Downton Abbey waltzed back on to our screen last night, to the gratitude of the nation. It will come as no surprise that this is one of my favourite shows, not just because of the drama and characters but also the etiquette, customs and clearly defined class structure that was present at the time.
During the programme several people tweeted or text me asking for clarification on some of the points raised in the first episode, and so, for their benefit and others, this blog will shed some light on the topics of etiquette and household management raised.
A footman's height - The new footman Alfred arrived and much to the dismay of Carson, the butler, Alfred was found to be over six foot. Height discrimination did go on - and indeed still does to a certain extent nowadays - as the liveries (uniforms) that footmen wore were often so expensive they were made to 'average height' (5 foot 6 or 7) so employing someone so tall would mean they would have to spend money to adjust a livery or buy a whole new one. Today at Buckingham Palace, footmen are mostly today's average height of 5 foot 8 inches, for the same reason.
Silver service vs butler service - Problems continued for the new footman at his first dinner. He began serving the Crawleys in the manner in which he would have served the guests at his former employer - a hotel. Silver service was used only by hotels, whereas private houses such as Downton would have done butler service. The difference between the two being that in butler service the guests serve themselves whilst the butler or footman holds the salver; in silver service the server does all the work.
Cocktails - The Dowager Countess was offered a cocktail before dinner, but was horrified at the prospect. Cocktails, an American invention, had only just arrived in Britain around the 1920s and the 'old guard' would have shunned them - as many still do today. Sherry was a more suitable pre-dinner drink.
Costume manners - Larry, a so-called friend and former suitor of Lady Sybil, made a snide comment about Mr Branson's lack of White Tie for dinner. Branson, quite rightly, pointed out that whilst he may not have been correctly dressed (due to lack of funds - White Tie was very expensive... still is, really) his interlocular should have had the politesse to remain silent about the matter. This is a prime example of where good manners can triumph over etiquette. [Find out how to correctly dress for dinner at Downton, in White Tie, here.]
Other points I noticed...
• Lady Sybil's new life has clearly got the better of her. During one dinner scene she chose to rest her cutlery but adopted the French style, rather than the British 'crossed swords' approach that the rest of her family would have done. (Picture below of the French resting position.)
• The cup Lady Mary was drinking her after-dinner coffee from was far too large for the time, and should have been a smaller, demitasse cup.
An excellent episode and roll on next week!