Dick Van Dyke apologizes for his ‘atrocious’ cockney accent in ‘Mary Poppins’

The World
Dick Van Dyke speaking at the 2017 Phoenix Comicon

Dick Van Dyke is shown speaking at the 2017 Phoenix Comicon. 

Courtesy of Gage Skidmore

There are some epic public apologies out there: the church's apology to Galileo, for instance, or Tiger Woods' apology to his wife.

This one, below, is a personal favorite.

But even with the Bill Clinton lower-lip bite, this one pales in comparison to the historic mea culpa issued this weekend.

More than 50 years after the fact, Dick Van Dyke has apologized for his abominable cockney accent in the Disney classic "Mary Poppins."Van Dyke played the chimney sweep, Bert, in the 1964 film, and although there were many deft aspects to his performance, his accent wasn't one of them.

Van Dyke was chosen this week by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, BAFTA, to receive an award for excellence in TV. In response, Van Dyke said, "I appreciate this opportunity to apologize to the members of BAFTA for inflicting on them the most atrocious cockney accent in the history of cinema."

Van Dyke has come close to issuing an apology before. “People in the UK love to rib me about my accent, I will never live it down,” he said. “They ask what part of England I was meant to be from, and I say it was a little shire in the north where most of the people were from Ohio.”

The actor was born in Missouri and grew up in Illinois. He had to study a working-class London accent for the part.

In a 2012 interview with Conan O'Brien, Van Dyke blamed his accent on his voice coach, who wasn't even English. "The guy who taught me was an Irishman ... Pat O'Malley!"

It's not a bad excuse, as excuses go. But anyone who has ever been wronged will tell you, an explanation is not the same as an apology.

But Xan Brooks, the film critic at the British paper The Guardian, and who is himself a Brit, says Van Dyke really has nothing to apologize for. "We have a great fondness and a great affection for [Van Dyke's cockney accent]. I think even people who haven't seen 'Mary Poppins' know about the accent and can possibly even mimic it. We love him for it, I think."

Even so, Van Dyke is scheduled to issue his apology at the BAFTA awards ceremony in October.

Now, if only he would apologize for "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."