February 26, 2018 Andy Green

Why we need #SpeakCockneyDay on March 3rd

The Cockney accent will disappear from the streets of London – it will be brown bread – unless you do something.#SpeakCockneyDay on March 3rd is celebrating what it is to speak, live and be a Cockney, to keep its spirit, sense and slang alive.

Cockney is more than an accent, or vernacular. It’s a state of being, a character, with virtues of self-reliance, magnanimity, a commercial nous, independence of spirit, egalitarianism, directness, and occasional subversion of, pretension, poshness and pomposity

Linguistic experts however, predict the Cockney dialect faces a diabolical future – and will disappear within 20 years.

Whether you’re born within the sound of Bow Bells, have become a Londoner, or are now part of the Cockney diaspora, whatever your place of birth, colour or creed, ‘Speak Cockney Day’ is a time to celebrate Cockney life and culture – and do something to give it a new future.

Cockneys have always had to overcome class snobbery to survive. Now it needs to overcome being seen as relevant to a new generation, a new age, to keep its cultural flame alive.

It is not about being nostalgic, trying to hang onto something that passed its sale date. Rather, it is about preserving a cultural diversity, a richness that defines London and British culture, yet can still add to any new linguistic or cultural melting pot.

Any new hybrid 21st century London language would be better, stronger rooted, by having some Cockney DNA in it. Hence, the need for a ‘Speak Cockney Day’ on March 3rd.

The idea is not pony, or Brad Pitt, but is fighting for something worth treasuring.

Last year, I invited a creative community, One Minute Briefs to rise to the challenge of inspiring great creative to spread the word about #SpeakCockneyDay. I will be sharing their efforts over the next few days on Twitter. Do follow and share.

Why March 3rd?

For ‘Speak Cockney Day’ to survive and flourish it needs a memorable date. Something easily  remembered, can be passed on, as well a date that somehow also conveys something of the Cockney spirit

March 3rd – or ‘fird of the ‘fird – with its hint of self-deprecation, seems to fit the bill.

5 fings you can do to celebrate #SpeakCockneyDay

  1. Have a go at speaking or ‘rabbit’ with a Cockney accent. Practise on a line from TV’s ‘East Enders’ ‘Wellard’s gone missin’.

For the best collection of cockney vernacular on the web check out www.cockneyrhymingslang.co.uk

Here is some help with a great Heineken TV ad from the ’80’s and also a Korean, Billy, showing how anyone can speak Cockney.

Do an impression of a famous Cockney, a Michael Caine for example, and celebrate the, vernacular and phrases – including rhyming and back slang.

  1. Do a ‘Cockney laugh’, characterized by laughing at others’ misfortune in a forced, repeated way – think of the TV character Alf Garnett.
  2. Do some Cockney dancing as personified by Dick van Dyke in the film ‘Mary Poppins’ or Stanley Holloway. It’s easy. You simply dance holding some imaginary coat lapels.
  3. Have a ruby (curry) with friends and watch some Cockney film classics like ‘Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels’.
  4. Do something for charity to celebrate the innate generosity of the Cockney spirit.

Why Cockney is a cause for celebration – and action

An influential July 2010 report by Paul Kerswill, Professor of Sociolinguistics at Lancaster University, Multicultural London English: the emergence, acquisition and diffusion of a new variety, predicted that the Cockney accent will disappear from London’s streets within 30 years.

Despite the accent having been around for more than 500 years, the report claims it is being replaced in London by a new hybrid language: “Cockney in the East End is now transforming itself into Multicultural London English, a new, melting-pot mixture of all those people living here who learnt English as a second language”.

Conversely, migration of Cockney speakers has led to a ‘Cockney diaspora’ with the dialect, growing out of its traditional East End heartland, to encompass all of London, both sides of the Thames estuary, Essex and wherever Cockneys are in the world.

‘Cockneydom’ is celebrated in music, television and drama – and is a major icon of British culture.

The Cockney vernacular and slang however, has always had a challenge to be accepted. In 1909 the London County Council Conference on the Teaching of English in London Elementary Schools stated, “the Cockney mode of speech, with its unpleasant twang, is a modern corruption without legitimate credentials, and is unworthy of being the speech of any person in the capital city of the Empire.”

Since then, Cockney has superficially become more socially accepted as an alternative form of the English Language rather than an inferior one. Yet scratch the surface of English society, and stigma and snobbery can still prevail. And it is this inferiority complex which could spell the killer blow for ‘Cockney’.

There is a need to assert Cockney – its slang, vernacular and expressions – so it can be a valid part of, and flourish within a new linguistic melting pot that is evolving in London, as well asserting a sense of pride among those who consider themselves Cockney, or admire the Cockney slang and culture.

Yet, an inferiority complex holds back asserting Cockney in the new linguistic melting pot: it’s not saying the old has got to be preserved. Rather, the old can evolve, survive, and flourish if promoted in a new dynamic context.

Any new hybrid 21st century London language would be better, stronger rooted, by having some Cockney DNA in it. Hence, the need for a ‘Speak Cockney Day’ on March 3rd.

How did Speak Cockney Day come about?

I was born in the old East End Maternity Hospital, Stepney and grew up in Poplar. I’m a proud East Ender. As a friend once observed: “You can take Andy out of the East End, but you can’t take the East End out of Andy.”

I have a passion for London culture, even writing a book called ‘Tubespiration – how to get your next brilliant idea on the London Underground’ that combines my other passion for creativity.

My claim to fame is that I once hit a cricket ball under the River Thames (I was playing cricket, when I was kid, near the entrance to Blackwall Tunnel).

Yet I still remember, with some pain, the times being hauled up in front of my junior school classmates and yelled at by the teacher to pronounce my class registration number of ‘33’ ‘properly’: “Green! It’s Thhirty-Thhreeee”.

Needless, to say her efforts were wasted, and in hindsight, profoundly wrong in my view, seeking to impose her cultural values on another.

Regardless,I can now smile about it, and today even celebrate it.


The Vision

‘Speak Cockney Day’ on March 3rd – the ‘fird of the ‘fird – provides a focal point for both celebrating and investing in the future survival of ‘Cockney’.

It’s not about nostalgia, a backward-looking reminisce but rather a positive statement about helping Cockney culture to adapt, grow, and flourish in a new era.

It’s about connecting everyone – celebrities, cockneys, non-cockneys – all who care about our London pride and do your bit keep the Cockney spirit alive, and where possible, help good causes.

It’s a chance to find out more about your Cockney Culture, its rhyming slang, expressions, history, traditions and culture. Celebrate your favourite Cockney heroes, TV shows, films and bands, to enjoy what you think is your London culture so you can help preserve its qualities for future generations.

The day provides a great opportunity to keep the flame of the Cockney spirit alive.

Anyone interested in doing something to help, get involved would be very welcome to get in touch with Andy


Further information

Do get in touch with Andy Green at andy at andygreencreativity.com or phone 07815 884 525