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‘I can’t put your accent on the radio’: Edith Bowman reveals snobbery she faced starting out

As a young hopeful, TV and radio presenter Edith Bowman was told she wouldn’t make it in the industry with her own accent.

TV and radio host Edith Bowman – who has had a long career that’s taken in MTV UK, Radio 1, and her popular movie podcastSoundtracking – has seen her career thrive and evolve over her two decades in the business, despite once being told her accent meant she couldn’t even work on Scottish radio.

In an interview with The Big Issue for the Letter To My Younger Self feature, Bowman shared her experiences breaking into the industry and overcoming snobbery about her background and accent.

Growing up in Anstruther, Fife, Bowman was always surrounded by music and arts. “There was this constant musical soundtrack in my life,” she said. Despite feeling that a career in radio and television seemed unattainable, she couldn’t shake her desire to be part of that world.

“There was definitely a dream of getting involved in that world in some way, but it felt completely unattainable. But I kept trying to break into radio, even if I thought it was an unlikely thing. I pestered Radio Forth [in Edinburgh] constantly and I wouldn’t take no for an answer,” said Bowman.

Her persistence eventually led to a meeting with the programme controller, but his response was less than encouraging: “I can’t put someone with an accent like yours on the radio.” Bowman said she was shattered: “I sat there feeling the tears welling up. But in my head, I was thinking, ‘I want this and I want this really bad’.” She didn’t let his comment deter her, and she was eventually given a two-week work experience opportunity.

During her placement, Bowman worked tirelessly to make herself indispensable. “I worked my arse off,” she said. This determination paid off when she was offered a spot on weekends and holidays at the radio station, marking her first significant step into the industry.

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It was a work ethic she learned from her hotelier parents. “I wasn’t scared of hard work,” she says. “One of the many things I’ve got to thank my mum and dad and the hotel for is that I learned a work ethic really young.”

Edith Bowman is far from alone in being judged for her regional accent. According to the Sutton Trust’s Speaking Up report, 30 per cent of university students, 29 per cent of university applicants, and 25 per cent of professionals reported being mocked, criticised, or singled out in educational or work settings due to their accents.

Among senior managers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, 21 per cent were concerned that their accent could affect their ability to succeed, and 29 per cent of senior managers from working-class families reported being mocked in the workplace for their accent, as opposed to 22 per cent from a more affluent background, who were more likely to have a neutral English accent.

This is especially true of the entertainment industry. An Accent Bias Britain study in 2019 found that the British public were more likely to consider “received pronunciation” (RP) – basically, posh – accents more “prestigious”, almost certainly a result of TV and radio gatekeepers that have ensured decades of RP voices have always landed the most trusted roles.

For Bowman the lesson was that other people’s opinions of her work were ultimately less important than how she saw herself. “It’s none of your business what other people think of you, so long as you’ve got a good relationship with yourself,” she said. “So many times you go for jobs you don’t get and it’s fuck all to do with your ability. You know you’re the best person for the job, but it’s someone else’s decision. So you’ve just got to learn to be at peace with that. And that’s a hard thing to do.”

You can watch Coast to Coast Food Festival weekdays at 6:30pm on BBC Two & iPlayer

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