A pioneering figure who transformed the teaching of spoken English, Jocelyn Bell paved the way for a less mannered, more colloquial approach to speaking text that chimed with and influenced new generations of actors in the late 1950s and beyond.
Born in Aslockton, Nottinghamshire, and a qualified librarian, she trained at the Rose Bruford School of Speech and Drama and took lessons with Central School founder Elsie Fogerty, whose determination to replace artificially mannered received pronunciation on stage with a more natural style of speaking influenced Bell’s own thinking and, in turn, later voice teachers including Cicely Berry.
Bell’s acting career, notably with Sheffield Rep in the late 1930s and early 1940s, was cut short when she left the stage to care for her ailing father.
After graduating, she formed a drama school in Southport with Christabel Burniston. There, the pair tested their ideas, abandoning the long-dominant tropes of ‘elocution’ to forge a more contemporary and flexible approach derived from the individual speaker’s background – to allow and accommodate regional accents for the first time – rather than the notion of a prim and proper enunciation of “the Queen’s English” that was fast going out of fashion.
In 1953, Bell and Burniston founded the English Speaking Board (International), a body that continues to “promote clear, effective communication in the UK and internationally”. Bell remained involved with the organisation until nearing her centenary, latterly as honorary president from 2007.
Bell co-authored several influential books with Burniston, including Into the Life of Things (1972) and Rhymes with Reasons (1979).
Jocelyn Bell was born on November 19, 1915 and died on January 13, aged 104.