What does the sentence mean which Peter Sellers is here quoting from his grandad?


(I refer to the sentence he says immediately after you start the video, approx. 9-10 words long. No need to watch the whole video)

Note that before quoting, Sellers explains that his father's job of being the organist at the Alhambra Theatre, was "almost sinful" for his grandparents who were farmers.

Edit: I would really like to quote the sentence, but I am unable to decipher the words.

I would like to know the words he is using, and what's the meaning behind.

That's why I ask here and hope for the help of a native of Yorkshire or around.

If the initial link to the video does not offer enough context, you can start watching a bit before.

p.s. Peter Sellers is here interviewed by Michael Parkinson in 1974 and he talks about his early life, how he entered show business, and various stages of his professional career.

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    Please quote the sentence here directly. The context is great but links often fail. Also, please point out the exact thing that you think is causing you trouble. Is the vocabulary? The accent? The grammar? etc.
    – Mitch
    Oct 2, 2023 at 19:44
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    I think the quote is intentionally indecipherable for comic effect. Oct 2, 2023 at 19:47
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    @yglodt Excellent, thanks. I am not familiar enough/at all with the Yorkshire accent to say anything. The interviewer in the clip himself says "I'm gonna need subtitles for this one."
    – Mitch
    Oct 2, 2023 at 20:19
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    Michael Parkinson, the interviewer, a Yorkshire ‘lad‘, wouldn't have had a problem understanding Sellers' line but sympathised that it would be incomprehensible for many. I have listened repeatedly to the excerpt and barely understand a word. It's a dialect, dated, and I suspect only someone from Yorkshire or very familiar with that dialect, could properly decipher it.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 2, 2023 at 21:19
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    Consider putting "Yorkshire dialect" in the title, since that's another key factor in any future readers finding it if they watch the same interview. Oct 3, 2023 at 16:27

2 Answers 2


A'll a'to bahn dahn and 'arken unto 'im

I'll have to to go down and listen to him.

corrected after comment from Kiloran_speaking from my original interpretation, from 'I'd like to' to 'I'll have to'

'arken/harken/hearken in this sense is 'listen'. It's not a past tense form of hark, though it looks like one.

I have [had: see below] absolutely no clue on the etymology of 'bahn', but being a native Yorkshireman myself I can use a little extrapolation of speech I do know.

There is a phrase, "Are we baht?" which means 'shall we go?'. It doesn't mean 'about', it definitely means 'go'. This is reinforced by the joking extension of the sentence to "Are we baht baht?" meaning, 'Are we about ready to go?'
From this, I'm making the not inordinate leap to 'bahn' being from the same root. There is the potential that 'bahn' really should mean 'going' rather than 'go' but I'm not taking Sellers' attempt at Yorkshire as being 'direct from source'.

A thought is that it could possibly be tied to 'bound' in the journey sense, as in Bradford-bound, or 'The ship left harbour, bound for the New World'.

There is potential confusion, in that 'baht' can also mean 'without'( On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at = On Ilkley Moor without a hat), but I think context eliminates this.

…and, having now read the Wikipedia link to Ilkla Moor - it actually gives a reference to 'bahn' itself in an alternate lyric, & confirms it to mean 'going'.
From the Lyrics section

Many sources give the first line as "Wheear wor ta bahn when Ah saw thee?" (Where were you going when I saw you)…

In this form, it feels like a much better connection to the word being from 'bound'. 'Where were you bound when I saw you?'

Oddly, though Sellers says his family were from Bingley [just outside Bradford, which is where the Alhambra is], the accent he uses is much more like Parkinson's own Doncaster/South Yorkshire, which has hung onto some of these old speech forms much longer than the rest of Yorkshire. I would imagine in the time of Sellers' youth, some of these forms were more widespread. My own father, born in the same decade as Sellers, kept many of these forms after younger people [and even my mother, who came from a slightly more 'well-off' background] had stopped using them.

There is little doubt that the overall speech pattern is at best what I'd call 'tourist Yorkshire' rather than 'real'. No-one would ever say t'Alhambra. It's a mis-hearing and then oft-used misquote of the Yorkshire glottal stop. The only way perhaps to spell it is with the t-apostrophe, but no-one in Yorkshire pronounces it that way.

For sake of completeness, and as it cropped up in comments above, the precursor is

I hear our Willie's appearing at t'Alhambra.
So I said 'Aye.'

A late thought and perhaps tenuous link. There was a lad I used to work with, who earned the nickname Barnaby, because if ever asked something like, "Are you gonne be in't pub tonight?" would invariably reply, "I'm bahn a be." [I'm bound to be.]
These days, it reminds me somewhat of Groot;)

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    — “I have absolutely no clue on the etymology of 'bahn'”. It’s apparently from Middle English boun (‘bound’), meaning ‘prepared’ or ‘bound for (a place)’, in turn from Old Norse búinn, meaning essentially the same thing. In modern Icelandic, búinn can still have those meanings, but also has several others.
    – Segorian
    Oct 3, 2023 at 11:02
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    Yup, I found more references as I was writing this, though none that far back. I just started with a bit of good old nouse ;)) Googling the word itself gives far too many German refs, & though that may indeed also be etymologically linked, I just didn't actually go that far into it.
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 3, 2023 at 11:05
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    So perhaps it's 'bound down' with the d's run together. Oct 3, 2023 at 12:35
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    @Tetsujin: I think the start of the Sellars phrase is actually 'I'll a' to' (ie, 'I'll have to') rather than 'I'd like to'. Have a listen again and see what you think... Oct 4, 2023 at 16:53
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    @Kiloran_speaking - ah, buggrit, tha mite be reight. a'll atta fix it a think ;)) I think I was swayed by the first interpretation initially.
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 4, 2023 at 17:01

I don't quite have it, but I hear

I'd like to bah dahn and 'arken unto 'im

Note that Sellers was speaking in a Yorkshire accent, and relating words said by his grandfather, perhaps deliberately hard to understand for effect. I translate that as

I would like to bow down and listen to him.

where harken means "listen".

On a closer listening, Sellers seems to be saying "bahn dahn" and I'm not sure what that would mean: perhaps barn down is hurry down and listen to Sellers's father playing in a concert. But I don't know the 'barn' meaning. Perhaps it is a verion of barrel: move very quickly.

  • 1
    Well attempted, since the accent and word choice are at heart the setup for the joke, that the Dad went on from cathedral to fancy-pants though bawdy show business. Oct 2, 2023 at 22:41
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    bend down? Or maybe barn down = put on my farm clothes...? (Also, hearken means to give respectful attention) Oct 3, 2023 at 3:18
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    @TinfoilHat - in Yorkshire the 'respect' aspect isn't the norm. It's merely 'listen'.
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 3, 2023 at 8:35
  • The OED shows “bahn” to be from “bound (v)”, which is “A variant or alteration of boun (v). -- OED boun v 3. intransitive. To betake oneself to (a place), set out, go. (obsolete) -- c1400 Barounes at þe sidebordes bounet ay where. Cleanness l. 1398 -- c1448 Bot bownis out of babulone with all obediens. Peblis to Play in W. A. Craigie, Maitland Folio Manuscript (1919) vol. I. 176 -- 1805 Till Lord Dacre's band Were bowning back to Cumberland. W. Scott, Lay of Last Minstrel v. xxx. 154
    – Greybeard
    Oct 5, 2023 at 11:10

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