The Butler did It

‘The modern young man,’ said Aunt Dahlia, ‘is a congenital idiot and wants a nurse to lead him by the hand and some strong attendant to kick him regularly at intervals of a quarter of an hour.”

— P. G. Wodehouse, Very Good, Jeeves

Looking forward to the second installment of “Upstairs Downstairs” this evening, and in anticipation of the coming season of “Downton Abbey,” I have discovered that there may well be an overlooked career path. It seems that the occupation of butler to a rich household might be well worth looking into. In our pseudo-egalitarian culture here in the United States, personal or household servants such as maids, valets, and butlers have been frowned on as demeaning to those who serve. Many years ago, when I was in the private security business, one of my customers, who actually a kitchenette in their master bedroom suite for the practical reason that you almost had to pack a lunch to journey to the main kitchen had a “house manager” with whom I usually dealt. They also had a cook and a full-time maid and cleaning woman. The house manager made it clear that he was not a “butler” on at least one occasion, but he functioned as one, at least to my understanding.

I have to confess that from time to time I have fantasized having a valet (actually pronounced with the “t” not “val-ay”), but never to be one. I suppose valets or any kind of personal servant can be useful. Especially for the idle rich who lack practical skills. Martha is a fan of P. G. Wodehouse, who created the characters Bertie Wooster, the upper-class dingbat and member of the Drones Club, and Jeeves, his wise and competent valet, for a series of short stories. The situations always vary but boil down to Wooster getting into an impossible situation as only the idle rich can, and Jeeves getting him out of the predicament in a clever way. I have to admit that the legal profession often comes very close to extracting errant bumblers from their predicaments, or at least mitigating the results of their folly.

So, if I ever wanted to become a butler as yet another career, I am in luck. In London, there is the Bespoke Bureau, an agency that places personal servants. So far this year, according to The Economist, it has placed 345 butlers – twice as many as in all of 2011. One Anthony Seddon-Holland runs the Guild of British Butlers which has a five week training course. Rick Fink of the Butler-Valet School in Oxfordshire has a four week course that costs £8,000. Sounds like a lot until you realize that a world class butler, according to Mr. Seddon-Holland, can make $240,000 per year. Demeaning, indeed!

Seddon-Holland is considering bringing his enterprise to the United States. If his does, there might be a revival of the personal service industry here. Perhaps only few can afford to hire a full time butler or valet, but I notice that many seem to afford once in a while maid and housecleaning people, and hardly anyone in my neighborhood mows and rakes their own lawn (we do our own, mainly because Martha (a.k.a. Ms. Spock) doesn’t trust anyone else to do it right).

Anyone looking to set up something like this? I know someone who can set up the business entity.

To read The Eonomist article please see http://www.economist.com/node/21564544

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