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Why North Americans Hire British Voice Talents

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

February 9, 2007

Comments (14)

Find out why some American and Canadian companies prefer to go with voices from the United Kingdom as opposed to homegrown voice talent in North America.

Union Jack and US flags When you think of Britain and the British, images of pomp, chivalry, royalty, tradition, authenticity, and power come to mind.


To some, the UK musters romance, dignity and prestige, reminiscent of Jane Austen novels or the strength, bluntness and grit of a book by Charles Dickens.

For others, perhaps it's fashion, cosmopolitan airs, trend setting ways, stoicism, and dry wit.

Whatever their reasons, thousands of companies in Canada and the US are strategically hiring voices from across the pond to represent their corporate images.

Why is that?

Let's look at some of the reasons why some companies find British voice talent more attractive to sell their product or service.

British voices are in the mainstream and in most cases are respected for their perceived intelligence and vocal eloquence.

North Americans have always had a love affair with the British. Starting in the early days of settlement in the New World and confederation of both the United States of America and Canada, the British have played a major role in the development of the land and establishment of policy, culture, government and education.

The British, among other nations, principally the French, gave us a heritage and shared connections with trading partners. Tens of thousands of these brave people opted to stay in this new found land to nurture, protect, and establish their own communities.

All loyalties aside, another aspect that influences people to hire a British voice talent is that many high profile celebrities in Hollywood are from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. If you stopped to think, you could likely name at least 20 people who hail from the UK in the movies.

To illustrate, Scotland has given us Russell Waters, Sean Connery, Ewan McGregor, and Dee Hepburn.

Ireland has yielded Peter O'Toole, Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson, and Colin Farrell.

Wales has given us Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ioan Gruffudd, Richard Burton, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and Christian Bale.

England, perhaps the most generous of them all for celebrities, produced greats over the decades like Sir Laurence Olivier, Dame Julie Andrews, Dame Judi Dench, John Cleese, Helena Bonham-Carter, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and more.

A statistic published on January 27th, 2007 in TheGuardian.co.uk states that there are currently 678,000 landed immigrants from Britain living in the United States today. This is merely a conservative estimate.

In the most recent US Census (2000), there were 824,000 citizens of British birth living in the United States, the majority of which prefer to live outside of large cities scattered throughout the country.

The Guardian also reported that a fifth of all British people who live in the United States are living in the state of California with only a slight margin living in metropolitan Los Angeles and the surrounding area. Most British people living in America have American spouses.

That's quite a number, which makes even more of a case for British talent in the Americas. People hear their lilting, distinguished accents and find them comforting and pleasing not to mention sophisticated.

Surely if there are that many people living in the US and Canada, some of them are personalities who are in the media or use their voice to make a living. Those individuals are seeking work opportunities and promoting their British voices as an asset and differentiator, offering refinement and exotic appeal.

To sum up, here are the key reasons why people opt to hire British voices in North America:

• To elevate their company status
• To help connect with people on an intellectual level
• To give perceived refinement to a product or service
• To tap into the sentimentality of people of British heritage
• To differentiate themselves from standard North American branding
• To present listeners with subtle yet persuasive marketing

British voice-overs and what they embody are very powerful without seeming salesy. They establish and engage. British voice-overs can be elegant, heroic, strong, graceful, jovial, quaint, condescending, posh, school masterly, didactic, forceful, and influential among other adjectives.

The dialects in Britain are numerous with each nook and cranny possessing their own twist on the Queen's English. If you went from one end of the nations capital to the other, you will be exposed to several completely different dialects; such is life in the bustling city of London.

While it is true that other accents may hold those attributes, somehow (likely due to shared heritage and the entertainment industry), the British manage to pull them off with a more universal style, making them citizens of the world as well as the lands from which they came.

Any comments?

Stephanie

Related Topics: Accent, Celebrities, French, Hollywood, industry, Los Angeles, Queen, United States


Comments


    "British voices are in the mainstream and in most cases are respected for their perceived intelligence and vocal eloquence".

    Can't disagree with that.

    Posted by:

      Born in Liverpool, England, the "Weakest Link" game show host, Anne Robinson, said:

      "I knew I'd conquered America when Mike Tyson told me I was one mean lady."

      "You are the weakest link. Goodbye."

      To fit in with the British, I guess I'll change my URL to:

      Hast He Voice.com

      instead of Has The Voice.com:)

      Posted by:

        Y'know I figure I kin fake one o' them thar limey accents purty simple like, but they'd have a time pretending tuh be me, I ain't got no accent.

        Posted by:

          Stephanie,

          I learned while visiting Australia on business a couple of years ago that British voices are also fairly well received there; but North American voices, not so much.

          Yet, in the States, Australian voices are also well received (at least for some kinds of projects) like British voices are.

          Be well,
          Bob

          Posted by:

            I've been hired for my British accented voice fairly regularly, and I'd like to share a small anecdote:

            A client in Idaho liked my first read of his spot, but wanted the tag line read with an American accent. Not knowing I was 100% American, he asked, "Can you DO an American accent?" I told him I thought maybe I could... such is the beauty of voiceover...

            Posted by:
            • Robin Rowan
            • February 10, 2007 12:42 PM

              Does it go the other way as well? How popular are American voice actors in the UK?

              Posted by:
              • Monica
              • May 22, 2007 11:40 PM

                Good question Monica, and yes to a certain extent yes - e.g. the US economist P. J. O'Rourke is the voice of British Airways in the UK.

                Posted by:
                • Justin
                • February 23, 2008 4:47 AM

                  I realize many Americans have a love affair with the British accent. I dont mind the soft short sound of the a in words like path or half. What burns me is the Brits can't pronounce an r on the end of a word. Examples: water/wata, year/yeau, manner/manna, father/fatha. Our own New Englanders tend to do the same thing. Our New Englanders, while they don't pronounce the r on the end of a word, they often put an r on the end of words like window in their speech. The say winder. It's tough speaking perfect American English like I do.

                  Posted by:
                  • Arthur Dale
                  • September 7, 2008 2:27 PM

                    Hey Dale,
                    Adding to your comment on the bizzare speach impediments of the Brits. Not only do they not pronounce the R's were they should ( I'm fine with that). The thing that really gets me going is that they pronounce R's at the end of important words to us like... AMERICA, AUGUSTA and FLORIDA. and the list go's on and on.
                    Oh, we pronounce it that way because of this.. Oh we pronounce it because of that..Bull.
                    I'm sure they have no good explination, it's just there way of putting a twist on our words to disrespect Americans!
                    GOD BLESS AMERICA!

                    Posted by:
                    • John Hutchison
                    • June 13, 2009 6:29 PM

                      To those who complain on the British accent and our language. Please keep in mind, that American is merely a bastardised version of the Queen's English.
                      Dale is incorrect, in part. In certain parts of the country it is true to the loss of certain members of the alphabet in words, but that is not the "british" accent, that is regional dialect.... not uncommon in the United States, whether New York or Louisiana.
                      And for John.. If I am reading correctly, you seem to imply that in Britain it is pronounced Americar? Again, a case of regional dialects - which is probably why most [U.S.] advertisers (who are not aiming for the 'local' feel) request the "mid-west" accent because of it being the flattest form of "American" available.

                      And as for British accents garnering work because of the illusion of intelligence and refinement, well done that woman. I joke, of course. An advertiser will choose the correct voice the production company directs them to. After all, we all know the Geico Gecko, right?

                      Posted by:
                      • Michael Wilkins
                      • June 27, 2009 1:43 AM

                        My Mother was born in England ( Bradford, Yorkshire), I have been blessed to spend alot of time in England. I admire and respect the British People.

                        But you definitely are misled about the reason Brits are increasingly employed as voice and on screen talent in American T.V. shows and commercials.

                        I have been a member of the Screen Actors Guild for over thirty years and have interviewed and visited with key producers in the U.K.
                        British and Canadian trade agreements mandate talent hiring!

                        Posted by:
                        • Robert Bentley
                        • February 17, 2011 12:47 AM

                          Hi Robert,

                          Thanks for sharing that tidbit that was previously unknown to me. Would you like to submit an article about this? I'd love to publish it if you have something that I could feature on the blog.

                          Best wishes,

                          Stephanie

                          Posted by:

                            1. Serious problem with this article. Ireland is not part of the United Kingdom. The four states are England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is a totally separate country, and I know many Irish people would be furious to be labelled 'British'. Peter O'Toole, Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson and Colin Farrell are all Irish.

                            2. There is no such thing as a "British accent". Perhaps you are referring to English accents, or less distinct Scottish or Welsh accents.

                            3. I have never heard anyone in Britain say "Americar". When was the last time you heard a real English person speak? As for the criticisms of "fatha/manna" etc, only a small minority would pronounce those words like that. As Michael pointed out (above), it's just a dialect of English - like American English.

                            4. Surely you don't expect us to pronounce every single letter in a word? Only a young child would speak so simplistically.

                            Posted by:
                            • Correction
                            • March 9, 2011 12:33 PM

                              Thank you for this great article. There are some funny comments here about how Americans hear us Brits.

                              Overheard at the Statue of Liberty:

                              American man: So you're a tourist from Great Britain?
                              British man: Yes, I am.
                              American man: Where did you learn to speak English?
                              British man: We spawned the language, you know.
                              American man: No. . . that was the English.

                              Posted by:

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