Lynne Mortimer: Why I love the good old Suffolk accent
PUBLISHED: 19:00 13 May 2020
Ipswich born and bred Lynne Mortimer explains why she’s abandoned her posh, office telephone voice in favour of her Suffolk sing-song roots
Good morning, Lynne Mortimer speaking. My first response to telephone callers often caused confusion as they failed to spot the clue. “Oh, hello, can I speak to Lynne Mortimer, please?”
“Yes, you’re speaking to her.”
“Oh, you answered your own phone?” It is a common misconception that journalists have staff.
For more than 30 years, I answered calls employing received pronunciation (RP), accentless and clear, using my special ‘telephone voice’. RP is standard British English pronunciation, based on educated speech in southern England and widely accepted as a standard elsewhere. It is slightly posh – somewhere between Tony Blair and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
I wasn’t the only one who adopted RP. A colleague of mine, when answering the phone, always dropped the pitch of his light tenor to match any bass baritones who might ring in, male or, less frequently, female. Since my office days ended, I have quietly abandoned my telephone voice and now everyone gets the essential Lynne – part Ipswich, part Suffolk, part (I like to think) Shakespearean. Goodbye RP, hello IP.
My mum was a telephonist for many years and she won the regional heats of the Speaking Clock competition. In the end, a chap won it but it was her crystal tones I aspired to. . . until I let it all go.
Ten months after leaving my desk at Suffolk’s leading daily newspaper, I have gone rogue. Where I once amazed and delighted callers with my precise consonants I am now free to add syllables where more than one is not strictly necessary, and run with endless glottal stops. Answering the phone is now less “hello” and more “ha-a-low”.
When I was a gal, My Norwich City-supporting nana would regularly tell me off for speaking “sing-song Suffolk” which was a bit rich coming from a woman who wore ‘boats’ on her feet and sailed in ‘boots’.
As for the glottal stops, these replace the letter ‘t’ inside a word such as Latin (La-in), Katie (Ka-ie), bottle (bo-le) and, ironically, glottal (glo-al). I have to make an Olympian effort to insert the ‘t’s. Consequently I tend to add a small pause to emphasise that I can do ‘t’s as well as the next person. The next person from another county, that is. So I say “Kate” and add “ee” a millisecond later.
I realise that, on account of being from Ipswich, I do not embrace the full gloriousness of the Suffolk accent and this is largely because brevity is not in my nature – ask anyone.
People of rural Suffolk heritage tend not to elaborate. If you ask if they are all right, they might reply: “Reckon” where as others might give you their entire medical history, sparing no intimate details. I recall, in my teens, being on a crowded bus when the woman beside me decided to loudly relate the story of her recent hysterectomy. I was not the only passenger who left the bus a little traumatised. Smallest grandson, Herbie, aged two years, is a man of few words and therefore Suffolk-like.
His vocabulary is a glossary of imperatives: “Mup”: pick me up. “Down”: Put me down. “Come”: Follow me. “Snack”: Feed me. “Shoes”: Let’s go out. “Ho”: Father Christmas (as in “Ho, ho, ho”). By contrast, I have always rather liked the sound of my own voice, except when I have to listen to it. When I was young, its timbre was so high it attracted most of the canine life from a radius of 1,000 yards. It became my lifetime mission to lower the pitch. The first time I broadcast on BBC Radio Suffolk (I’m the station’s TV critic) I dropped my voice so low that my mum said I sounded like a man.
It occurred to me then that I should simply aim for authenticity and so the essential Lynne emerged – Suffolk, sing-song, with a bit of trouble talking about Katies and Bettys.