Notes on "The Office' (U.K.) DVDs (open spoilers)

I just finished my first run through of The Office (U.K.) DVDs. And I tell you, I am absolutely staggered emotionally. I can’t remember the last time a television show left me so devastated.

Anyway, some questions and comments –

Christmas special – this seems to be a set term in British use; I’ve heard it used with regard to Black Adder and Yes, Minister (apparently the one episode I haven’t seen, in which Hacker becomes prime minister, is a Christmas special). We don’t really have an equivalent in the United States. Shows that are currently in production might have episodes that are hyped as “a very special episode,” but “special” is usually reserved for one-offs or for reunion shows. While shows might feature Christmasy themes if there is an episode whose initial broadcast is intended for that time of the year, it is generally just considered one of the episodes of the broadcast season (series), which traditionally goes from September to May.

Accents – In the director’s commentary to Part 2 of the Christmas special, Gervais notes that the actor playing Brent’s agent sports “another West Country accent.” Seeking further education on British accents, I was hoping some U.K. Dopers could give me a rundown of the accents of all the major and minor characters (David Brent, Gareth, Tim, Dawn, Keith, Dawn, Keith, Lee, Jennifer Taylor-Clark, Chris Finch, Rowan, Peter Purves, Neil, etc.). My experience with British accents is grounded in P.B.S. (Masterpiece Theatre, Mystery, Britcoms, etc.: John Cleese, Jeremy Irons, John Thaw, Stephen Fry, etc.)

Lewdness in the Workplace – I was pretty shocked to see the relatively nonchalant attitude toward the lewd comments made in the meeting in which Donna is introduced. Brent does eventually clamp down on it, but his reaction seems to come as a surprise to the staff. Certainly officemates who have become close will engage in lewd banter in the United States, but these days it would never happen in a public meeting like that. Heads would roll. And then there was Glynn (“Taffy”), the warehouse foreman. His ear-shrivelling comments to Jennifer and the woman who took Gareth’s desk in the special would set the building on fire in the United States. He would be out on his ass so fast, it wouldn’t be funny. Jennifer basically ordered David to fire Glynn after the first incident, but David didn’t do anything about it. Does this kind of thing really still happen in British workplaces?

More later.

This is an important point - British programmes tend to run for much shorter periods. Typically they might start mid-September, and finish 6-8 weeks later. The perfect gap then exists for a ‘Christmas Special’ to be hyped. But the Christmas Special doesn’t just apply to comedies…quiz shows, satirical programmes, etc. will all make a special appearance.

AccentsSeeking further education on British accents, I was hoping some U.K. Dopers could give me a rundown of the accents of all the major and minor characters (David Brent, Gareth, Tim, Dawn, Keith, Dawn, Keith, Lee, Jennifer Taylor-Clark, Chris Finch, Rowan, Peter Purves, Neil, etc.)

Most of them are typically bland and anonymous southern accents. Tim & Dawn both have well-spoken tones, indicating an educated middle class upbringing. Finchy is from Leeds (Yorkshire). Neil is a classic public-school boy (posh accent, rugby fan, etc.) (NB public school = private school). Gareth’s accent betrays him as one of the great unwashed…who said Britain was a classless society? We identify almost anybody’s upbringing from the way they talk.

Part of this is perhaps that more is acceptable in Britain than in the US…but the main point is that this is the kind of thing that happens in a badly-managed workplace - we laugh and cringe at the same time, because we know it shouldn’t be happening at all.

Oh, and Brent’s accent is the same as Ricky Gervais’, funnily enough :stuck_out_tongue: …he’s from Reading, so it’s a combination of the worst bits of a London accent with the whining influence of the Midlands in the background…

(D&R from half the Brits on the board…)

Gareth and David Brent have West Country accents (surely that the point of the quote in the OP?).

Starts in Reading but gets stronger as you move along the M4, past Swindon and Gloucester and into Bristol and Somerset.

Not sure about the Midlands influence, TBH.

Funny, I’d never conciously noticed Gareth’s west country twang, but now you mention it…strange how you can miss things.

As for the Midlands influence in Gervais, I suppose it’s something I’m hearing for myself, nasal qualities which make me think of Northamptonshire, Leicestershire. But I may be wrong.

This reminds me of an incident a couple of years ago. I was attending a journalism-related conference, whose climax was a rather large and lavish banquet and awards program. The speakers were absolutely pathetic and my table-mate, who was visiting from England, marveled at the earnestness of the American audience. He said that in such a situation, English journalists in the audience would freely heckle disappointing speakers. That would never happen in a formal situation in the United States.

I’m not sure a journalism awards ceremony would even be considered a formal situation here :wink:

But yes, heckling seems to be more common in more situations in Britain - anywhere from wedding reception (any Best Man can read out a few jokes, successfully fielding heckles is more impressive by far), right through to debates in Parliament, where it’s ubiquitous.

Moved to CS.

General Questions Moderator

To add to the Accent question…

David Brent had the habit of saying “yeah” alot after phrases. I’m sure you guys are familiar with this.

I recently caught the show “Nathan Barley” and one of the characters on there was called “Jonathan Yeah” presumably for his habit of saying “yeah” alot too.

My friend asked me about the “yeah” interjection and I said it wasn’t so much a British thing but an accent thing like Canada’s “eh”.

So is it a trait of an accent or a trait of a type of people?

There has been some comment on the catcalls in the staff meeting, but I wonder if anyone could respond to the question about the behavior of Glynn, the warehouse foreman. His explicit comments to Jennifer and the pregnant woman would just flat not be acceptable from anyone in an American workplace, especially a from a person in a managerial position such as foreman.

One thing I never understood was his relationship with Jennifer, his supervisor. She seems to regard him with such contempt (not that I blame her) that I wonder how he got the job or how he was considered for that promotion.

And the show got uncomfortable in the Christmas special, where it was clear that David understood how he was perceived by others. (Until then, his obliviousness made it easy to laugh.)

I seem to recall that Gareth’s accent is a Bristol accent, a shout out to Stephen Merchant’s hometown (series co-creator). I’ve only been to Bristol once and I don’t recall hearing anything particularly odd in the voices of the residents (but I imagine the folks I encountered were transplants, anyway). He has a cameo as Gareth’s mate “Oggy,” who David Brent refers to as a “goggle-eyed freak.” He runs away crying after the exchange.

As someone who grew up in Oxfordshire, Brent’s accent sounds familiar. The “yeah” bit is an affectation like the U.S. “right” (e.g., “I was walking down the street, right, and this guy hits me with an anvil, right, so I kicked his ass.”). A friend I grew up with from Suffolk became a “yeah” person when he went to polytechnic in Oxford. It seems to be a class-related thing, because I think most working to middle class folks would say “right” as is commonly used in the States…

I got the impression that Brent had some kind of relationship or familiarity with the board of directors that predated Jennifer’s rise to upper management. I can’t think of anything else that would account for the majority vote in favor of Brent’s promotion to Jennifer’s position. I should think that, unless they had some other source of information, they would seriously considered Jennifer’s evaluation of Brent as an idiot.

“I didn’t call you Fatty!” Brilliant.

That reminds me that all of Gareth’s friends have off-colour nicknames. I wonder whether that is a (pseudo-)military thing. I know that here in the United States, people in the Army and others, like Reserved Officer Training Corps cadets (uniforms in university!) tend to call each other by “humorous” nicknames.

You know this is a comedy right? It doesn’t have to be strictly realistic. The point is that it is Brent’s job to manage misbehaviour but instead, because he wants to be liked so much (but still be the ‘one in charge’), he actually encourages it.

Wait until you see the one about the emailed porn - that drills the message home!

Brent is a classic example of the Peter Principle, and you get the impression that the very characteristics that probably made him really good salesman – chatty and able to get on with most people – makes him a rubbish manager. It’s actually quite interesting to watch how his techniques get less and less effective and how he becomes more and more insecure.

Regarding the accent – I think its unwise to define anything as a ‘west country’ accent just as there isn’t really any generic ‘northern’ accent. Gareth’s is certainly different from Brent’s. Gareth IIRC emphasises his ‘r’s, which is far more Devon/Cornwall, and Brent’s mixture of missed consonants and glottal stops and very short nasal vowels sounds (on words like ‘tough’, for eg) is very estuary/Reading/Oxfordshire – the same accent as me, in fact, when I’ve had a few.

I’m not talking about strict realism here. Yes, the show is a comedy, but it’s in the form of a documentary and a huge part of the technique of the show is to imply most of the facts surrounding the small part of the action that you actually see. The form of the show itself demands that we assume that we are seeing a small part of a complete reality (or a version there of). In order to infer the important facts about the personas being depicted, the viewer must assume that there there is internal consistency to this world. It’s not the kind of comedy that allows you to say “It’s just a show.” Even if you don’t bother to think about what might be the background behind something that’s shown (and, really, you wouldn’t have the time to do that with everything that’s depicted), or if you do think about it and aren’t able to come to a conclusion; nevertheless, the form requires you to assume that there is some reasonable explanation for what’s going on. I don’t think I’m going into fanboy territory by mentioning what a certain incident implied to me. It’s not like I set aside a big chunk of time to worry about it.

I did see it and it seemed consistent with my thoughts on the matter.

“It’s demeaning … to women.” Yeah, that’s it.

I love the way Brent uses pauses and emphasis in his speech. It really highlights his insincerity. (See, I inferred a fact about Brent based on what I saw on the screen.)

Central Bristol tends to be occupied by Home Counties refugees - Clifton, Redland, Stoke Bishop etc

Once you get into the suburbs the Bristol accent shines through - personally oi luvs it :slight_smile:

I wasn’t previously familiar with the theme song and I quite like the music, but I have to say that I’m glad that the vocals aren’t featured at the starting credits. As it is, whenever I hear the music over the end credits, I’m annoyed by the image of the unlikely prospect of gladrags and handbags coming out of Granddad’s pores.