Charlie Haylock: 'We need to preserve the Suffolk accent'
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
It’s been just over a year since one of Netflix’s biggest and most popular feature-length films was released.
On January 15, 2021, The Dig took the world by storm and one of Suffolk’s most prominent ambassadors worked on the set of the production, helping its cast nail the perfect Suffolk accent.
Charlie Haylock, who has spent the vast majority of his life here in the county, and has a number of achievements to his name.
Alongside being a successful dialect coach, he has also authored a handful of books, regularly features on BBC Radio Suffolk, and compiles monthly cartoons for the East Anglian Daily Times.
But how did Charlie find himself become the unofficial spokesman for all things Suffolk?
“It all evolved over time. Many years back, the East Anglian Daily Times magazine asked me to do a monthly feature about the Suffolk dialect called ‘Larn Yerself Suffolk’. Following that, a publisher who was holidaying in the county, approached me, and asked me to write a book on the Suffolk dialect called ‘Sloightly on th’ Huh’. And after that, other books followed.”
Following the success of his bestseller, Charlie was approached by the Eastern Angles Theatre Company to give dialect training to an actor who was playing Basil Brown in a play entitled The Sutton Hoo Mob in the early 2000s.
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Later on, Charlie also embarked upon creating a YouTube dialect tour of the UK, in which he showed how a deaf person can work out what dialect you’re speaking in, simply by lip reading.
And as fate would have it, it was that YouTube dialect tour that caught the attention of revered actor Ralph Fiennes back in July 2019 in the run-up to him portraying Basil Brown in Netflix’s adaptation of The Dig.
“He showed that video to Netflix and said ‘that’s the man I want to teach me the Suffolk dialect’.”
And boy, was Charlie up to the task.
“People were fed up of listening to a West Country dialect when a film or television show was supposed to be set in Suffolk, and all of a sudden this film comes out about an iconic place in Suffolk, so I knew I had to make sure the accent was right,” he says.
Well before and throughout filming, Charlie spent over five months teaching the film’s cast of A-listers how to really nail that Suffolk twang, and he did such a stellar job that Ralph Fiennes himself requested that Charlie remain working on the film until filming was complete.
The results certainly speak for themselves, as Charlie says: “There’s a few odd words here and there, but generally people know they’re speaking in a true Suffolk accent.”
But what is it about the Suffolk dialect that makes it so unique, and worth sharing and preserving for future generations?
Suffolk is in fact the birthplace of the English language, according to Charlie and many other historians.
“Suffolk is where the Angles first settled in the 5th century, and they were one of four tribes who made their way over here – alongside the Saxons, the Jutes, and the Frisians. When the Angles arrived, the first place they settled was present-day Ipswich. Their kings then settled in what is now Woodbridge and Rendlesham, and when the kings died, they were buried at Sutton Hoo.
“Back in 2009, there was a programme on the BBC called Raiders of the Lost Past with Dr. Janina Ramirez, and on it, she explored three archaeological digs that she felt were the most important in the history of the world. And one of those three was Sutton Hoo.
“She said where the Angles settled in Suffolk was not only the first page of English history, it was also the first page of the English people, and therefore the first page of the English language. That’s how important Suffolk was, and still is, to the history of spoken English.”
With the Suffolk accent holding such historical and cultural importance, and at risk of going extinct, Charlie is determined to share it far and wide.
“With other people moving in, the Suffolk accent is constantly changing. But the older generation needs to be recorded – it’s essential. In 100, or 200 years’ time, when historians look back at the development of the English language, the Suffolk accent is going to play a big part in that.
“Therefore, we need to preserve it and record it where we can, such as with The Dig, so when historians look back, they can see how and why the English language evolved. As Dr Ramirez said, this is the first page of the history of the English language.”
In 2022 Charlie is taking his passion for the county on the road by embarking on a multi-tour talk across Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and further afield which will include numerous talks about The Dig as well as talks about the history of spoken English and the importance of the Suffolk accent.
“I sadly couldn’t do my talks during the release of The Dig as we were still in lockdown, and I don’t feel the audience would’ve benefitted from Zoom as I’m fairly animated, so I thought it would be better for me and the audience if I did it in person,” he says.
Charlie will provide a behind-the-scenes look of life on set, and explain in-depth what it was like to teach the likes of Ralph Fiennes and Monica Dolan the art of speaking proper Suffolk.
“At first, they found it difficult. But I used a technique that no other dialect coach uses when teaching them how to do an accurate Suffolk accent. The audiences are enthralled when I show them how we did it.
“I’ll also cover the extreme lengths Ralph went to, to not only play Basil Brown, but to become Basil Brown. At the start of filming, I wasn’t working with an actor who was playing Basil Brown – he was Basil Brown,” explains Charlie.
The Dig star Ralph Fiennes adds: “I felt it was very important for all the Suffolk characters in The Dig to sound authentic. We were lucky to have the advice and ears of Charlie Haylock, a true Suffolk man, to help us. My collaboration with Charlie was central to my effort to play Basil Brown. Charlie was there to listen, advise on dialect and the Suffolk ‘way’ and help keep our speech true to Suffolk.
“If my interpretation of Basil Brown feels right to Suffolk ears then it is due to Charlie's support and guidance.”
To find out more about Charlie and his upcoming bookings, visit the ‘See Charlie’ page on his website charliehaylock.com