Byline: FRANCIS WHEEN
PRINCESS Michael of Kent told an interviewer last year that the Queen is a gifted mimic who entertains her friends by putting on a cockney accent.
"She can be very funny."
Is the joke on Princess Michael?
What she took for mimicry may in fact be the monarch's normal voice, according to phonetics experts who have studied all the royal Christmas broadcasts from 1952. Half a century ago the Queen would say, "I em speaking to you from my own hame", but since then her vowel sounds have drifted eastwards towards the Thames estuary.
If she lived for another 30 years, by my calculations, she could moonlight as Janet Street-Porter.
Professor Jonathan Harrington, leader of the research project, thinks the royal vowel-shift reflects the blurring of boundaries between classes.
"Fifty years ago, the idea that the Queen's English could be influenced by cockney would have been unthinkable."
What nonsense. Has this latter-day Professor Higgins never heard of the twang known as "upper-class cockney"? It was pioneered by the Queen's uncle, Edward VIII, while he was Prince of Wales, and adopted by many Bright Young Things in the 1920s and 1930s.
John Betjeman's wife Penelope spoke it, as A. N. Wilson points out in his new biography. So did my distant cousin Peter Thorneycroft, Chancellor of the Exchequer under Harold Macmillan. "If oi my sy a few words," he would drawl, "before comin' to the point yer've rised -"
Upper-class cockney is now almost extinct, though Martin Amis speaks something rather like it. …