Marjerine or marg-arine? How the BBC taught us to talk proper


A history of the BBC’s attempts to systematise the pronunciation of English does not, on the surface, sound like a gripping read. But in Dictating to the Mob: The History of the BBC Advisory Committee on Spoken English, Oxford University Press may have a surprise bestseller on its hands.

OK, I exaggerate a bit. Professor Jürg Schwyter’s book is pretty academic in places, but bubbling away among all the footnotes is a wonderful sitcom about a committee of the great and the good – poet laureate Robert Bridges, playwright George Bernard Shaw, critic Lord David Cecil, art historian Kenneth Clark, novelist Rose Macaulay – tying themselves in knots trying to lay down standard pronunciation of words in English.


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