Suffolk's vocal expert Charlie Haylock helps Ralph Fiennes in new Sutton Hoo film

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig Picture: LARRY HORRICKS/

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig which is released on Netflix on January 29. Suffolk voice expert Charlie Haylock was recruited to make sure the Suffolk accents were correct - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021

Sutton Hoo remains one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time and is one of the key elements of Suffolk’s identity. The find, the ship burial of Anglo-Saxon King Raedwald, was made all the more remarkable by the fact that it was due to the insight and perseverance of two Suffolk people – landowner Mrs Edith Pretty and Ipswich Museum archaeologist Basil Brown.

Now, the story of Suffolk’s greatest historic finds is being made into a film starring Ralph Fiennes, Carey Mulligan and Lily James. The Dig is being released on Netflix on January 29.

The vocal authenticity of the film is being looked after by Suffolk’s resident accent expert Charlie Haylock, who was contacted by Ralph Fiennes to act as voice coach after he saw Charlie's "In a Manner of Speaking' video on YouTube.

Charlie Haylock with Ralph Fiennes on set of The Dig

Charlie Haylock on set with Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig, the story of the discovery of Sutton Hoo - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021

Charlie was brought onboard fairly late in the day in July 2019 and only had weeks to turn Ralph Fiennes into Basil Brown before filming started in August. Any apprehension he felt instantly disappeared within minutes of picking up Ralph Fiennes from Colchester Station.
“I had booked a room at the Quay Theatre so we could work on the script and I could ‘Suffolkate’ it – re-write the lines phonetically in a Suffolk dialect and (subject to director's approval) slipping in a few Suffolk phrases that everybody would understand.

“Although, Ralph was born in Suffolk and lived in Wrentham for a short while he had no Suffolk accent. As we drove over to Sudbury I told him: ‘I've got my work cut out here, you know that don’t you?’ He looked at me and asked: ‘Why?’

“I told him: ‘Because everytime you lot do a film set in this part of the world you turn us into West Country pirates. I hate pirates.’ He laughed and promised me that he was committed to getting it right.

Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig Picture: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX

Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig. He was coached by Charlie Haylock to make sure the Suffolk accent was right - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021

“And as soon as the coaching sessions got underway Ralph committed to use the Suffolk dialect all the time, so it became second nature. It was then I knew it was going to be all right.”

The real acid test came when Charlie took Ralph round a number of West Suffolk pubs allowing him to practice his Suffolk dialect with the locals. Wearing his Basil Brown tweed suit he was rarely recognised.

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“We even spent a Monday afternoon at the Blaxhall Ship joining in with the round-the-room weekly busking session. By doing this, Ralph could not only hear the spoken Suffolk dialect but also listen to the rhythm of the dialect, the intonations,  the speed it was spoken (not very fast)  and judge those famous Suffolk pauses. 

“Ralph was a very good student and wanted to get it right. Basil Brown was a self-educated man and had leant Latin, Greek and other languages and had acquired a more refined Suffolk dialect and not so broad as the other characters portrayed in the film.”

NEWSPix Phil Morley 3/6/11Charlie Haylock is on stage to entertain the crowd at the "Tea and T

Charlie Haylock was recruited by Ralph Fiennes to serve as a voice coach on The Dig after seeing his video In a Manner of Speaking on YouTube - Credit: Phil Morley

Having got Ralph Fiennes ‘Suffolkating’ his lines, Charlie then arranged for a series of workshops for the rest of the cast in London just before shooting started. “I told them that the former editor of the East Anglian Daily Times, Terry Hunt, had just written to the paper worried about how good the Suffolk dialect would be in the film. He said that Suffolk people were sick and tired of hearing film and TV folk get it wrong. I told them that I didn’t want to hear any pirates.”

The elimination of pirates from the film meant that Charlie’s contract was extended and he was invited to be on-set during film coaching the cast between takes. “The cast really appreciated it. Monica Dolan, who played Basil Brown’s wife, was terrific. I spoke to her after a take and gently told her that she hadn’t got the sound quite right and apologised for being such a perfectionist and she immediately came back and said: ‘What’s wrong with perfection?’ and I knew that everyone was with me.”

He also had the opportunity to slip Carey Mulligan a series of EADT features on the Sutton Hoo dig and on Mrs Pretty which she used during shooting to inform her performance.
Charlie stayed on the film’s payroll until November when the post-production over-dubbing of dialogue was completed.

So what was the highlight of Charlie’s first venture onto a film-set? Charlie’s eyes light up and he responds instantly: “That’s easy – after a hard day’s filming, with re-take after re-take,  Ralph suddenly stood and recited a soliloquy from Hamlet in a Suffolk accent. It sounded fantastic and brought Shakespeare alive!" 

The Dig is available on Netflix from January 29.