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M'Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, Raise Your Glasses to the Upper Classes

17/09/2015 17:52 BST | Updated 15/09/2016 10:12 BST

Do you know what a wifelet is? By any chance, you ask yourself, is it a bit like a pikelet? Well, not exactly. Although if by pikelet you mean a sort of regional Oop North crumpet, then you're perhaps not too wide of the mark. Before you start getting ideas that this is going to be some pun-laden critique of The Great British Bake Off, sorry, but it's not.

Back in the day when attractive women were described in derogatory bakery terms, Sylvana Henriques was one such hot buttered griddle cake and a Bond babe to boot - the Jamaican Girl in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, if you're trying to place her. Up in Blofeld's alpine ski lodge, she was the dark-skinned beauty, one of twelve gorgeous Angels of Death, put into an hypnotic state under the pretence of being cured of a food allergy. In her case, she was allergic to bananas. Ah, good old blatant undercurrents of racism to go with the sexism. Boy, she sure did have it all going on.

As wifelet number 13 (of 73) to the Marquess of Bath, she really came into her own. He coined the aforementioned term because the women in his life were more than mere mistresses, but not quite spouses. Besides, he already had one of those. Still does, apparently. Holed up in France, she visits every so often to create general mayhem. Meanwhile Sylvana pops in when she gets the chance to visit the wild and wacky blue blood and stroke his head, beard, ego and ummm...maybe best not to go there. To demonstrate his love, he once wrote a song for her. Don't bother seeking out a copy though. It's no Je t'aime.

Looking like a cross between a male version of Molly Parkin and Camila Batmanghelidjh, the Marquess remains at 82 years of age, a colourful character in all senses of the word.

Famously known as the Loins of Longleat, he's the closest thing we've got to a homegrown Hugh Hefner. Or at least he would be if only Heff had been born into British aristocracy and inherited one of England's most famous stately homes. Now this regal pile has been passed onto son, Ceawlin Thynn, more formally known as Viscount Weymouth.

Under normal circumstances, you've got to love a Viscount, haven't you? Those shiny wrappers hiding a sinfully good chocolate smothered orange or mint cream biscuit.

Junior, on the other hand, is about as naughty and exciting as a Rich Tea. Not at all like daddy then. You wouldn't mind if he had the fruity appeal of a Garibaldi or a fig roll, but he doesn't even have that.

Unfortunately, the apple fell a very long way from the tree when it came to this particular noble offspring. In another orchard altogether, one might say. More boring Lord than bonking Lord, it's as if he rebelled - only in reverse. Deliberately trying and wanting to be as normal as possible. Growing up in such an environment, maybe you can't blame him. What those infamous and erotic murals with their abundance of top drawer todgers must have done to an impressionable adolescent male mind is anyone's guess. It's a miracle and a slight disappointment that he's turned out to be such a dull and decent chap, hitched to a perfectly nice, upper middle class girl, who last December dutifully did her bit for the line of succession by bearing him a son.

The new Lady Weymouth goes by the name of Emma and is half Nigerian, which will in the future make her the first black Marchioness. This hasn't exactly gone down brilliantly with the current and infinitely paler one. By all accounts, she wasn't exactly enamoured by the union to begin with. Hence the reason she was actually banned from the wedding in the first place.

If the opening episode of All Change at Longleat (BBC 1) is anything to go by, both son and daughter-in-law appear uncomfortable and uneasy in their relatively recent roles, which they look as if they might have auditioned for and failed to initially get. You could be forgiven for thinking that they were only called back by the producers when Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiera Knightley suddenly pulled out at the last minute. No doubt Lady Bath would have viewed Kiera as far more suitable marriage material.

It's as if Ceawlin and Emma don't quite belong - a couple of DFS armchairs amongst all the Elizabethan furnishing splendour.

Admittedly, the continuing presence of Lord Bath can't exactly help. While residing in another part of the house entirely, it's not as if he's living on top of them as is frequently the case with a great many other warring multi-generational families forced to cohabit. But his relatively close proximity makes life tricky for all concerned, including the members of the staff who have to tread on eggshells. One suspects they would prefer it if the old man was again at the helm.

The same is probably true of the local villagers. At the Horningsham annual summer fate, things only liven up when the heir abhorrent skulks off and his father is left on his own with latest paramour, Trudie, in tow. Tall, willowy and decked out in some weird hippy voodoo getup, it's as if she's just stepped out of Live and Let Die circa 1973. Dear God what is it with the randy octogenarian and 007 ladies?

This oddly fascinating three part examination of the landed gentry is narrated by none other than Hugh Bonneville, synonymous with playing the Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey.

Much to the dismay and annoyance of millions of viewers, the new series of Downton, which starts this Sunday, September 20 on ITV1 will be the final one and there has naturally been a great deal of speculation of how precisely it will end.

Hugh himself has already teased that it finish satisfactorily. By that, I have a feeling I know what he's hinting at.

The very last last episode will fast forward a few decades to see Lady Mary and Lady Edith as wifelets number 74 and 75 shacked up with the Marquess of Bath.