A Guide to British Accents Using Popular TV Characters

The “British accent” is actually many different accents. Here’s an illustration of different British accents using clips of TV characters.

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London, England was once known as the center of the world—and still remains the literal center on most world maps. However, at any given time, much of the world’s people lives elsewhere.

For everyone outside the UK, it’s the London middle-class accent that’s generally seen as “the British accent” that represents the British Isles. But there are so many other British accents, each with its own unique twists that differ from the prim and proper speak of London southerners.

Cities in the UK like Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, and Birmingham each have their own signature dialects, too, with their surrounding areas all speaking in derivative accents.

Here’s our illustrative guide to the UK’s complex array of accents, using clips of popular TV characters as examples of the rich differences that exist in the various areas of the country.

1. Working-Class Southern Accent (David Brent in The Office)

Of all the British TV characters who demonstrate the general southern English accent, David Brent epitomizes it. As he comes out with his cringe-inducing phrases and sayings, it’s with the Reading dialect of Ricky Gervais’ own accent that he does so.

The accent derives from the middle-class Southern people, with each word spilling into the next in places where others might instead try to enunciate each word and the syllables within.

2. Middle-Class Southern Accent (Fleabag in Fleabag)

The accent that most represents England to the ears of other nations is that of the middle-class southern dialect. 

In her hit series Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge demonstrates her natural accent, which is the one that most would call a “typical” English accent, as she makes an effort to pronounce each word correctly.

Of course, there are a few slips here and there, because not everybody in England is a born member of The House of Lords.

3. London Cockney Accent (Derek “Del-Boy” Trotter in Only Fools and Horses)

The most famous derivative accent to come out of England is the Cockney dialect, which is a dialect that’s now mostly spoken by Guy Ritchie characters in his classic London-based gangster movies.

Notable examples include characters played by Vinnie Jones, Jason Statham, and Stephen Graham, but Derek Trotter of Only Fools and Horses is the one who defines it on British TV.

The iconic British sitcom, which follows the Trotter family and their Peckham exploits, is often cited as the nation’s favorite. The dialect itself is a working-class derivative, where words tumble into their own phrases and sayings, such as “Apple and Pears,” which means “Stairs.”

4. Upper-Class Southern Accent (Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown)

Okay, I must admit that The Queen doesn’t speak what many would consider a “normal” English dialect. In fact, it’s reserved for those who’ve attended the most upper-class institutions in the land.

Claire Foy and Olivia Colman perfected The Queen’s speech patterns during their respective terms on The Crown, as Her Majesty speaks in the most proper way of all her subjects.

Few people in the UK speak this way, and it appears to be dying out as many are uninterested in talking like members of the aristocracy.

5. West Country Accent (Stephen Merchant in The Outlaws)

The West Country accent is a hard accent to mimic, unless you’re well-versed with people from the west country, which is a part of the UK that spans from Bristol to Sommerset.

Stephen Merchant is from this part of the UK (hailing from Bristol), where his hit series The Outlaws is set. His general speaking voice isn’t the thickest version of the dialect, but it’s clear for all to hear. 

6. Birmingham AKA Brummy Accent (Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders)

One of the 21st century’s best shows put out by British TV—Peaky Blinders—is set in Birmingham, which showcases the life of Tommy Shelby and his brothers during the 1920s.

Though Cillian Murphy himself is Irish, he perfected the Birmingham accent (along with the rest of the cast) to give the area and the dialect more fame on-screen internationally than it has had before.

Despite being the UK’s second-biggest city, Birmingham has not garnered as much fame as some other locations in the UK, meaning the accent hasn’t always been well-recognized.

7. Lancashire Accent (Wallace in Wallace & Gromit)

Lancashire is a large county in the northwest of England, whose inhabitants speak with a distinctive dialect—one that’s instantly recognizable by anybody else in the UK.

But the region isn’t as well-represented on international TV as other places—even smaller ones—in the UK. However, there’s one famous character who defines the accent: Wallace from Wallace & Gromit. 

All Lancashire’s tropes and clichés are gently thrust into the short-film series, making it even funnier for those who understand the British county.

8. Liverpool AKA Scouse Accent (Andrew “Combo” Gasgoine in This Is England)

The Liverpool accent made famous by The Beatles isn’t actually as strong as your typical Liverpudlian. Whereas John, Paul, George, and Ringo all spoke with much softer Scouse accents, the best representation lies with Stephen Graham’s Combo in This Is England.

To be clear, the character of Combo in no way represents a person from Liverpool. But given that Stephen Graham is a Liverpudlian himself, his speech is the best TV representative of the accent.

The Liverpool accent is a thick one, making it hard to understand for many who aren’t from the British Isles. However, those from the UK understand it because there are many Liverpudlians on TV and in the media.

9. Glasgow AKA Glaswegian Scottish Accent (Malcolm Tucker in The Thick Of It)

There are many regional dialects in Scotland; however, one of the most famous TV renditions is by Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It, whose accent is the same as the actor who portrays him, Peter Capaldi.

As Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker is known the world over for his ruthless language, the Glaswegian dialect has now seen nearly every swear word possible uttered on TV screens.

The Scottish accent is thick in general, meaning that many people struggle to understand it. Even in other parts of the UK, the Scottish accent can be challenging to understand.

10. Wales AKA Welsh Accent (Stacey in Gavin and Stacey)

Though it’s a small country, Wales has a proud history and heritage that includes many great actors hailing from the nation, including Sir Anthony Hopkins, Michael Sheen, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The Welsh accent is generally a softer one and is closely related to that of northwestern England, where the country’s borders begin.

The best depiction of the Welsh accent in British TV is by Stacey in the hit BBC comedy series Gavin & Stacey, as Joanna Page—who is Welsh herself—portrays the eponymous Stacey.

11. Northern Irish Accent (Liam Neeson in Life’s Too Short)

The Northern Irish accent is actually quite different (arguably thicker) to the dialect found south of the Irish border. However, there are several examples of the Northern Irish accent on British TV.

While we could look to many different British TV characters here, all of whom would exemplify the dialect, we’ve chosen to use Liam Neeson as the best example of the Northern Irish voice.

His appearance in Life’s Too Short by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant is one of the funniest skits in UK history, and it perfectly showcases his iconic Ballymena accent.

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