It’s only when you are reminded of something really good in television drama that you realise how mediocre much of the output of our national broadcasters is.
My particular beef is with British actors doing German accents badly. If the character is identifiably German and supposed to be speaking English, then you *could* at least make the effort to get the sound right. (I won’t venture into the territory where the German accent indicates that the characters are speaking German to each other… that way madness lies). Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons as brother baddies in the first and third Die Hard films are about the Hollywood industry standard – sinister Europeans played by normally quite posh British chaps with a dash of camp. Hugh Laurie as the evil Prince Ludwig in the final episode of Blackadder, series 2, has it just about right in terms of intonation, but overdoes the v / w confusion somewhat.
Not too long back, BBC Four was reshowing the TV adaptation of John Le Carré’s Smiley’s People. Le Carré of course speaks German, studied in Bern and lived in Germany as an intelligence officer. I think you can tell something of this linguistic sensitivity in the quality of the dialogue he gives his German characters – the slightly wrong phrases, occasional too literal borrowings – but also using a real German actor Mario Adorf is a master stroke. His English is superb. Yes, he *has* an accent, but it is the kind of accent a slightly dubious business man from Hamburg might well have. See: (about 48 minutes in).
The whole sequence lasts about 8 minutes. My title is taken from Herr Kretschmar’s (Adorf) words to the retired intelligence officer George Smiley (Alec Guiness).
PS Barry Foster (2nd from left in picture at the top) is no relation…