British astronomer Lord Martin Rees has complained how his Oxbridge accent didn’t cut much ice. “It used to be said that if you had an English accent, the Americans would take you seriously. I’m afraid it hasn’t worked for me.” When he shared a panel at Davos with an Indian guru, he found that the guru “was listened to with much greater respect.” Om dear!
Putting aside the likelihood that the guru had a more uplifting message — Rees likes to say that civilisation has a 50 per cent chance of extinction by 2100 — there can be no doubt the world has experienced the Twilight of the Toff. Upper class British accents held sway globally at the same time ‘The Empire’ held sway. Even the French were once in the grip of serious Anglophilism — hence Jules Verne’s portrait of Phileas Fogg. The way speaking French mattered most in the 1790s, Latin a few millennia before that, and Mongol for a period in-between.
In any case, only one per cent of Brits actually speak with an Oxbridge accent. Which is why about half of what you hear on BBC is unintelligible. But Hollywood villains continue to spout plummy accents. Perhaps that’s because, in these politically correct times, only Englishmen can be portrayed as the bad guys.