Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How do you explain a missing hand to a child?

Page last updated at 11:24 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

How do you explain a missing hand to a child?

By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine

Cerrie Burnell
Burnell joined CBeebies last month
Parents have complained that a children's TV presenter with one hand is prompting awkward questions from young children. So how should you explain this kind of disability to a child?

No-one comes up with wrong-footing questions quite like a young child. And young, curious minds don't hesitate to point out differences in people they see around them.

So when the BBC's children's channel CBeebies employed presenter Cerrie Burnell, who was born with only one hand, her appearance on television screens prompted a debate among parents about what they say to their children.

Online message boards on CBeebies and the BBC's disability magazine Ouch! were brimming with support for the employment of a person with a disability, and the way this educated children about diversity.

But a minority of parents expressed concern that Ms Burnell's appearance was "scaring" children. One father said he feared it would give his daughter nightmares and a mother said her two-year-old girl could not watch because she thought the presenter had been hurt.

Ms Burnell, 29, says she doesn't take this personally but these kind of comments highlight the prejudice that disabled people face.

Clare Johnston
Clare Johnston is a student primary school teacher, 31, from Edinburgh, who uses a wheelchair
"Children will be direct, but they don't seem to have the assumption that it stops you doing other things, and they will tend to ask rather cooler questions like 'Can you do wheelies?'"
"Adults are frequently surprised to find you are able to go on with your life, work and hobbies."
When a teacher told the class not to ask questions about her, it made matters worse, she says

"Children come up to me in the street every day and say 'What's that?' I wouldn't say they're frightened but certainly they're inquisitive.

"I would always take the time to explain to a child. All they want is an explanation. They want to know 'What's that?' and 'What's happened?' and 'Why are you different?' And then they will move on."

She hopes that her presence can show young children what they can achieve on merit. But what parents say is up to them.

"I'd never comment on anyone's parenting or the time for them to have a discussion with their child about disabilities.

"It's a totally personal thing and people have to do it when they feel comfortable to do it. But I would just hope that, I guess, me being on CBeebies would present an opportunity for them to do that in the comfort of their own home."

If the child asks questions then they are old enough to understand the answer, she says, and her story is simply that she was born with one hand but it doesn't stop her doing anything.

Hard-of-hearing Barbies

The problem lies with the parents, not the children, says Sir Bert Massie from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

"I think what's happening is a number of adults do have prejudices, do have very negative views about disabled people, and instead of admitting the views are their own, they're projecting them on to their children and saying the children are doing this. And of course they don't give their names [on message boards], so it's all anonymous."

It becomes harder for older children because they can be socially embarrassed
Child psychologist Penelope Leach

Attitudes have improved over time, helped by changes in the law, a higher profile for some disabled people and more awareness of equality issues. And children are more likely to see people with disabilities because many are now taught in mainstream schools.

Even toy makers are getting on message - turning out disability aids like wheelchairs, dark glasses and hearing aids for dolls and action figures.

Child psychologist Penelope Leach says children are faced with so much variety in the world that they do tend to accept what they see, unless someone else implies to them that something is wrong.

Tilly is a doll in a wheelchair, made by Kids Like Me

"Three to four year olds can't be sure that there aren't people in the world who only ever have one arm. There are people who have glasses, or are very tall, or have different skin. Why shouldn't there be people in the world who have a different number of arms?

"It becomes harder for older children because they can be socially embarrassed and they think 'Should I say something or not?' People in wheelchairs complain bitterly that older children and grown-ups don't look at them in the eye but you don't get that with young children."

While young children may react badly to the sight of blood, they would not be frightened by a person with one arm, unless it triggered something that had happened in their family.

"There are a lot of answers you could give. They won't say 'How did she lose her arm?', they are more likely to say 'Where is her arm?' or 'Why has she only got one arm?' And the parent can just say 'I don't know exactly, but maybe she had an accident.'

"Listen to the question you are being asked and answer the question. I wouldn't suggest looking at the presenter and pointing it out but if their child asks a question or makes a comment it's a great mistake to say 'hush, hush'. They want to know the answer to a very sensible question."

Maddy Dilley with son Edward
Ms Dilley says children relate to her better than adults

The difference in attitude between children and adults is striking, says Maddy Dilley who was struck by a debilitating condition which means she uses a wheelchair when leaving the house.

"Children are normally very positive. In buggies they seem to love it because I'm on the same level as them. They tend to grin and young children on foot turn back and smile," says the 24-year-old from Cambridgeshire.

The odd child will hide behind their mum or dad because they're not sure what's going on or point or react slightly differently, but overall it tends to be very positive, open and inquisitive.

"They don't see it as something different because it's not bred into them. While adults can see it in a discriminatory way, children are more innocent."

Adults sometimes ignore her and avoid eye contact when she clearly needs help with something, she says. On one occasion she was wheeled out of the way in a supermarket, which left her in tears.

So instead of shielding children from disability, it seems some adults should take a lead from youngsters in how to respond to it.

春秋战国的士 明治维新的武士

春秋战国的士 明治维新的武士

[1103] (2009-01-15)



  士和武士也是知识分子,春秋战国的士思想活跃,百家争鸣.明治维新的武士思想活跃,有多种思想竞争. 他们都是知行合一的.陈寅恪独立之精神和自由之思想其实是士的精神.


  中国成了统一国家后,士的作用下降了,因为只能依附一个皇帝.西汉司马相如认为现在统一国家之下,看不到士的高下. 士从贵族变成士农工商四民之首.




  广州 麦辰


郑愁予(1933- ),原名郑文韬,出版的诗集有《梦土上》(1955)、《衣钵》(1966)、《燕人行》(1980)、《寂寞的人坐着看花》(1993)。原籍河北,生于山东济南。1949年赴台。其诗中贯穿着两种互补的气质神韵:一种是豪放、爽快、豁达的"仁侠"精神,另一种则是曲折动人、情意绵绵、欲语还羞的婉约情韵,这两种气质充分显示了诗人深厚的古典文学修养。

火炼 寂寞的人坐着看花 佛外缘 贵族 当西风走过 生命 度牒 未题 梵音 媳妇 醉溪流域 港夜 归航曲 雨丝 边塞组曲 天窗 情妇知风草 四月赠礼 窗外的女奴 水巷 夜歌 南海上空 俯拾 山外书 山居的日子 落帆 崖上 结语 探险者 港边吟 小溪 殒石 垂直的泥土上 岛谷海湾 小小的岛 船长的独步 贝勒维尔 水手刀 如雾起时 晨景 小诗锦 除夕 晚虹之逝 雪线 晚云 钟声 乡音 偈 定 客来小城 错误 港夜梦土上 赋别 雨季的云 裸的先知 盛装的时候 最后的春闱 右边的人 编秋草 厝骨塔 小站之站 召魂 望乡人 野柳岬归省 晨 下午 草履虫 静物采贝 姊妹港 一○四病室 清明 嘉义 左营 南湖大山辑 大霸尖山辑 玉山辑 雪山辑 大屯山汇 大武山辑 边界酒店 旅程 草生原 燕云 四月图昼九月图昼

郑予愁 《错误》

Teen pregnancy: Why are rates rising?

Last Updated: Friday, 27 May, 2005, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
Teen pregnancy: Why are rates rising?
Crying baby
Why can't we match up to our European neighbours?
The debate on how best to tackle teenage pregnancy has arisen again as latest figures show the rate in under-16s in England and Wales has increased.

The government says it can do no more without the help of parents, while others are again calling for a broadening of sex and relationship education in schools.

The UK has the highest teenage birth rates in Western Europe - twice as high as in Germany, three times as high as in France and six times as high as in the Netherlands.

Why are the figures on the increase?

One thing that is lacking in the UK is a consensus on how to deal with the problem of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among teenagers.

All the incentives are going in the wrong direction - the best thing the government could do is stop undermining the family
Robert Whelan, Civitas

While there is often broad agreement on the root causes, there are differences over the "cure" that range, in their simplest terms, from promoting abstinence and traditional family values to encouraging more openness about sex and relationships.

A report by the government's Social Exclusion Unit, which forms the basis for its teenage pregnancy policy, says a number of factors stand out when looking at the reasons for the UK phenomenon.

Low expectations of education and employment opportunities for some young people, ignorance about contraception, and mixed messages about sex from the adult world are all cited.

Natasha, Jemma and Jade Williams with children Amani, T-Jay and Lita
Three sisters who gave birth at 12, 14 and 16 recently hit the headlines

Brook, which provides sexual health advice to young people, mostly agrees with the government's assessment, but says it needs to learn from the openness of other European countries.

Chief executive Jan Barlow said there were three main reasons why so many other countries enjoyed lower pregnancy and STI rates.

Good comprehensive sex and relationship education, better access to young people-friendly services, and a more open attitude to sex, she says, lead to young people making different decisions.

"We've got to normalise these issues. One way to do that is to make sex and relationship education in schools compulsory, as part of the PHSE (Personal, Social and Health Education) curriculum."

Having lived in Scandinavia, she has first-hand experience of a region that has a "different attitude" towards sex and enjoys low rates of teenage pregnancy.

We are setting them adrift in this sexualised society without giving them the tools to look after themselves
Jan Barlow, Brook

"There is an interest in other people's sex lives, such as celebrities', to an extent, but people are more able to separate that from real life.

"Here we get really into things like Celebrity Love Island, wondering whether these people are going to have sex on TV. In the UK we can deal with the fantasy but not what the reality is for young people."

Sex is around, it seems, but no-one is talking to young people about it, she adds.

"We are setting them adrift in this sexualised society without giving them the tools to look after themselves."

The government has promised more sex education training in England but schools are only currently obliged to teach the biological "mechanics".

Ms Barlow said she believed ministers had rejected proposals from advisors to make sex education within PSHE compulsory because they were sensitive about being perceived as a "nanny state".

France: age of consent is 15; consenting sex not illegal below that age
Germany: unlike the UK, parents do not have the right to withdraw their child from sex education
Netherlands: sex with 12-15 years olds only prosecuted if formal complaint made
Spain: age of consent is 13 if both parties are 16 or under

But Brook says research shows comprehensive education which starts before sexual activity begins does not make young people more likely to have sex.

According to studies done for the NHS at the University of York, it helps them delay having sex and makes them more likely to use contraception when they do.

Young British people often say the sex education they receive is "too little, too late, and too biological", adds Ms Barlow.

But Brook's position is vehemently disputed by think tank Civitas.

Deputy director Robert Whelan said the high rates were mostly down to the breakdown of the family.

"You can't just treat this in isolation, give them contraception and hope that will be the end of the problem. In any case, they are not efficient users of contraception."

Mr Whelan said the government thought it could solve the problem by "by transferring money from one section of the community to another via the welfare system".

'Wrong direction'

"The welfare system in itself is an incentive to become a single non-working parent. Working two-parent families are treated as cash cows that can be milked to support any other lifestyle choice," he said.

"All the incentives are going in the wrong direction. The best thing the government could do is stop undermining the family."

But a further claim - that the UK has a "large number of sexually active teens" - is contradicted by research from the Alan Guttmacher Institute in the USA.

In comparing rates between Europe and the US, where rates are much higher - it found the difference in levels of sexual activity were small.

The much-quoted research concluded that countries enjoying low rates of teen births were characterised by, among other things, an acceptance in society of the sexual activity of young people.

Why such a downer on teenage pregnancy?

Page last updated at 12:29 GMT, Wednesday, 3 September 2008 13:29 UK

Why such a downer on teenage pregnancy?

Pregnancy test

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

News that the daughter of the vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is expecting a child at 17 has again focused the spotlight on teenage pregnancy. But why do we have such a problem with it?

A teenager expecting a baby is a bad thing. Or so you would believe if you ever read the news.

It is proclaimed that the UK's rate of pregnancies in females aged 15-19 makes it the "worst" in Europe.

Teenage pregnancies are rising; so are drunkenness, sexual offences and crimes of sadism
Sir Keith Joseph, 1974

This is certainly the government's view. The stated goal of its Teenage Pregnancy Strategy is to "halve the under-18 conception rate by 2010, and establish a firm downward trend in the under-16 rate".

With under-16s it's easy to see the reasoning - the age of consent is 16, compulsory schooling runs until 16. But for those over the age of 16, but under the age of 18, or even 20, is it still a social ill?

The first curious thing about the issue of teenage pregnancy is that many people do not have a handle on the numbers.

Stats confusion

"People massively overestimate the numbers of people who get pregnant when they are very young. When people believe it is a bigger problem than it is then their response will be more polemical or however you want to describe it," says Simon Blake, chief executive of Brook, a charity which offers young people sexual health advice.

Kizzy, a pregnant 13-year-old
Kizzy, who allowed BBC cameras to follow her pregnancy aged 13

Victoria Gillick, a "pro-life pregnancy counsellor" who found fame in the 1980s while fighting for the right to be told if her teenage daughter was prescribed the Pill, often asks people how many girls under the age of 16 get pregnant every year. She is told figures that are dramatically in excess of the real stats.

"In only one year, 1990, has it ever reached 1%," she tells them.

Many people might be under the impression that teenage pregnancies are rocketing. But over the past 10 years they have been falling in England. In 1998, the figure was 46.6 conceptions per thousand girls aged 15-17. In 2006 it was 40.4.

For 13-15 year olds, numbers are also falling. In 1998, there were 8.8 conceptions per thousand girls. In 2006, there were 7.7.

But it is still a pervasive issue in the media and in popular culture, with representations as varied as the positive spin of the recent movie Juno, to the now notorious Vicky Pollard of Little Britain.

Michelle's baby

And we've taken a dim view of teenage pregnancy for some decades.

Michelle Fowler with baby Vikki

Conservative politician Sir Keith Joseph spoke of the fears of many when he said in 1974: "Teenage pregnancies are rising; so are drunkenness, sexual offences and crimes of sadism."

In the 1980s, an EastEnders storyline that featured the 16-year-old Michelle Fowler becoming pregnant caused national debate.

The fear is that teenage pregnancies are symptomatic of a wider breakdown in society, the crumbling of stable families and the institution of marriage.

Ms Gillick says attitudes have changed since the 50s as perceptions of the relationship backgrounds of pregnant teenagers has changed.

"There was no outcry about 18-19 year olds getting pregnant in the 1950s because they were married. It is if they are unmarried that they become a burden, and the mother and child are very vulnerable."

The economics of teenage parenthood are a major factor in the eyes of the public.

If you go to different parts of the country, you will see generations of teenage parenthood - it wouldn't be considered a problem
Simon Blake, Brook

"We know lower socio-economic women are more likely to get pregnant early and go on to have the baby," says Mr Blake.

"The life chances in terms of social exclusion - and for the children - are poorer than those who are not teenage parents."

As well as purely economic factors, groups such as children in care and those from unstable homes are vastly disproportionately represented.

Knowing the economic difficulties of teenage parents, it is easy to think in terms of increased benefits budgets.

And Britons are having babies later. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 1977, women aged 25-29 were twice as likely to give birth as women aged 30-34. By 2007, women aged between 30 and 34 had the highest fertility of any of the age groupings.

Delayed parenthood

In more ancient times, when lifespans were shorter, marriage and children often happened much earlier. But we have long got used, in the industrial age, to birth happening later.

Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston
Weight of expectation: Bristol Palin and boyfriend Levi Johnston

"Most European countries have married late and started families much later," says Ms Gillick.

Taking the figures for England of all the births, in 1938 4% were to mothers under the age of 20. In 2004 the figure was 7.1% - higher, but still well down on the late 60s, when more than 10% of births were to mothers under 20.

But our continued concern comes at the same time as a general feeling of worry about the demographic problems of an ageing population. The UK's birth rate has been rising in the past half decade, and is considerably higher than many other Western nations, but we are still becoming a greyer nation.

For the first time, those over the age of 60 now outnumber under-18s. It's yet to be seriously advocated that we should stop discouraging those who are 16 and older from having children, but it's not beyond the realms of possibility.

"If you go to different parts of the country, you will see generations of teenage parenthood - culturally it wouldn't be considered a problem," says Mr Blake.

"That is not to say they can't be good parents. The Teenage Pregnancy Strategy says, when supported, teenage parents can be very good parents."

And this support is preferably offered by stable loving families, says Sally Gimson, of the Family and Parenting Institute.

"If you come from a family where you don't talk to your family or where your family has broken down; if you haven't done well at school and have got pregnant as a response to that, that is when your circumstances and the baby's may have more difficulties. If you have a supportive family, life may be fine."

Hateful looks

Another factor is our view of teenagers having sex, even over the age of consent.

Teenage mothers
Good support makes a good parent

Jenny Billings, a research fellow at University of Kent's Centre for Health Services Studies, has carried out a study among 4,000 15 and 16 year olds across the county.

"It's because we don't like the thought of kids having sex. There's almost an entrenched cultural stumbling block that spills over into how parents talk to their children."

And so pregnant teenagers receive negative reactions, she says.

"The initial response was one of horror and shame and it made the kids feel terrible. They meet prejudice on every single corner. Going down the road looking pregnant, people looking at them in a hateful way.

"They are seen as feckless and promiscuous when all it is is kids that are brought into the teenage world under-prepared and incredibly ignorant. We let them watch it on television but we don't talk about it."

She objects to the way teenage pregnancy has been "problematised".

This tends to scoop all teenagers into the same pot, as though a 19-year-old is the same as a 17-year-old, and that either are comparable to a 15-year-old or a 13-year-old.

"A 13-year-old is a very different girl from a 19-year-old - one is on the brink of womanhood," says Ms Gillick.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Anne Frank guardian reaches 100

Page last updated at 08:07 GMT, Sunday, 15 February 2009

Anne Frank guardian reaches 100

Miep Gies, with a copy of Anne Frank's Diary, in 1998
Miep Gies kept Anne Frank's diary safe before its publication

The last surviving member of the small group who helped hide the Dutch Jewish girl Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis has turned 100 years old.

Miep Gies will celebrate her birthday on Sunday quietly with relatives and friends, she said this week.

She said she was not deserving of the attention, and that others had done far more to protect the Netherlands' Jews.

She paid tribute to "unnamed heroes", picking out her husband Jan for his courageous defiance of the Nazis.

"He was a resistance man who said nothing but did a lot. During the war he refused to say anything about his work, only that he might not come back one night. People like him existed in thousands but were never heard," Miep Gies said in an email to the Associated Press this week.


Mrs Gies was an employee of Anne Frank's father, Otto, who kept them and six others supplied during their two years in hiding in an attic in Amsterdam from 1942 to 1944.

But the family were found by the authorities, and deported.

(AP Photo/Anne Frank House/AFF)
Gies, bottom left, and Otto Frank, next to her, were reunited after the war

Anne Frank died of typhus in the German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen later.

It was Mrs Gies who collected up Anne Frank's papers, and locked them away, hoping that one day she would be able to give them back to the girl.

In the event, she returned them to Otto Frank, and helped him compile them into a diary that was published in 1947.

It went on to sell tens of millions of copies in dozens of languages.

She became a kind of ambassador for the diary, travelling to talk about Anne Frank and her experiences, campaigning against Holocaust-denial and refuting allegations that the diary was a forgery.

For her efforts to protect the Franks and to preserve their memory, Mrs Gies won many accolades.

"This is very unfair," she told the Associated Press.

"So many others have done the same or even far more dangerous work."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

'Arctic unicorns' in icy display

Page last updated at 09:08 GMT, Tuesday, 10 February 2009

'Arctic unicorns' in icy display

By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News

Remarkable footage of elusive narwhal has been captured.

A BBC team used aerial cameras to film the creatures during their epic summer migration, as they navigated through cracks in the melting Arctic sea ice.

They believe the footage, which forms part of the BBC Natural History Unit's new series Nature's Great Events, is the first of its kind.

Narwhal are sometimes called "Arctic unicorns" because of the long, spiral tusk that protrudes from their jaws.

The appendages can reach more than 2m (7ft) in length; scientists believe males use them to attract potential mates.

'An amazing sight'

The BBC crew headed to the Arctic in June 2008, to film the tusked animals' summer migration.

At this time of year, temperatures begin to rise above freezing and the thick sea ice starts to melt, creating a complex network of cracks that cover the white expanse.

Narwhal (BBC)
These animals are just so completely unreal - they are like something from mythology
Justin Anderson, BBC producer

Every year, thousands of narwhal use these narrow fissures to travel thousands of kilometres, from the south of Baffin Bay to the high Arctic fjords.

But tracking these animals down is not easy.

Justin Anderson, who produced the programme, said: "Even though they are quite large animals, the area we had to cover was enormous - the size of Scotland.

"It is like finding a needle in a haystack."

A "dive" crew, equipped with underwater cameras, spent four weeks on the ice trying to locate the mysterious whales. But just as they caught a glimpse of them, the sea ice had become so dangerously thin that filming was forced to halt.

However, an "aerial" team arrived by helicopter to take up the mantle.

Mr Anderson explained: "It took us seven days to travel to the place where the whales had been spotted [Lancaster Sound] - we were stuck by possibly the worse thing you can encounter in a helicopter in the Arctic - fog.

They are following the retreat of the sea ice as they have done for thousands of years
Mads Pieter Heide-Jorgensen

"But then we got there, we 'lucked out'; the skies cleared and we had eight days of 24-hour summer sunshine."

Using a special mount, cameraman Simon Werry filmed the creatures from the helicopter, as the narwhal swam through the melt-water leads.

Mr Anderson said: "This is the first time the narwhal migration has been filmed this way. It has been filmed from the ice, but this is the first time it has been filmed from the air.

"It was an amazing sight. These animals are just so completely unreal - they are like something from mythology - and we were all just completely gobsmacked when we saw them."

Narwhal (BBC)

Thanks to their elusive nature, narwhal can prove difficult to study and there is still much to learn about these Arctic mammals.

Mads Pieter Heide-Jorgensen, from the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, said the purpose of the creatures' summer migration remained a mystery.

He explained: "The interesting thing is that these creatures feed in the deep water in the central part of Baffin Bay during the winter.

"But when they are in the summer grounds, they hardly feed at all.

"They are following the retreat of the sea ice as they have done for thousands of years, and spending summer in front of glaciers for reasons we do not really understand."

With such a connection to the Arctic ice, researchers are trying to establish whether narwhal will be affected by changes in the Arctic ice cover.

Professor Heide-Jorgensen has been using satellite tags, which, as well as keeping track of the whereabouts of narwhal, are also able to monitor the temperature of the waters where the whales swim.

He said: "They give us the temperature profiles in the wintering grounds and we can see the temperature of the deep areas has been increasing over the past 50 years.

"However, we cannot yet see any direct effects of climate change on the narwhal."

The good, the bad and the mangled

Page last updated at 12:48 GMT, Friday, 30 January 2009

The good, the bad and the mangled

(Top row) Peter Sellers, Gwyneth Paltrow, Gary Oldman, Renee Zellwegger. (Bottom row) Russell Crowe, Sean Connery, Heather Graham, Forest Whitaker

By Finlo Rohrer and Katie Fraser
BBC News Magazine

The release of Valkyrie and The Reader have brought to mind a recurring problem for moviemakers and television producers - should actors stick to their own accents?

In Valkyrie, the story of Claus von Stauffenberg's attempt to kill Hitler and topple the Nazi regime, Tom Cruise sounds like Tom Cruise.

Not Tom Cruise with a slight German accent, but the usual vaguely East Coast-tinged Cruise of Mission: Impossible and Top Gun.

Tom Cruise as Claus von Stauffenberg
Tom Cruise is so well-known that if he started doing an 'Allo 'Allo accent, it would have everyone in hysterics
James King
Film critic

And at the same time, there's The Reader, another film set in Germany and tackling Nazism, which goes the other way. David Kross, the young German actor, does his lines in English with a German accent, as do Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes.

As the Anglophone film industry appears disinclined to ever stop making movies about the 1939-1945 period, it's a dilemma that is going to continue coming up.

Take Sam Peckinpah's 1977 epic on the horrors of the Eastern Front, Cross of Iron. A classic war movie it is. A classic example of coherent accents it is not.

Of the main characters, James Coburn as the hero, Steiner, attempts a German accent while James Mason as Colonel Brandt wanders in and out of one, and David Warner as Captain Kiesel speaks mostly in his best stage Received Pronunciation with only the occasional German tinged word. Maximilian Schell, being Austrian, keeps rather more consistently to his accent, as the baddie Stransky. All in all it's a bit of an accent mess.

So it's perhaps not surprising that the Valkyrie's no-funny-voices rule has its supporters.

"Tom Cruise is so well-known that if he started doing an 'Allo 'Allo accent, it would have everyone in hysterics," says film critic James King. "In Valkyrie it works because the opening [dialogue is] in German [even Tom Cruise] and it's done smoothly."

Kate Winslet
Kate Winslet does a German accent - only Germans know if it is any good

It can sometimes seem a natural thing in a period piece. In Roland Joffe's The Mission, the stars play Spanish parts with their own accents, Robert De Niro American and Jeremy Irons English.

The same tactic can be taken in television. When the BBC recently adapted Swedish author Henning Mankell's Wallander detective novels, the major cast members were British and speaking with British accents. Perhaps the producers were aware of the danger that if not done properly, a difficult and little-done accent could soon degenerate into something like the Swedish chef out of the Muppets.

And where accents are done now, they tend to be low-key affairs.

"These days when people put on a foreign accent they make them slightly less pronounced, not like in the days of Gary Oldman with his full Russian accent as the villain in Air Force One," says King.

Baltimore Brits

Oldman, despite his alarming Russian, has of course made a career out of playing American roles, and doing various accents convincingly. Peter Sellers was another master of accents. In Dr Strangelove he does a comedy German, an uppercrust Englishman and a mild-mannered American, all in the same film.

And how many of those who have recently become fans of the Baltimore cop show The Wire would have guessed that Russell "Stringer" Bell was from Hackney or that the Baltimore twang of Jimmy McNulty was produced by Dominic West, educated at Eton.

English RP is similar to Roman
Bad Germans are played by Germans
Brits must play Americans well
Sean Connery does not do accents

And perhaps the greatest accents of recent times were furnished by Americans Gwyneth Paltrow and Renee Zellweger who did upper-middle class English as well as any Englishwoman.

But when things go bad they can go really bad. Everybody remembers Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, but at least that was a comedy. How much worse was Forest Whittaker's frankly ludicrous British accent in The Crying Game, Russell Crowe attempting an English City boy in A Good Year or Sean Connery in most of everything he was ever in?

But context is everything. When Johnny Depp did Cockney in Jack the Ripper movie From Hell he was lambasted. When he did the same accent, again modelled on Keith Richards, to comic effect in Pirates of the Caribbean, it was regarded as amusing. In a good way.

It's all down to your expectations of what you're watching.

Evocation of place

"When you watch Russian plays or Greek tragedies they don't bother with an accent," says Sally Hague, dialect coach at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. "There's a convention that it's set around the characters or the action and not the place. Directors think that using dialect would be a distraction.

"But sometimes an accent would be central to evoking a place. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - it's all about the language of the Deep South that Tennessee Williams was using when he wrote it. It can be perverse not trying to do that accent. Irvine Welsh and Trainspotting. It couldn't have been done without the dialect."

Brando as Zapata
Marlon Brando did Mexican for Viva Zapata

And of course in some movies, accents and casting are offering a subtle code. In some war movies from days of yore, Americans play the heroes, English actors do the more acceptable Germans and the truly bad Germans are played by real Germans.

In some films about the Roman Empire or with other classical or period settings, English accents can be used by Hollywood to convey gravitas.

In Gladiator for instance, Roman-ness can only be properly conveyed by an English accent. Witness Joaquin Phoenix's rather alarming effort as Emperor Commodus. One might surmise that an English accent represents the "Old World" in a more general sense to an American viewer. But still, Tony Curtis, despite his Bronx accent, played a string of roles in ancient dramas.

In many American films the baddie is English or English accented. But you can also get a film like Die Hard, where Alan Rickman does a German accent for a double dose of baddie-ness.

Then you have an actor like Art Malik, born in Pakistan, but raised in England, doing a string of Arab terrorist baddies.

It all tests the audience's ability to suspend their disbelief.

"Films like Die Hard have had their day - no-one blinked an eye. Now people would think of those as out of place," says King.

Dick van Dyke
Dick Van Dyke has never lived down his cockney accent in Mary Poppins

There have been classic films where actors have not just put on accents but even "blacked up" to play exotic parts. We can still relish a viewing of Lawrence of Arabia because we know it comes from 1962, although we may find Omar Sharif [an Egyptian] as Sherif Ali a lot more convincing than Alec Guinness as Prince Faisal.

In Elia Kazan's Viva Zapata from 1952, Marlon Brando (born Nebraska, US) seems more ardent in his Mexican accent than Anthony Quinn (born Chihuahua, Mexico). Quinn got the Oscar.

But perhaps we care less about how convincing an accent is than we do about the quality of the film.

We are happy for Americans and Brits to do foreign voices in the right settings and to do each other, as long as it's well, but show us a rubbish film and we'll zero in on the bad accent.

And if you really want authenticity, why not just take the Mel Gibson route and do it all in Aramaic with subtitles.