When the director Alvin Rakoff cast a striking yet unknown Edinburgh actor in the lead role of the televised BBC play Requiem for a Heavyweight, he came perilously close to making a mistake on a par with Decca’s decision to turn down The Beatles.
Mr Rakoff thought the young thespian “had the looks,” but harboured doubts. The reason? His Scottish brogue. “We thought it would be off-putting and distracting, and difficult for viewers to understand,” Mr Rakoff later confessed. “How wrong we all were.”
The director’s decision to ignore his misgivings provided the springboard for Sir Sean Connery’s acting career, but it also ensured the Scottish vernacular would have a lasting place in Hollywood.
The nation’s latest film star is not so sure however. James McAvoy has warned that his homeland is being poorly represented in film and television because the accent is considered “foreign” and “puts many people off,” adding: “The only way to change that is by putting more accents like ours on telly and making people understanding it so that it doesn’t become some strange, foreign sound to them.”
Mr McAvoy’s assessment may surprise the host of actors who have successfully retained their accents for major roles throughout their careers, a list which includes the likes of Ewan McGregor, Robbie Coltrane and Brian Cox. If anything, the Scottish brogue has been overrepresented, which is reason for celebration. There is argument that Scottish stories, made by Scots, deserve a wider international audience, but the issue of the accent does not seem as pronounced a problem as Mr McAvoy suggests.