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 in From Hell , Forest Whitaker in The Crying Game , Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell in Cassandra’s Dream or Don Cheadle in Ocean’s Eleven .
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?