Friday, 19 May 2017

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 19 May

Thomas Blaikie on how to distinguish people with class, and the actress’s demise

Dear Thomas,
I have recently come across your articles and find them very amusing and enlightening.

Would you mind if I posed the question, ‘When did the untimely demise of class take place’?

I organised a dinner for a blue-blooded gentleman three times my age. Not only did he thank me twice but he also gave me a knowing nod of the head when things were not going to plan. However, when I organised a dinner for someone else, the host did not even acknowledge my existence.

Where have all the ladies and gentlemen with class gone? I maintain that while I am a butler and I serve, I am no servant, it is but a passion of mine. Granted, we Australians are not as docile and dim as other staff. However, if a blue blood can treat me with so much respect and courtesy, why can’t others? Is it that new money doesn’t have class? A Wienand, London

Mr Wienand, It’s a funny coincidence, but I’m invited to address the Royal Society of St George (City of London Branch) at a dinner on 22 May on the subject of English manners. The essence of English manners, it seems to me, is not looking down on others… and especially not looking down on those not in a position to answer back. He or she who is snappy and imperious with waiters is absolutely P non G, an arriviste, new money, common, ghastly, etc (you see, we get back to being snobbish in the end).

The late Debo, Duchess of Devonshire, referred to herself as ‘working class’. Discussing a hole in the stair carpet at Chatsworth, she said to the housekeeper, ‘We’ll have to see about getting it copied, because I couldn’t bear to see anything else here – could you?’ It’s the ‘could you?’ that denotes real class. Of course, the housekeeper is just as much entitled to an opinion as the Duchess.

A real gentleman, or lady, as you describe at the dinner you arranged, is quite unfazed if things go wrong. It’s only some jumped-up type, like the Duchess of Windsor, afflicted with status anxiety, who screams down the internal phone at the Waldorf Astoria when room service does not materialise. Or storms out of Lanvin, the Paris couture house, because they had the effrontery to ask her to pay.

HM The Queen is delighted at events taking an unexpected turn. When Major Parker had to tell her that absolutely everything had gone wrong at the beacon lighting ceremony in Windsor Great Park to mark the start of her Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977, she said, ‘Oh good.’

A true lady or gentleman always thanks for service and never complains. Mild suggestions might be made, though: ‘Do you think we could have lunch nearer 1pm instead of 4pm in future?’ A true lady or gentleman never says, ‘We’re paying for it, so we’ll do what we like.’

Please send your questions to  or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

WHAT TO DO ABOUT....Gender neutral awards

Emma Watson has won MTV’s best big-screen actor award for her role as Belle in Beauty and the Beast. James McAvoy and Hugh Jackman were also contenders. She said: ‘MYV’s move to create a genderless award for acting… to me indicates that acting is about the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and that doesn’t need to be separated into two different categories.’ Fair enough. More doubtful is the associated abolition of the term ‘actress’ on grounds of sexism. The left-wing commentator of the ’60s and ’70s Brigid Brophy pointed out that the English language allows actor/actress, sculptor/ sculptress but not painter/paintress. ‘Authoress’ and ‘poetess’, on the other hand, have long been discredited as terms for women writers. In other words, language is arbitrary and in no way reflects sexism or lack of it in people’s minds. Please can we have a future with ‘actresses’ in it? Call me old-fashioned, but a woman ‘actor’ is awfully serious. There’s a ring of ‘Ms’ about it.

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