The British accent is renowned worldwide. It’s currently highly in demand for various reasons that Gary Terzza, who runs the Voice Over MasterClass in London, breaks down exclusively for the Voice Over Herald.
There is no denying that voice overs have become a global business. In the last decade the internet has driven the industry like never before. That means national characteristics have become an important element of every voice over artist’s USP and we British have a rich, distinctive sound that makes our voices highly sought after for VO jobs.
Before I launch into my five points about how Brits make a splash in the voiceover arena, it is important to look at what it means to be British, so bear with me while we take a quick geography lesson.
The United Kingdom consists of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Great Britain itself is formed of England (the largest of the constituent countries), Scotland and Wales. Each of these nations has a distinctive sound consisting of various sub divisions. For example in Scotland a Glasgow accent is quite different from Edinburgh, while in England the cockney twang from London is not the same as the flat vowels of Yorkshire or Lancashire. You only have to venture a few miles to hear dramatic differences in regional dialects, which often surprises many foreign visitors.
So here are the top five ways Britons and their voices make a big impression.
1. Sense of History
Every country has plenty of history to offer, of course, but Britain’s is unique and ubiquitous. The largest empire the world has ever seen is not Roman, but British. At its Victorian peak it reached into the four corners of the globe influencing culture in places as far flung as India, Africa, North America and even the Antarctic and the biggest export of all was the English language. Today English is the lingua franca of business and the internet and, as we know, the common currency of voice overs.
As such the authentic British accent (sometimes called Oxford English in the US) is highly sought after.
There is nothing quite like a British accent, whether it is the welcoming warmth of Welsh or northern Irish chirpiness. Each national sound has a totally unique flavour and yet they all share a common heritage, one that is shot through with conflict and commonality. When English is spoken with an accent from these islands, you know that it is definitely NOT American or European.
3. Premium Product
Because the UK is steeped in tradition, our accents are associated with leading brands. Consider the international cachet of Scotch Whiskey maker Johnnie Walker or the luxury car manufacturer Jaguar. Listen to the way they are marketed and you will notice that British voices are closely correlated with British products often making the two inseparable.
The differences in our geography are reflected in the way people speak.
Listen to the cadence of someone from the windswept wilds of The Orkneys or the modulations of someone from Belfast – you can hear the legacy of the ship yards embedded deep in their vowels; such is the rich mix of the British Isles. Even within the UK voice overs are often considered exotic. One of our most popular voice over artists Marcus Bentley is a Geordie from the English North East and his mannered distinct style has helped Big Brother become a successful TV programme for more than a decade.
5 . The Reassuring Alternative
Although English is the preferred language for businesses operating in international markets, North American or mid-Atlantic are often the norm when it comes to recording the voice over; British is regarded as something more specialised and even foreign. However this has its benefits; multi-lingual projects usually have a British track in addition to an American one. In addition, corporations with a global presence often want to create a sense of reliability and trustworthiness and British voice actors can be their first port of call.
So for sophistication, variety and pure prestige you can’t beat a British accent. That is why UK voice over artists are proud to fly the flag.