Monday, October 22, 2012

What ho, Jeeves! The butler’s still doing it.

While the global economy continues to suffer, making stutter-steps, at best, towards recovery, there are certainly pockets of prosperity. They may not all be capable of scaling to the level of job growth the world needs, but they are nonetheless important.

One of the niche markets that has proven itself recession-resistant is, apparently, that of butling, where – The Economist tells us  “demand is soaring.”

Bespoke Bureau, a London agency, has placed 345 butlers this year—twice as many as in all of 2011. The five-week training courses Mr. [Anthony] Seddon-Holland runs at his Guild of British Butlers, which he set up in 2007, are booked until 2013. Demand increases by around a fifth every year.

These butlers are not staffing Downton Abbeys for British aristos.

No, those days are gone. Today’s butlers are going where the money is: wealthy Russians, Chinese, Middle Easterners and Latin Americans.

These days, of course, the job has become somewhat more complex than it was in the days of fox hunts and steamer trunk travel.

A birthday in Venezuela organised by [Mr.] Seddon-Holland, a British soldier-turned-butler, involved three planeloads of guests and security, and booking an entire hotel, plus rock band and film stars.

And the pay has gotten better.

A world-class butler can earn up to £150,000 ($240,000) plus bonus, separate living accommodation and all expenses.

What ho, Jeeves, indeed!

To educate the rising generation of butlers, schools have cropped up that offer training on both the niceties of British upper crustiness and modern-day household management for those with a lot household to manage.

One such school, Oxfordshire’s Butler-Valet School is run by Rick Fink.

When I first saw that name I thought ‘Rick Fink’. Now that doesn’t sound like a butler-ish name.

Richard Finch, perhaps. But Rick Fink?

And then I remembered Bertie Wooster’s friend Gussie Fink-Nottle and I thought, if a butler-employing grandee can have the name Fink (however hyphenated) then surely a butler can, as well.

Still, to me, Dickie Fink would work better than Rick Fink. (Rick seems more a name for your head of security, not your butler.)

However lacking I find his name, Mr. Fink makes up for it when it comes to his roster of other trainers, which includes Colin Gaunt and Hugo-Morley Fletcher.

Each of Mr. Fink’s trainers has his/her own area of expertise, and Mr. Fink himself oversees the full course – which costs £8,000 – and provides tutelage on:

…the correct procedure to be followed at weddings and other functions, how to announce meals and introduce guests. He will also talk about titles and equivalent ranks and how to address them. (Source: Butler-Valet School website.)

Everyone could use a bit of coaching on “how to announce meals” I suppose. It really is more of a matter than your mother sticking her head out of the kitchen and hollering ‘supper’s on the table.’ But just how much call is there in the average Russian or Chinese plutocrat’s home for addressing the titled? I guess they’ve progressed from Tovarich and Comrade, but still one has to wonder if butler training time might be better spent on how to find actors and rock stars to jet into your clients’ parties.

Which is not to say that the school ignores the practical, day to day skills. At Mr. Fink’s school, prospective butlers will learn about:

…the carving of meats, poultry, game and smoked salmon. Care of fine silver, jewellery, antique furniture and glassware.

How to:- organise large dinner parties, shooting and hunting weekends.

Shooting and hunting weekends?

Again, I’m back to wondering how this applies to the life of today’s kabillionaire. Sounds a bit Queen’s corgis and Balmoral to me, but what do I know about the lifestyles of the rich and famous? I mean, I do get invited to weekends in second homes, but these weekends don’t usually involve shooting and hunting, other than the shooting off of mouths and the hunting down of missing jig-saw puzzle pieces.

Training also covers table laying, food and bev serving, cigar care, and “cellar control.” (Hmmm. I thought it was the imbibers that needed controlling, not the cellars.)

And who knew you had to go to school for table laying?

Admittedly, I never remember if my bread plate is to the left or the right, but I do know that the fork goes to the left and the knife to the right of the dinner plate. And – thanks to my mother – that a plastic gallon milk jug does not belong in the middle of the table.

“Dressing room duties” are also covered:

(Bedrooms provided to practice your skills) how to lay out clothes, including evening wear, uniforms and day wear. How to pack a suitcase correctly. Care of Hunting ,Shooting clothes. The art of caring for all types of apparel and footwear professionally. Emphasis will always be on the formal way of carrying out these duties.

I have to say I wouldn’t mind seeing the formal way of cleaning stag blood off of shooting jackets and hound scat off hunting boots.

Does one remove the boot from the well-heeled foot first, or kneel down and clean things off in situ?

The one trainer I would like to hear speak is Hugo Morley-Fletcher.

As one might infer from his hyphenated-name, Mr. Morley Fletcher grew up not a butler, but a butleed, who:

…was born and brought up in A Stately Home. In the days when such places were still fully staffed. As a child and a young man he spent time on both sides of the Green Baize Door and acquired a cosy insight into how it all worked.

“How it all worked” was tapping the family butler as:

…a useful and friendly source for cigarettes, alcoholic refreshments and other creature comforts… Hugo Morley - Fletcher will recall his experiences in such a household and the lessons he has drawn from it, which may be even useful to you.

I couldn’t find it mentioned on his web site, but I suspect that one of the skills that Mr. Fink trains butlers in the making on is keeping a straight face., and placing tongue firmly in cheek without letting it show.


When it comes to butlering, Pink Slip is no Jeeves come lately. Here’s a post on the topic from 2008.

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