The Bride of the First House (bride) wrote,
The Bride of the First House

Manor House, Episode 1 & 2

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PBS has more class in its left pinky-toe nailbed than FOX ever will.

Now THIS is how you do Reality TV, folks. It's called Manor House. They take a group of people and, for three months, thrust them into a designated period in the past. In this series, it's at the turn of the century, 1905–1914, the Edwardian era. Each player has to take on a role in an aristocratic household. They have some nifty stuff on the website.

magicwoman posted a link to the You In 1905 that they have on their site — from your father's occupation and your gender, they tell you what your life likely would have been like in 1905.

My father is an Engineer. I couldn't decide between Civil Engineer or Chartered Engineer (there's no Electrical/Mechanical Engineer), but I'm either a Secretary (third rung of the social ladder):

Education - You're sent to the local day school until the age of thirteen and then you leave to start learning your trade.

Career Prospects - You join a firm and have an income until you have your first child when you stop working. You support the Liberals and will campaign for better conditions for the working poor, especially for women in sweated labour. You are one of the first women to become a local councillor in 1907.

Leisure Time - At weekends you go into town on the electric tram and spend hours browsing in the fancy new arcades and the department store or visiting tea-shops. You're keen to read the newspaper whenever you can in order to learn about improving women's rights.

Living Conditions - You escape from the flat in a mansion block you share with five other families to live in a pretty villa on the outskirts of the city. The villa has a parlour for special occasions and a small garden. You employ two servants who come by the day to help you with chores, including nursing the children, and you buy meat from the local butcher and groceries from the local shop.

Marital Relations - You marry at 19 and have three children, (one who dies as a baby).

Or I live alone and have a private income (second rung of the social ladder):

Education - Your parents send you to a private school and despite the fact that you are bright and enjoy school you leave at 16.

Career Prospects - When you're young you do some household chores but don't do any work in the kitchen. When your mother dies you're left the house and a private income and your spinster friend comes to live with you. You believe strongly in the need to improve the quality of food and sanitation for the poor so you join a commission on public health and campaign for improvements.

Leisure Time - You eat your main meal (meat and vegetables) in the evening, except on Sundays. You support the church by sewing kneeler covers, arranging flowers and raising money for charity. You learn the piano and enjoy going to the theatre and musical concerts in the local town. Every week you make time to borrow books from the mobile library that passes through your village.

Living Conditions - You employ two servants who live in your house but are unimpressed with the quality of their work.

Marital Relations - The man from the parish you are engaged to is killed at war. You never marry which will set you apart from most of your contemporaries.

World War One - When World War One starts you join a women's auxiliary force and survive to be awarded a 1914 Star and a bronze Victory Medal.

Doesn't really surprise me. And I'm 85% Snob, which means that I'm comfortable in any echelon =) I'm capable of drinking with my pinky in the air (though, I think that's stupid), but I don't judge people by the colour of their shoes — that's latraviata's job (haha, kidding!!) =D Although, I admit that when I see a candidate coming in for an interview for a job that has to do with customers or external representation, I will look at the heels of their shoes to see if they're scuffed. That does tell a little bit about their Attention To Detail Quotient. Maybe it tells more about my ATDQ... I dunno >KD

Anyway, they had the first two episodes of Manor House back to back last night and it was utterly fascinating!

The stress and friction here comes from everyone trying (or not trying as the case may be) to learn their place and keep their place in a very rigidly strict society by our standards. There's no voting people off, there's no advantage to backstabbing/lying/forming little alliances and I'm not sure that there's prize money involved at the end, so the reward is very intrinsic to the individual. What they take away from this is what they learn and how they grow as a person from the experience.

The Family consists of Sir John Ollif-Cooper, the Lady Anna Ollif-Cooper, their two sons, Jonathon (18) and Guy (9), as well as Anna's spinster sister, Avril Anson (she has a boyfriend, but he couldn't come along). They are family in real life as well, so they come into this with the comfort of each others' company. I think it would have been more interesting if they weren't actual family in real life though. IMHO, that would really help emulate the cold, estrangedness of a lot of upper class families back then. And the drama that would come out of that!! =D

The Staff consists of Hugh Edgar, the Butler; Jean Davies, the Housekeeper; Denis Dubiard, the Chef; and the junior serving staff. These people are all strangers. They have their own jobs, one's a police department dispatcher, one works in tourism/hospitality, one is an accountant, etc.

The very first thing that comes out is how hard it is to be junior serving staff. Half of it is the physically demanding work. You're up at 0600h, hauling in coal, stoking the fire for the furnace that the Chef has to make breakfast with. Meals take hours to prepare. And you're cleaning, dusting, scrubbing and doing laundry until midnight, sometimes well past. You're setting up, tearing down, tidying and straightening for the family as they go about their business throughout the day and throughout the house. You're essentially running a five-star hotel, day in and day out, 365 days a year.

The first scullery maid lasted two days before she bailed on the show. The second one lasted maybe a week? I can't remember. The individual off-hour interviews with them (with most of the girls, actually) involved a lot of crying and sobbing.

The other half of it is the emotional, dehumanizing aspect of it. The junior serving staff are to be invisible. They're not supposed to have direct contact with the Masters at all, they're supposed to shrivel into a corner and avert their gaze if they happen to accidentally find themselves in the presence of one of the family. Masters are taught to ignore junior staff.

Hugh Edgar, the Butler, has his own struggles trying to keep the staff in line. They're spoiled late-20th century 20-somes, not used to following orders, not used to having absolutely no freedom and don't have a lot of self-discipline. But Edgar's a man of our times though and tries modern management approaches with them — he allows them to swap jobs for a day, risking complete chaos downstairs, so that the kids have a chance to learn what exactly the scullery maid and the hallboy are whining about. They have a Staff party (square dancing, fooding and drinking). But he gave them an inch and they took a foot.

Maybe I just see women bawling all the time and I'm desensitized, but to see a stoic, reserved, distinguished gentleman in tears really breaks my heart.

The Chef is ... well, he's a crazy French Chef and he's good at it. =) The Chef really does nothing but cookcookcookcookettycookcook. All. Day. Long. He is smokingly good at what he does and he's the type to do whatever the hell it takes. Cooking, back then, starts right from the beginning. You want meat, you start by skinning and plucking the animal yourself. So you see him carrying some dead, four-legged creature into the kitchen and dumping it onto a wooden block, skinning all kinds of game, plucking foul, etc. Dubiard didn't go to the Staff Party because he had to pluck pheasants for a meal the next day. You have to remember, though, that he is in his element. He has a passion for cooking and he has a passion for the cuisine of the era, which is presumably why he was chosen. He has very little patience for the junior staff and he feels they aren't pulling their weight.

They didn't focus much on the Housekeeper. She only appeared once to try to order seagulls for the Chef and the suppliers didn't have seagulls.

The Ollif-Coopers are doing a little better, but they are not without their challenges. Their tasks in this program are to host events that nobility at the time would. Etiquette and protocol seem to be the biggest hurdle for these people. There's a part of me that says, "you spoiled people, it's not that hard". But when you're on the uphill of that learning curve, it can be exhausting.

Ladies and gentleman of the era had protocol ingrained in them from the time they were very young. Colleges and finishing schools actually taught you stuff like that. As a study and as a hobby, something like a finishing school would be fascinating to me.

A really interesting thing that came up was: usually, a lady takes the left arm of a gentleman when she's being escorted. This is so that he can have his sword arm free. HOWEVER. When escorting a lady into the dining room of your own home, the lady goes on the RIGHT. This is to indicate that in your own house, you are safe enough to not need your sword arm.

Guy Ollif-Cooper, the 9 year old, is about the happiest person there. He's allowed to go everywhere, he has staff at his beck and call. He's starting to get really full of himself. I really hope something happens to put that kid in his place. I'd love to see Dubiard get pissed and throw a heavy rag at him or something.

One of the Ollif-Coopers' tasks was to host a dinner party for 20 noble/dignitary guests. Each guest was titled and the order in which to invite them into the dining room was important. Invite an inferior before a superior and it's considered a huge snub. It's the Lady of the House's job to figure out the order and actually do the inviting as the hostess on the evening. She was muttering stuff like, "a Lord is above a Baron... but he's a foreign Baron, it's higher up than our Barons, so does he go before or after Lord So&so?" She called it a "minefield" when she was working it all out in her study. She had to have her cheat sheet with her at the party to read off of.

It was only 20 people. Try 300. With names in Chinese. And seat them all according to common language, common dialect, common interest and vague appropriateness level. It took a bit of effort to stop myself from thinking she was an idiot... "She's a doctor. She can't be stupid. She's just doing something she wasn't trained to do." Maybe it's just because nobility titles and etiquette/protocol are intriguing to me. I would have loved to do it for her.

For every trashy, moron thing humans come up with, some other human will create something of grace, substance and elegance.

This makes me want to see Berkeley Square (circa 1902) again. I loved it when I saw it on Masterpiece Theatre.

It also makes me wonder about Master-Staff relations among the nobility today and how it's changed. The physical labour is probably very much cut back. Everyone's on 8 hour days with lunches and breaks, holiday time and sick leave. I'd imagine staff would more likely get one or two weekdays off instead of weekends because typically weekends are when the parties would be scheduled.

It's more the personal aspects of it that I'm curious about. Certainly, it's a professional relationship between Masters and Staff, but to what extent? There's a very wide range of boss-employee relationship possibilities. Do they really ignore staff anymore? Do they exchange polite greetings on the stairs? Are most people very familiar with their staff? Do they know all the staff members' names without looking at the duty roster? Sometimes participating in the staff parties? Do people feel like there's a danger in knowing their staff too well? Is there still a bit of a class barrier? How many sets of work uniforms and dress uniforms do the staff have?

Yes, I know it depends on the importance of the family in question and what they can afford... Feedback from across the pond would be delightfully appreciated =)

Tags: tv shows

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