Peter Sellers Presents The Complete Guide To Accents of The British Isles

“There was no Peter Sell­ers,” author Bruce Jay Fried­man once wrote. “He was close to pan­ic as him­self and came alive only when he was imper­son­at­ing some­one else.”

While Sell­ers might have been a curi­ous­ly detached and deeply inse­cure per­son in real life, he was a strik­ing, mem­o­rable fig­ure on the sil­ver screen. His com­ic imag­i­na­tion and stun­ning ver­sa­til­i­ty made him the stand out in just about every movie he was in. In Stan­ley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Sell­ers played three dif­fer­ent roles using three very dif­fer­ent accents – the upper crust plum­mi­ness of Capt. Man­drake, the Mid­west­ern flat­ness of the hap­less Pres­i­dent Muf­fley and the shriek­ing Teu­ton­ic lilt of Dr. Strangelove whose voice is a bit like how one might imag­ine Hen­ry Kissinger’s after fif­teen Red Bulls.

Sell­ers, of course, got his start in the radio and through­out his career, he con­tin­ued to make audio record­ings of his com­e­dy rou­tines. In his 1979 bit, The Com­plete Guide To Accents of The British Isles, Sell­ers shows just how good a mim­ic he real­ly is.

The piece is nar­rat­ed by Don Shul­man, an Amer­i­can pro­fes­sor of “accents and lan­guages” who likes lit­tle more than to go to Europe to “hear the music of the oth­er languages…Hearing French spoke, for exam­ple, is a sen­su­al expe­ri­ence.” And then what fol­lows is a minute or so of pitch-per­fect gib­ber­ish that does in fact sound a lot like French. He then moves on to the sound of oth­er lan­guages. “The music of the Ger­man lan­guage, on the oth­er hand, is excit­ing and slight­ly, well, slight­ly fright­en­ing. Like a show­er of cold beer.”

As you might guess from the title, Sell­ers then moves on to the British Isles. We’re treat­ed to a song about Argenti­na sung in a near­ly incom­pre­hen­si­ble Cock­ney, a mean­der­ing mono­logue by a hotel own­er in a sim­i­lar­ly dense Sus­sex acci­dent. Shul­man then talks to peo­ple in Birm­ing­ham, York­shire, Glas­gow and Liv­er­pool among oth­ers. And the whole thing is all done by one spec­tac­u­lar­ly tal­ent­ed per­son. It’s like the audio equiv­a­lent of a per­fect­ly exe­cut­ed mag­ic trick or dance rou­tine. And, unlike Criss Angel, Sell­ers is (inten­tion­al­ly) fun­ny. Check out part one up top and part two below that.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Brief Tour of British Accents: 14 Ways to Speak Eng­lish in 84 Sec­onds

Peter Sell­ers Gives a Quick Demon­stra­tion of British Accents

Peter Sell­ers Reads The Bea­t­les’ ‘She Loves You’ in Four Voic­es

Sir Patrick Stew­art Demon­strates How Cows Moo in Dif­fer­ent Eng­lish Accents

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

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