BBC Radio 3’s Elizabeth Alker addresses Rochdale accent distracting listeners

Elizabeth Alker speaks to Proms director about 2021 season

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BBC’s Elizabeth Alker has been on the airwaves since 2005, interviewing the likes of Paul McCartney to Steve Reich, and by now she’d think listeners would have become used to her northern accent. But she admits her Rochdale roots still receive a sense of surprise from her audience.

It was so liberating, in some ways, not to be judged on my Rochdale accent

Elizabeth Alker

The radio DJ joined the BBC as a researcher but soon became a reporter and presenter for Radio 6 Music, something she is extremely passionate about.

Her parents were both pianists and Elizabeth grew up learning the clarinet, recorder and piano, so her musical talents tied in with her English degree paved the way for her calling to music journalism.

But after graduating in 2003 and the job hunt began, she admitted there was a fear of being judged on her Rochdale accent by potential employers.

Gushing over the benefits of being able to use email instead of face to face meetings straight away, she said in a new interview: “It was so liberating, in some ways, not to be judged on my Rochdale accent (amazingly, even stronger back then), or my general lack of self-belief, experience and connections.”

She now presents Unclassified on Thursdays and Breakfast on Saturdays on Radio 3, but listeners are still surprised by her voice.

“It’s still fairly rare to hear a Rochdale accent on the radio, particularly presenting classical music,” she explained.

“Although there are an increasing number of northerners on Radio 3 now, and judging by my Twitter timeline, lots of listeners are still surprised by it.”

She likened the reaction to that of female composers she has interviewed in the past, who were “beavering away making strange sounds in lonely studios”.

“When you develop away from the establishment and metropolitan centres, the moment you are given exposure, you seem, well, odd,” she shrugged.

Elizabeth revealed some had labelled her accent as “working-class” on social media.

She added: “I find some listeners maybe don’t hear what I’m actually saying or look at my experience or background, they only hear the hundreds of years of its absence from public life.

“A Greater Manchester accent unleashed, coloured with all its colloquialisms and particular inflections, might make you think of mills or football or post-punk, but it’s rarely associated with classical music.”

Despite her worries surrounding her voice, she smiled as she revealed it’s a “huge privilege” to be able to bring the “unexpected and the non-standard” into people’s lives.

“I love to persuade listeners of the joy in a spectral sounding theremin or a glitchy electronic beat,” she said.

She then jokingly added: “And when I am director-general I will change all standard BBC pronunciations so that words are spoken with flat vowels and dropped h’s and t’s because, well, what is standard, anyway?”

Elizabeth’s full interview is available to read now in Radio Times.

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