For most people, the PBS drama “Downton Abbey” is the closest they’ll come to observing a butler on the job. But how accurately does it reflect the realities of “service,” as the butlers we spoke to refer to their work? GlobalPost asked Rick Fink — a butler since 1958 — what he thinks of pop culture’s portrayal of his profession:
Yes, I’ve watched “Downton Abbey.” I think many of these types of domestic series are good. I also think many things on TV are made for entertainment value only.
Two things you often see are butlers or footmen wearing white gloves. Butlers don’t wear white gloves, not even when serving the Queen. They also dress them up in grey waistcoats and fancy ties. They probably think it looks good, but if you went to a party there, you wouldn’t know if the butler was one of the guests because he would basically be wearing the same clothes as the guests!
Then there's a thing called a charger plate. It’s a larger plate you often find when you sit down to your place setting in a restaurant. It’s not done in private residences, or wasn't done in the ‘30s or ‘50s when I started work, but once again for TV, it looks good on camera. In fact, I helped with a series 10 years ago where the producer and I nearly fell out over it. She won, because she just insisted it went into the table setting.
These may be small things, but I just think people should listen and do it as it was. If these things are done in private houses today, then it’s more than likely that the staff the owners have employed have a hotel background.
Of course many of the employers would probably not know any better, because they aren’t coming from the old families anymore. They’ve never learned themselves how to do things correctly because most didn't have the correct training from their forefathers.
We often talk about these things among ourselves and say, ‘I wonder how many pairs of white gloves you’d need just to serve breakfast?’ You would possibly wear about 10 different pairs if they needed to be kept white, and not sticky. How much blackcurrant jam, marmalade, burned bits of toast would be stuck on them before you finished that particular meal? It’s much easier to keep washing one's hands.