Footballer and TV presenter Alex Scott has spoken up in defence of her working class roots after her accent was criticised by former House of Lords member Digby Jones.
Alongside watching Team GB pull out incredible performances and shine in the medals table, one of the joys of watching the Tokyo Olympics this summer has been listening to the expert knowledge from a diverse and accomplished range of commentators. From Jessica Ennis-Hill and Nicola Adams, to Rebecca Adlington and Victoria Pendleton, the pundits and presenters have given us a stream of invaluable insights; and frankly, sports broadcasting has never looked better.
One presenter in the BBC’s line-up this year whose career is going from strength to strength is Alex Scott. Not only has the former Arsenal footballer made 140 appearances for the England national team and represented Team GB at the 2012 London Olympics, but since retiring in 2018, she has become a regular face in football punditry, and will take over from Dan Walker as the permanent host of the BBC’s hugely popular show Football Focus next season. By all accounts, she’s on fire.
It’s a sad state of affairs, then, that Scott has been accused of spoiling the Tokyo 2020 coverage - because of her working class accent.
Cue an enormous, collective eye roll. In a series of tweets, former House of Lords member Digby Jones declared that Scott “needs elocution lessons” because of her “inability to pronounce her g’s.”
“Enough! I can’t stand it anymore! Alex Scott spoils a good presentational job on the BBC Olympics Team with her very noticeable inability to pronounce her ‘g’s at the end of a word. Competitors are NOT taking part, Alex, in the fencin, rowin, boxin, kayakin, weightliftin & swimmin,” he wrote.
He then went on to criticise Sky’s Beth Rigby, saying: “She’s hot on the heels of Beth Rigby at Sky the Home Secretary for God’s sake! Can’t someone give these people elocution lessons? I fear that it may be aped by youngsters along the lines of the use of the moronic interrogative originally caused by “Neighbours”; on behalf of the English Language…..Help!”
But Scott was quick to speak up in defence of her working class roots.
“I’m from a working class family in East London, Poplar, Tower Hamlets & I am PROUD,” she tweeted. “Proud of the young girl who overcame obstacles, and proud of my accent! It’s me, it’s my journey, my grit.
She then followed up with a message of encouragement to the future generation.
“A quick one to any young kids who may not have a certain kind of privilege in life. Never allow judgments on your class, accent, or appearance hold you back. Use your history to write your story. Keep striving, keep shining and don’t change for anyone.”
Outrageous though Jones’ comments may be, accent bias is a real and pervasive problem. Research from the University of Manchester in 2019 suggested that broad regional accents are a barrier to social mobility, while a 2020 report from Accent Bias Britain found that “British people tend to downgrade non-standard working-class accents and selected ethnic minority accents, and upgrade accents historically perceived as more prestigious”. It’s a hierarchy that has remained in place for 50 years.
Accent bias also denies those with regional, working class or ethnic minority accents the chance to live authentically. Writing about her changing relationship with her Yorkshire accent this week, Stylist writer Hollie Richardson observed that “to deny my real accent is to deny my identity”.
By speaking out and raising awareness about the insidious impact of accent bias, as Scott has done, we can create a more inclusive society. In the meantime, of course, you can find her presenting live coverage of the Olympics on the BBC.