What did Lucile SOUND like


Martin Williams

I realise that this might appear to be a rather peculiar question (and apologies, as ever, if it has been answered elsewhere) but I wonder if anybody could tell me what kind of VOICE Lady Duff Gordon had? In England, even today, an accent immediately 'places' a person (both geographically and socially) in the ears of their listener - until very recently, I worked for a company where, sad as it may sound, nobody with an English 'regional' accent would find employment.

The early decades of the twentieth century were the hey-day of what we now laugh at as 'received pronunciation' - having what was considered to be the 'right' accent was crucial for those who wanted to rise in society. Lady Duff Gordon spent her childhood in Canada, although I believe she moved with her family to Great Britain when she was still a child. Did she retain any traces of a Canadian accent as an adult - would she even have had one in the first place? Was her voice deep or soft? Did she drawl or was she very clipped? I'd be fascinated to know!

Many thanks indeed to anybody who can ease my idle curiosity on this point!
Accents in the early 20th century were interesting. I watched a show on Eleanor Roosevelt the other night that had several clips of her speaking and she sounded positively British. Many American actresses in the 30's and 40's also sounded British, even if they were playing small-town American girls!

Speaking of "received pronunciation", when I was studying the UK, I knew a very nice Norfolk girl who had an accent that I took for Australian (I know it's incomprehensible to Brits and Aussies that we Americans can make that mistake, but working class accents from the Southern counties of Britain do sound Australian to me if there isn't an actual Australian nearby for comparison). Anyway, when I moved back to the area two years later, this same girl sounded like Joanna Lumley! She freely owned that she had taken elocution lessons so that her mode of speaking wouldn't hinder her law career.
Yes, you're quite right about those actresses. Patrick Dennis has great fun in 'Auntie Mame' with his character, Vera Charles, who speaks with an accent of almost incomprehensible 'Mayfair elegance' yet who originally hails from Pittsburgh!

I was intrigued to discover, when I started working, that there is such a thing as a 'posh' American accent too. Many of my fellow interns came from WASPish East Coast families and spoke entirely differently from anybody I'd ever seen on the television or in films.
Lucile’s voice was high, possibly a bit shrill, according to several reports, including one Titanic researchers may be aware of, in which her voice is referred to as “tuned to the siren’s note.” One of Lucile’s assistants, Howard Greer, said she had a high, tight little voice. Yet her grandson, the late Lord Halsbury, said this didn’t interfere with her singing voice, which was nice, he said. As far as an accent, she didn’t try to conceal her Canadian roots as did her sister, who affected a rather stilted British accent. Also, while living in America between 1914 and 1919, Lucile acquired an American accent that was striking to her friends and family when she returned to England.
Thank you for that, Randy, another one of my questions answered! Although I'm a bit surprised - somehow, I never imagined that Lady DG would be shrill!
Hi, I am writing about Lucile on the Titanic, and was excited to find so much information. Is there a tape recording of Lucile, so we can hear her voice? and where can I find the quotes Randy mentions. What kind of music did she sing, and is there a recording of this too?
There are no known extant recordings of Lucile unfortunately. At one point I believed there was, but research hit a dead end on it. She gave several radio interviews in 1923 and ’24 but the BBC Radio and TV Archive doesn’t have the programs in which she appeared or any transcripts for them; the print media which reported on her radio talks is the main source of information about them. One research source believes she was interviewed again in 1932 when her book was published but, again, the sound archives in the UK and US that I’ve contacted have no programs featuring her, or if they do those episodes have not yet been catalogued. As to references, I don’t have them all at hand (though my book will be thoroughly annotated). Howard Greer mentioned her voice in his autobiography, Designing Male, and Halsbury’s memories were related to me in personal letters as well as orally for which I have transcripts. The description of her voice as sounding like a siren is, I believe, from a New York Times piece about her appearance at the Titanic Inquiry hearings.
As to what Lucile sang, she did bits of operetta and she played the piano. In her last days her grandson visited her to keep her company at her house in Hampstead and later at the nursing home in Putney where she died. He said they always played the piano and sang together. He recalled two of the songs they sang as “Ah, moon of my delight’ and “In a Persian garden.” On my visit with him in 1999, he remembered the latter piece, rather a melancholy tune, and sang a few lyrics for me. Lucile was also an avid dancer, and in her younger days performed in amateur productions for charity. To get back to Martin’s comment, I agree that it’s surprising Lucile had a high voice. Her appearance makes one think she would have had a very commanding voice. On the other hand she also looked like a tall, statuesque person, yet she was really only about 5’4” and petite in frame.
Thank you, Randy. It's so funny - I HAVE always imagined her to be tall and commanding!

Wasn't Lucy 'told off' at one stage during the Inquiry hearings for not speaking loudly enough? Then again, I do seem to remember reading that the acoustics at the venue selected were truly appalling. And I can imagine few things worse than having to go over in minute detail such a terrible event as the sinking of the 'Titanic', knowing that hundreds of listeners are all the time judging me - and most not favourably.
Thank you for this interesting information, I am going to find that book. It must have been really amazing knowing someone who actually knew lucile.
If you worked somewhere where you couldn't have a regional accent, you must have a posh accent then!!! The speaking clock perhaps, or Buckingham Palace?!!!!