The Universe and Me

Friday, July 21, 2006

The people under the stairs

PBS series: Manor House. This time, modern day Brits are sent back to the Edwardian (pronounced Edwordian) Era for three months. I found this one of the most intriguing of the House specials. The dichotomy between upstairs and downstairs turned palpable and political. Seeing as the maid rooms were 89 steps up from their working quarters, I could understand why the servants were exhausted by the end of the first day and eventually on the verge of revolt. The first and second scullery maids must not have understood how long 16 hours of doing the washing up can feel like. Neither one could hack it for more than a few days. I think the third one only managed to stay because she was raised on a farm and found romance at the Manor.

The footmen didn’t have things much easier. They were paid according to height: the taller men were paid more than the shorter men. Didn’t I recently read an article where this still happens now? The taller you are, the higher your salary in comparison to shorter workers. So, that hasn’t changed. Not quite fair that the tutor kept making the footmen walk up four flights to open a window or some such nonsense. Suspect he was severely lonely. When he became upset over not being invited to the servant party, he decided he wouldn’t baby-sit that night and it occurred to me that sending people back in time seems to bring out the child in most everyone except the children.

As for the family: the youngest son was quite right when he complained that his mother was turning to mush. For someone who worked in an ER, she ended up caring only about etiquette (spending hours trying to figure out who sits next to whom at dinner), her clothes and looks. At first it bothered her that she saw so little of her children. After a few weeks, she seemed not to care. I’m not sure how the elder son spent his days as he wasn’t shown much. Horseback riding, perhaps. The younger boy, who I thought was going to be a brat at the beginning when he said he was looking forward to bossing around the servants, decided it was more fun to venture downstairs and befriend those servants. Good on him! The father reminded me of a big company boss who may know his workers names but sure doesn’t care to know anything they’re going through on or off the job. He was completely unaware that his staff disliked him. At the end, the family was sad to leave, but the servants were thrilled to see them go. Lining your staff up once a year at Christmas time to tell them what a great job you think they’re doing shows nothing but a lack of sincerity.

The most sympathetic person was the butler, Mr Edgar, who was often put in the impossible position of shielding the family from what the servants were going through and how they were living. Although it was understandable why the servants sometimes stepped out of line, I didn’t think it was right for them to have dinner at a town restaurant. They knew it wasn’t done in those times. So it seemed they were trying to get away with it deliberately. Antonia would have been sacked on the spot 100 years ago had she spoken up as she did. Kenny and Ellen’s romance would have cost at least her job, too, since such fraternizing among the staff was forbidden. And this I find strange because studies have shown that happy workers are productive workers. Best line: “He’s had a please and thank you bypass.”


  • At 6:42 AM, July 26, 2006, Blogger Mr Fielding said…

    It was indeed very interesting. I work as a real life butler and I was itching to see this series. Unfortunately I was working when most of the episodes were on!

  • At 7:20 AM, July 27, 2006, Blogger Mrs Vee said…

    I haven't been to the UK in way too long, so I don't know if your libraries carry videos and DVD's. If you didn't see the entire series and can borrow it from your local library, do check it out. It's fabulous. At the end, when Mr Edgar, the butler, was walking away, I wished I could somehow transport myself through the television screen and run after him, saying "Take me with you!" Such a charming, engaging man.


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