Glasgow accent: Cormack recalls his time spent as a Butlins Redcoat in the late 1980s



This recording is an example of a Glasgow accent. 

Cormack’s speech is typical of many speakers from the Central Belt of Scotland that includes the two main cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Although we would not characterise him as a broad dialect speaker, he clearly makes use of some distinctly Scottish vocabulary, such as likesae (‘for example’) and wee (‘little’). Likewise, he uses a handful of non-standard grammatical constructions that are widespread in Scotland, such as the negative particle, nae, in the phrase nae luck.

Glasgwegian vowels

Above all though, his accent is typical of large numbers of speakers from Glasgow and the surrounding area. This, for instance, is noticeable in the characteristic vowel sounds he uses for words in the following four sets:

  1. famous, stage, way, ok, great, say, nineteen-eighty-six, waiter, strange, waster, shave, make, waiter, came, became, gay, away, take, place and Australian
  2. around, found, out, how, down, house and now
  3. home, ok, you know, going, redcoat, Glasgow, go, totally, don’t, Billy-Jo Spears and ho ho ho
  4. trying, lifestyle, quite, nineteen-eighty-six, times, life, like, shining light, liked, Northern irish, kind and tried

Glaswegian consonants

It is also a distinctive feature of the English spoken in Scotland that words spelt with <wh> are differentiated from those spelt with <w>. Listen to Cormack’s pronunciation here of the words where, when, what and why. Many speakers in Scotland still make a distinction in their pronunciation of pairs such as which and witch or whet and wet. This and Cormack’s use of a tapped ‘r’ is typical of a number of Scottish English accents.

Unlike most consonants in English the pronunciation of <r> can vary quite dramatically. The most common pronunciation involves producing a continuous sound with the tip of the tongue raised to the roof of the mouth and the sides of the tongue curled upwards and inwards. Here, however, Cormack produces a tapped <r> sound by flicking (i.e. tapping) the tip of his tongue against the roof of his mouth – thus making only very brief and rapid contact. Although this is not always apparent it is clearly audible when the <r> follows certain consonants and appears between vowels as here in the words dreams, really, around, great, brought, experience and terrible.

About the speaker

Cormack O'Hara (b.1965/01/17; male)



Interviewer: So what about, what were your dreams, when you, I mean, you obviously, you said you left school, ehm, without qualifications; what did, what did you want to do? [inaudible]

Cormack: Dreams? Eh, I always wanted to be famous, you know, I've always wanted, eh, to be on the stage, eh, I, I loved acting and I, I really, I really loved, eh, being around people and among people. Eh, not, eh, eh, not, not in any way sort of trying to force myself upon people, but I always found myself at home with people. And, eh, I, I always wanted to be famous some, in a comic way or, ehm, in, in, in, in just a way where I could be me and that, that, that was OK, you know. Ambitions? Uh, I've never really had any great ambitions; I've always just found, ehm, a certain semblance of order in an unstructured lifestyle that, that keeps me, sort of, going, you know.

Interviewer: So what, I mean, you obviously said you wanted to become famous; I know you became a redc, uh, you worked at Butlins.[1]

Cormack: Yes, you can say 'redcoat'.[2]

Interviewer: I was going to say 'redcoat',

Cormack: Yes, you can, you can say 'redcoat', it's quite OK.

Interviewer: but I wanted you to say 'redcoat'.

Cormack: No, I'll let you say 'redcoat'; you can say 'redcoat'.

Interviewer: What, what, what, I mean, why did you decide to, to do that?

Cormack: Well, I'd been in Germany and I left when I was twenty-one in nineteen-eighty-six. I went to Germany for two weeks and stayed for two years: I got, uh, I got a job in NAAFI, in, with the NAAFI as a silver service waiter.[3] I had a great two years in Germany, but as things transpired things fell apart and I came back to Glasgow. It w, it, it was, eh, quite strange, because I, uh, I can understand completely how my father must've felt, you know, seeing me as a bit of a waster and, you know, I mean, I dressed like a tramp and I didn't shave and, you know, I didn't really, sort of, conform. I wasn't in any way interested in, in what they were all out to do: this great ethic to go and make lots of money; just, “Oh, I'm sorry, no, I'll, I'll do something else," you know. I mean and I, I'm not trying to, uh, uh, be, be bad to my dad in any way at all, you know. He, he couldn't look at me, you know, he was sick, sick of me and I can totally understand why he was sick to the back teeth of me, you know. And, eh, I went for jobs in the Caledonian Club in London;[4] I went down for the interview and got the job as, eh, a live-in waiter and, uh, it really didn't appeal to me, but, you know, my dad had said to me, “Go down!" you know, and I thought, “Oh well, I think he's trying to get me out of the house." So he came along and, eh, and he, he put down the Evening Times and he says, “They're looking for redcoats, why don't you go for that?"[5] I thought, “Good one, dad, cheers!" uh, and I went for that and, uh, being a redcoat was the best, well, what, a couple of the best years in my life, really. After I was a redcoat for two years I, I went on to full Equity and I became camp compère, uh, if you like, and, uh, I, I loved it.[6] And that, that was me; I was then famous; that was one of my ambitions, you know, working with Billy-Jo Spears and, and Lulu and Marmalade and George Hamilton and Stella Parton, you know, and all these people and, you know, even Andy Cameron, you know, I mean Andy Cameron just is a, a shining light for Scot, I think he's a great man, you know, uh, he's, he's a good man and goes up there and he does it and I always, I always liked Andy Cameron, you know.[7] Although it was likesae, he'd go up, you know, and I was Cormack O'Hara the compère, camp compère and gay and Andy would go up there, you know, and Andy being, sort of, the Hun and me being the Tim[8] – it was good, do you know, and I think maybe that, sort of, brought things together a wee bit for me, you know, through the sort of, the, eh, the comedy aspect of what we have here.

Interviewer: What were the peop, what were the, kind of, I mean, was it all Scottish people that would go to it – it was Butlins in Ayr?

Cormack: Yeah, Butlins in Ayr, eh, lots of Northern Irish people. Ehm, and we, what was happening there was a lot of English people coming up for some kind of Scottish experience. Eh, the, the, the audiences were great. I mean, they were, the, the, the, definitely the, the best audience, because, you know, uh, if, if you're having a good time, they're having a good time, cause they're on holiday, you know. So if you're not having a good time there's no point in you being there. And these people've paid a lot of money. OK, I thought a lot of them were ripped off, absolutely terrible, you know, the, the rip-off, you know. And it was, they were, they were moving away from that deep-rooted, what was holiday camp, if you like, working class holiday. They were trying to move it up a notch, you know. Therefore what they tried to do was take the Scottishness out of it and make it more like Blackpool. But they were getting English people coming up from down south for the Scottish experience and they weren't getting it. And, eh, I, I've found that, ehm, you could take the mickey out the Irish; you could take the mickey out the Welsh; you could take the mickey out the Scots; but if you tried it on the English, cause the place was full of English managers, now not that I have anything against the English, but I'd get warning letters saying, “Please do not slag the English”. And I, I'd think to myself, “But I'm not, I'm not having a go; I'm not having a pop." I do it to the Irish, I do it to myself, I do it to the Welsh and if you're Australian, ho ho ho, you know, nae luck!



[1] Butlins refers to the holiday centres that were once the mainstay of British family holidays. Billy Butlin opened his first holiday camp in Skegness in 1937.

[2] A redcoat refers to a steward at a Butlins holiday camp.

[3] NAAFI stands for Navy, Army and Airforce Institutes, the official trading organisation of HM Forces, providing retail and leisure services to the services.

[4] The Caledonian Club, founded in 1891 in Belgravia, is a private members' Club that celebrates Scottish traditions.

[5] The Evening Times is a Glasgow evening newspaper owned by the Scottish Media Group.

[6] Equity refers to various actors' trade unions.

[7] Billy-Jo Spears (b. 1937), George Hamilton IV (b. 1937) and Stella Parton (b. 1949 and sister of Dolly) are all US-born country artists, while Lulu (Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie; b. 1948) is a Scottish-born singer and Marmalade a Scottish pop group who came to prominence in the late 1960s. Andy Cameron is a comedian and well-known Rangers fan.

[8] Hun is a nickname for a Protestant (especially when applied to Glasgow Rangers fans), while Tim is a protestant nickname for a Roman Catholic (especially when applied to Celtic fans).

Glasgow accent: Cormack recalls his time spent as a Butlins Redcoat in the late 1980s
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