A BBC Radio 4 presenter has called for a truce in what has been dubbed the “accent wars” at the broadcaster saying that “clarity should not be confused with class”. Ed Stourton, nicknamed ‘posh Ed’ because of his education at Ampleforth and Trinity College in Cambridge, spoke after Amol Rajan, one of the BBC’s rising stars, created a stir in September when he confronted director-general, Tim Davie, with research suggesting British broadcasters have a bias towards “posh” accents.
In 2019, Mr Rajan presented a BBC Two documentary titled ‘How to Break into the Elite’ where he followed graduates from various different class backgrounds as they attempted to break into elite industries. He concluded, that those from wealthier backgrounds with upper-class accents had a “polish” which made it easier to bond with recruiters.
But Mr Stourton, who co-hosts World at One on BBC Radio 4, wrote in the Radio Times “clarity and authority” are important and “it’s easy to confuse those qualities with poshness; easy but wrong.
He added: “The novelist JB Priestley is a fine example of someone who possessed clarity and authority in spades without being remotely posh.”
Mr Stourton admitted that his accent was once “way posher than the late Queen’s” but said the most important factor was being clear.
On a BBC2 arts programme The Late Show, Mr Stourton said that presenter style had changed since 1989, adding that many, including himself, have “flattened their voice”. He added: “But this does not seem to have ended the enthusiasm for accent wars.”
He concluded that broadcasting should resemble a chat over a drink.
Mr Rajan, who hails from Tooting in South West London, joined the BBC from Fleet Street and has quickly risen through the ranks as a presenter on Radio 4’s Today programme.
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But he sparked controversy when he challenged the broadcaster’s boss over the dominance of people with posh accents on its news programmes. Mr Rajan commissioned research which showed 70 percent of newsreaders across the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky speak with received pronunciation.
The presenter asked BBC Director Mr Davie what he was going to do about it during an interview at a Royal Television Society conference.
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Mr Rajan asked: “We found 70 percent of newsreaders spoke in the poshest accent after the King’s English, which is RP (Received Pronunciation). Does that surprise you?”
Mr Davie replied it did not surprise him before he was asked if he would consider giving a prominent presenting job to someone with a strong, regional, working class accent.
Mr Rajan was criticised by some BBC commentators for his confrontation with Davie. Justin Webb, a fellow host of the Today programme deleted a Tweet stating: “speaking in a way people understand isn’t classism for goodness sake”.