RP stands for RECEIVED PRONUNCIATION in England. It’s sometimes referred to as THE QUEEN’S ENGLISH, although the present queen doesn’t speak it. It’s estimated that about 3% of the population speaks in this way and it separates the ‘upper classes’ from the rabble.
Why is this important?
It probably isn’t, but there’s a story here.
Riney had written his annual Henry’s spot and sent me the scripts and boards and they were expensive because the spot took place in London. The idea of the spot was sketchy, a butler/waiter is delivering a bottle and glass of Henry’s Beer on a tray and his shaking of the tray and rattling of the bottle and glass disturbs the membership. I dealt with Riney’s ‘expense’ problems by doing the thing for free, no fees and no production markup. The only thing in our (Riney’s) favor was the English pound was at an all time low, almost parity with the dollar.
Riney had an obsession with old guys and all the club members in the script were old guys, some really old. In fact, there weren’t that many old actors available so we went to a retirement home for casting.
‘What’s RP got to do with it?’
‘I’m getting there.’
England is a small country with too many people so there are myriad rules to keep people in their place and RP is a subtle one. When you hear a gentleman speak, you immediately know your place. There are enormous restrictions on women, at least there were when we wanted to film. We were scouting locations by going to authentic clubs. My producer was a woman and we walked into a club and a security officer bolted toward us accosting her because she was a woman. So much for clubs. She hadn’t taken two steps into the entryway, so we filmed at an estate outside of London, owned by an Indian gentleman.
‘Where does RP come in?’
During the casting session, a terrific actor nailed the part of the butler. Jerry turned to me and asked:
‘Have him read the gentleman’s part.’
‘Jerry, he’s perfect for the butler.’
I saw the look on Jerry’s face, hurt, a little angry, petulant? I shook my head (internally) and went to the actor and asked.
‘I’ll do the butler, but I won’t do the gentleman. I’ll do the butler, but I won’t do the gentleman.’
I guess he felt he either knew his place or felt that he couldn’t do a convincing job as a ‘gentleman’ (RP?).
He did a convincing job (as a butler).
I’ve found that British actors are the most accomplished. They show up on time and know their lines. The actor playing the butler knew he was incapable of doing a ‘gentleman’s part.’ It could be that he couldn’t do RP properly or that he ‘knew his place.’ Whatever, he understood the character perfectly and didn’t waste our time on a performance that would have been less than perfect.
‘I’ll do the butler, but I won’t do the gentleman.’