyone makes mistakes.

Laurence Fox during the presentation for the Windsor Castle Stakes during day one of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse in 2017. Picture: PA
Laurence Fox during the presentation for the Windsor Castle Stakes during day one of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse in 2017. Picture: PA

Looking back, the signs were obvious.

For a start, the streaming service’s latest offering was billed as a drug-fuelled, rollercoaster ride featuring orgiastic sex parties, coke-filled banana boats and gangland violence. Not my cup of tea, really.

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It boasted a soundtrack reviving the heyday of the 1990s Manchester rave scene, pining nostalgically for the “joys” of Euro-house music.

Laurence Fox arrives at the premiere of new film W.E at the Empire Cinema in London in 2011. Picture: Ian West/PA Wire

I’m not now, nor have I ever been, a clubber.

And, amongst its starry cast of beautiful, youngish, things, was the one and only Laurence Fox.

I’m not now, nor will I ever be, a big fan of the Harrow-educated RADA graduate, last seen on TV accusing a Black woman of “being racist”.

Still, I was prepared to suspend my disbelief. The show had been drooled over by the Guardian as “gloriously lurid fun” and was directed by Alex Pina, the Spanish creator of Money Heist, one of the best thrillers of recent years.

Bingeing trashy whodunits has become a thing during the lockdown. So, wasting ten more hours of my stay-at-home life watching an escapist murder mystery featuring balearic beaches, shimmering seas and the occasional gratuitous orgy couldn’t, surely, do a great deal of harm.

Wrong.

I’m not just talking about the terrible plot, terrible characters, terrible dialogue, terrible music, terrible dancing and terrible glow sticks.

I’m talking about the terrible accents.

Is it asking too much for these mainly London-centric actors, who have no difficulty adopting the Queen’s English in their other roles, to get to grips with a Northern twang?

The plot centres on the mysterious death of Axel Collins, a hedonistic DJ who came to Ibiza with three fellow Mancs.

Who killed Axel Collins? Well – unlike the killings of JFK, JR and Laura Palmer – I don’t actually care.

I do care that, despite a deep pool of talent to draw on, the casting directors of White Lines have not chosen any Northerners to play these Northern roles. I also care that passing ecstasy around, swaggering like Liam Gallagher and saying “proper” from time to time enables London-centric actors to effortlessly transform themselves into Mancunians.

Although she didn’t name this show specifically, Coronation Street’s Georgia May Foote last week lambasted the entertainment industry for overlooking authentic Northerners in such TV series. “Why are Northern actors not asked to play Northern parts?” she tweeted. “The accent is really difficult if you’re not from here. A neutral accent is something Northerners have always had to do to get work. Now our accent is more popular why are we not getting the jobs when it is required? Trying to watch what should be a good series but completely put off with an accent.”

I wonder what that series was?

Ever since being traumatised as a kid by Dick van Dyke’s bizarre intonations in Mary Poppins I have been aware of DAS – or Dodgy Accent Syndrome. I was amused by Keanu Reeves’ posh English accent in Dracula, horrified by Robert Downey Jr’s ridiculous Welsh accent in Dr Dolittle and gobsmacked by Don Cheadle’s preposterous Cockney in Ocean’s Eleven.

Being a Northerner, however, it’s even worse when you have to listen to Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood.

(To be clear, one of the outlaw’s monikers was Robin of Loxley – which is a town in South Yorkshire, not the East Midlands).

And, of Anne Hathaway’s laughable Yorkshire twang in One Day, the less said the better.

But the worst culprit is Fox, who plays a raver-turned-cult-guru in White Lines.

Part of the posh boy set who have taken the industry by storm over the past decade, he brazenly took Black and working class actors to task recently for complaining about discrimination.

As the writer Irvine Welsh pointed out: “Literally all every working class actor I’ve spoken to over the last 30 years has said is: they’ve been frozen out by toffs doing bad working class accents and playing clichéd stereotypes. The complainers are posh actors who haven’t made it as big as they’d like in spite of their connections.”

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