Blagdon Hall (RP)

Viscount Ridley talks about his responsibilities as Lord Lieutenant of Northumberland and Lord Steward and reflects on the rule of the monarchy.
Matthew White Ridley (b.1925/07/29; male, Peer Of The Realm)
C900/11005 © BBC


Virtue: Now then, y, you've represented the, the county in other ways as well.

Viscount: Yes, I've been Lord Lieutenant since nineteen-eighty-four after the last Duke of Northumberland died, uh, and that's been very interesting and very enjoyable and, and I've enjoyed it very much.

Virtue: Hmm. What does it involve?

Viscount Ridley: You have to represent The Queen in the county for anything that, uh, may be happening, for instance, visits from members of The Royal Family, you have to arrange that, uh, they used to present odd medals on behalf of The Queen and so forth, quite a lot of detailed, detailed, uhm, things we have to do involving the appointment of magistrates and this and that. It's not a tremendous lot of work, but it's quite fun, very interesting.

Virtue: And you serve The Queen in, in another way as well?

Viscount Ridley: Yes, I do a job called The Lord Steward at the moment, which is great fun; again not very much involved, but it's interesting.

Virtue: What does that involve?

Viscount Ridley: Uh, principle purpose of it is the st, s, formal state visits from the Heads of State of another country. There are two or three a year and you get involved in the, uh, formal part of that in the palace.

Virtue: You enjoy it?

Viscount Ridley: Very much so.

Virtue: Yes. How, how do you become Steward of the Household?

Viscount Ridley: Well, I was asked if I'd do it. Again the late Lord, Duke of Northumberland was my predecessor. Uh, I was asked if I'd take his place when he died, which I was happy to do, very honoured to do.

Virtue: Do you think the monarchy is going to survive?

Viscount Ridley: I have no doubt about that. It may change of course, everything changes, but, uh, I'm pretty certain in my own mind that, that the, uh, the nation wants the monarchy to survive in one way or another. And if you, if it came to the crunch I don't think there would be any doubt about that.

Virtue: What do you think we'd loss [sic], we'd lose without one?

Viscount Ridley: I think people like the continuity provided by it; they like the feeling that we have, uh, the pageantry if you like, the, uhm, the ceremonies and the, the fact that we all know who's going to be the next, we hope, we can gen, generally know who's going to be the next sovereign. And the other thing I think that republics don't have is the enormous contribution which are made by the, the other members of The Royal Family, the, the, the cousins, younger sons, Dukes, Dukes of Kent, Gloucester etcetera etcetera, all of whom play a very active part and take an interest in what's going on and, uhm, I, I think that's an immense asset; it's a family affair, not just a single person like a President is.

Virtue: Hmm. So you're getting a whole team?

Viscount Ridley: Exactly! Uh, and, and uh, I think that's good.

Virtue: Hmm. What does it mean to you to be a Northumbrian?

Viscount Ridley: Oh, it's just we're jolly lucky, that's really, it's a marvellous part of the world, I'm very lucky to, to live here and continue to do so and, uh, enjoyed it hu, hugely.

Virtue: Are you a religious man?

Viscount Ridley: Not openly, I suppose I go to church, uhm, less often than most people, but on any, you know, Christmas, Easter, and so forth; I don't pretend to take it too seriously, I'm afraid.

Virtue: Hmm. What do you believe in?
Viscount Ridley: Oh Lord, that's a terribly difficult question! I'm not sure I can really answer that; conventional Christ, you know, the, the sermon, the, the Christian values in life that people should respect their neighbours and so forth and obey the, obey the rules.

Commentary for Blagdon Hall (RP)

Viscount Ridley speaks with a very distinctive accent. It sounds rather old-fashioned, with features we still hear among older RP speakers, perhaps particularly in the upper classes and aristocracy. We have, therefore, chosen to categorise it as conservative RP. This is an accent characterised by a number of very traditional pronunciations no longer widely used among younger RP speakers.

Listen, for instance, to the vowel sounds he uses for words in the following two sets:

  1. that, happening, Royal Family, magistrates, palace, happy, pageantry, fact, active, asset, exactly and values
  2. very, county, Royal Family, country, happy, pretty, monarchy, any, continuity, pageantry, ceremonies, generally, exactly, jolly lucky, hugely, openly, seriously and terribly

Differences between old and young

In the first set, Viscount Ridley uses a vowel sound halfway between an <e> sound and an <a> sound. In fact the phonetic symbol for this sound is /æ/. Younger RP speakers use an <a> sound for these words, a rare example of RP speech moving closer to northern English pronunciation. Viscount Ridley's pronunciation of words in the second set - nouns and adjectives ending with the suffix <y> - is, however, an older pronunciation, retained in many northern accents but not in RP nor in most southern England and Midlands accents. For words in this set, older RP speakers and many speakers in the north use a vowel sound similar to the <i> sound in bit, while younger RP speakers use a briefer version of the <ee> sound in beat.

Distinctive features

Viscount Ridley uses two distinctive features associated with conservative RP. Listen to the way he says affair in the phrase it's a family affair. He pronounces the final syllable with a diphthong - two vowel sounds. He starts with an <e> sound - as in bed - before drifting into a weak vowel similar to the initial sound in about. This type of pronunciation, also used in words such as square, hair, bear and there, was until relatively recently common in many English accents. The use of a diphthong emerged once speakers began to omit the <r> sound at the end of these words. Although the <r> was once pronounced throughout the UK, it is now increasingly restricted to speakers in the West Country and far South West of England, a small area of Lancashire and most of Scotland and Ireland. It is also present in most US English accents. The <r> sound was initially replaced by the weak vowel sound at the end of the diphthong. Today most younger RP speakers omit this final part of the diphthong and simply use a long <e> sound - thus shared is pronounced with exactly the same vowel as in shed, only the vowel is noticeably longer. This demonstrates perfectly how successive sound changes can radically alter the pronunciation of a set of words. Most RP speakers now only distinguish between pairs such as fairs and fez or flared and fled simply by vowel length, while older speakers, such as Viscount Ridley, tend to use a diphthong for the first word in each pair.

Old-fashioned vowels

Listen to the initial vowel sound Viscount Ridley uses in often: he rhymes the first syllable oft with dwarfed, where most of us would pronounce it to rhyme with doffed. Also used in words like off, lost, gone, cloth and Australia this is a fascinating example of a vowel change that took place in an earlier period, but did not quite establish itself completely and has ultimately been reversed. Speakers in the seventeenth century began to use it, but it did not spread into many regional accents, and thus after only 300 years the original pronunciation has been restored - at least in RP. Interestingly, many speakers in Ireland and parts of South East England still use a pronunciation based on the seventeenth-century innovation.