Is It Just Me... Or Is Dick Van Dyke's Cockney Accent Not That Bad?

Give Burt the chimney sweep a break

I'll be honest, when I was a kid I thought everyone in London spoke like Dick Van Dyke.

Among the many pains of growing up, moving to the capital and realising that I couldn’t jump into pavement paintings or feed the birds for tuppence a bag, I discovered that his name has become a byword for terrible movie accents.

Even people who don’t really remember Mary Poppins (1964) agree that Van Dyke’s star turn as Burt the chimney sweep is a capital crime against Cockneys.

So great is the national insult that it even spawned a blogsite (‘The Ministry of Dick Van Dyke’s Accent’) designed, admirably, to collate all the instances that his good name has been besmirched in the national press – with more than 90 entries over the past five years.

“British people have never let me off the hook,” he says sadly, “they just tease me to death.”

Teasing Burt the chimney sweep to death? Surely it’s time to take another gander...

Fair enough, he does sound like he was born slightly out of earshot of the Bow Bells.

Part American, part Australian, part downright weird, Van Dyke usually shifts the blame to his Irish voice coach Pat O’Malley (who also played the elephant in The Jungle Book and was, incidentally, as English as they come).

Then again, the melting pot of Edwardian London would have heard a lot of strange accents, and there’s nothing to suggest that Burt wasn’t born of a chance meeting between a Chicago socialite and an Aussie sailor... but that’s not really the point.

Mary Poppins was never supposed to be realistic.

Between the shiny bowler hats, mechanical robins and immaculate soundstage streets, Disney’s fairytale world is London as it never existed.

A modern Poppins would probably cast a ‘real’ Londoner like Danny Dyer (“Chim-chiminey, chim-chiminey, chim-chim cha-ree, the life of a sweep is fackin’ mint mate!”), but would authenticity really improve one of the greatest family musicals ever made?

It seems odd to split hairs over regional linguistics in a film that also features flying nannies, magic merry-go-rounds and tap-dancing penguins, because Burt’s oddball accent blends perfectly into the painted background anyway.

More importantly, Van Dyke’s lisping Anglo-anywhere drawl never detracts from the film – some would say it even adds to its charm – which is not something to be said of other wannabe big-screen East Enders.

Next time someone slags off DVD, point them in the direction of Heather Graham inFrom Hell, Forest Whitaker in The Crying Game, Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell in Cassandra’s Dream or Don Cheadle in Ocean’s Eleven.

And, while you’re at it, get them to watch Kevin Costner’s West Coast East Midlands Robin Hood, Natalie Portman’s plummy gal in V For Vendetta or Keanu Reeves’ stoner gent in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

At least Dick Van Dyke tried, which is more than Daniel Craig did as a ‘Swede’ in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

So I say it’s time to move on, stop giving the poor ol’ bloke so much jip. Or is it just me?

What do you think of Dick Van Dyke's accent? Let us know below


    • Hadouken76

      Jan 6th 2013, 10:02

      Also Sean Connery as an 'Irishhhman' in The Untouchables, Russell Crowe as an Aussie Spaniard in Gladiator. I don't think people seem to mind, as long it doesn't ruin the atmosphere of the film. In the case of 'Richard van Levee' (sorry I'm avoiding censors) his 'cockernee' accent overpowers the entire performance. He would have been better off using his real voice.

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    • Seedorf

      Jan 6th 2013, 13:44

      Given the type of film, and the time it was made, there was more chance of getting away with a poor accent. Not now. At least not in high profile films. Look at Crowe's shambolic attempts at an English accent in Robin Hood. What is worse: To attempt a foreign accent and fail miserably, or to not bother at all? Craig in Dragon Tattoo and Connery in Untouchables for eg. Far better not to try at all, IMO, than make a total mess of it.

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    • dojj singh

      Jan 6th 2013, 14:18

      Why oh why does everyone go on about DVD's accent and don't say anything about Crowe's "accents" in Robin Hood? Probably because Crowe has a temper and DVD is an old man. Why not just enjoy it for what it is, an enjoyable film for the whole family rather than a film with a dodgy cockney accent?

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    • Extramedium

      Jan 6th 2013, 14:46

      I'm willing to bet that approximately 0% of the children this movie was really made for care at all about dvd's accent. It didn't ruin it for me when I was 7.

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    • davemelges

      Jan 6th 2013, 22:16

      The problem isn't that people complain about VanDyke...the problem is that he's the POSTER CHILD for bad English Accents, which, as pointed out by the article, is terribly unfair because the COSTNER accent was so bad, they went back and re-dubbed all his lines WITHOUT it. THAT'S the champion. And Dick's version was fun, Keanu's accent in Dracula was like nails on a chalkboard. One of the worst casting decisions EVER.

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    • Monkeynuts30

      Jan 7th 2013, 4:26

      Mary F**kin' Poppins: the Guy Ritchie remake.

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    • 2Dglasses

      Jan 7th 2013, 11:13

      Natalie Portmans quasi english accent was also attrocious in Your Highness...

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    • FBKCooley

      Jan 7th 2013, 13:09

      I kinda always liked DVD's accent and have never understood the blind rage some feel toward it. At least he's giving it a good shot. When Kevin Costner applied a "Meh, Whatever. People just want to see me" attitude to Robin Hood, that was terrible. Especially in a movie with actual, bona fide Brits around. DVD was charming and cute and if he doesn't sound like a real Cockney bloke, I think we can forgive him. We can't all be Michael Caine, you know.

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    • spid2411

      Jan 7th 2013, 14:09

      Just you - it was s**te

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    • SiMan

      Jan 7th 2013, 14:17

      You know this is the first time i've ever seen him referred to as 'DVD' - wonder if that's ever caused any confusion on an IMDB search.....probably not. I'm also more sad that those people obsessed with political correctness tried to get him to change his name to p***s Lorry Lesbian..........I'l go now.

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    • NickyC

      Jan 7th 2013, 16:53

      Wait wait wait ... you start by asking whether or not Van Dyke's accent is 'not that bad' then instantly turn into an apologist. So you've answered the question which is 'Yes, it's f*cking terrible' but then that's somehow okay for reasons that are entirely unrelated. Just because Mary Poppins is a fantasy film and there have been other poor accents in other films that doesn't make Dick Van Dyke's cockney accent any better. That's like saying it's okay that you got bitten by a rabid dog because lots of other have been bitten as well. Conclusion: It is and always will be a shockingly bad cockney accent. Period. But the film will always be a timeless classic and Julie Andrews will always be hot.

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    • FBJBrown22

      Jan 8th 2013, 16:17

      I think your being a little unfair, i mean after all Luke Skywalker was from Tatooine but Mark Hamill clearly had an american accent and you dont hear anyone going on about that!!! Also Christopher Lamberts Scottish accent in Highlander is the worst attempt ever.

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    • FBKCooley

      Jan 9th 2013, 13:04

      To say nothing of Sean Connery's non-Spaniard Ramirez!

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    • Hadouken76

      Jan 9th 2013, 17:08

      Yeah the only Scottish actor in a film set in Scotland, have him play ... a Spaniard! Genius.

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    • hendrixisgod777

      Jan 12th 2013, 10:02

      These comments are hilarious! I really do love all you guys!

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    • celestialskies

      Mar 16th 2014, 22:30

      Did anyone else notice that Paul Bradshaw spelled Bert's name wrong? Really its not that hard to make sure you get right.

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