Received Pronunciation: Elizabeth recalls her early experiences as an air hostess in the 1950s



This recording is an example of a Received Pronunication accent.

Elizabeth’s speech gives no clues to her age, occupation or where she comes from. And yet her speech is instantly recognisable, leading us to assume she is from a middle-class background and is well educated. Her accent conforms in every way to what we might term mainstream RP. In other words, she does not deviate from pronunciation conventions as recorded in dictionaries and which are taught to foreign students.

Elegant and sophisticated

Many commentators would use adjectives such as ‘well-spoken’ or ‘elegant’ to describe this accent. Such value judgements are not based on linguistic criteria, as speakers of all accents can demonstrate eloquence and sophistication. Nonetheless, the fact that this attitude remains widespread shows the status RP still holds for many people.

About the speaker

Elizabeth Cox (b.1936/02/21; female; retired air hostess)



Elizabeth: Uhm, another thing was that we delivered all the trays by hand; we didn't have any trolleys; the, uhm, the trolleys came in later, trolleys, to go up and down the aisle with the meal trays. We had a trolley in first class for f, cutting, for f, carving our joint when we, which, for the first class passengers, but in the tourist class, which now, now is called 'economy', uhm, when it was tourist class you had to, when we, as soon as we'd taken off, we would leap up with a little notepad, dash to the front row and take an order from the first two rows of the drinks they wanted. Then we'd dash back and deliver that to the steward in the bar at the back and then we'd go out and get the next couple of rows of orders. Then we'd go back, pick up the s, drinks which the steward had prepared for the first two rows and leave the next lot of orders. So we would be up and down, up and down with the drinks, then take all the empties back. Do you really want a blow-by-blow?

Matthew: Hmm. It's fascinating!

Elizabeth: Oh, and then, uhm, when the time came for the meal service all the trays went out by hand. So if it was a big meal you took three trays: one, two on the left arm and one in the right arm so you could liver, deliver three trays, go back and get another three and so on and so on; then, uh, with the wines; then with the, uhm, coffees; then the second coffees; then the liqueurs. And, uh, you had to write it all down, of course, because they had to pay; there were no freebies at that time; only for first class. And then get all the trays in. There was no film, so passengers did not have to stay in their seats or, uh, to to watch the film, because there wasn't one. We, I think we were the entertainment. And in fact, as the flights were not always full, cause not so many people travelled at that time, you sometimes could sit down and talk to the passengers, actually get to, to the, to know them and you, if you had a nervous passenger, uhm, we, one of us would often be sent to hold that passenger's hand while we took off or for landing if they were really nervous, if it's somebody's first flight and you could, sort of, really see they were trembling, the chief steward would say, “Go and sit with that passenger; hold her hand; she, make her feel better!"

Matthew: How many were there generally in a, in a, a, a cabin crew?

Elizabeth: On the seven-o-seven[1] there were six of us: three stewards and three stewardesses. And then the V-C-tens[2] came and that was the same: three stewards and three stewardesses. Uhm, I think the Britannias[3] had four stewards and one stewardess. That was a, the, uh, earlier, the piston aircraft. And the Comets[4] was, uh, the same sort of thing: I think there was just one stewardess and, uh, about four, five stewards.

Matthew: What was the difference - apart from the sex - with the stewards and the stewardesses in terms of rôles, functions?

Elizabeth: The stewards lorded it over us [laughs]. There w, there was a, uh, chief steward - the titles have changed now, but that time it was a chief steward - steward one and a steward two. And then the three stewardesses. And even if the, one of us, one of us had met, might've been flying for almost our ten years, we'd still be junior to the new steward two who had just joined a year ago. Uh, that was the way the hierarchy worked at the time.

Matthew: So their function was just to tell you what to do?

Elizabeth: Basically, yeah [laughs]. We did all the running. Ke, it kept us fit.

Matthew: Did you serve, uhm, duty-frees in those days?

Elizabeth: We did. We served, uhm, we served cigarettes and liquor, that was all: s, uhm, scotch, gin and brandy and, uhm, three or four brands of s, of cigarette.


[1] seven-o-seven refers to the Boeing 707. One of the most commercially successful passenger aircraft of all time, it remained in constant production between 1958 and 1991.

[2] V-C-ten refers to the Vickers VC10 passenger aircraft manufactured between 1962 and 1970.

[3] Britannia refers to the aircraft of that name built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company between 1952 and 1960.

[4] Comet refers to the de Havilland Comet: the world's first commercial jet airliner introduced in 1952.

Received Pronunciation: Elizabeth recalls her early experiences as an air hostess in the 1950s
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