Find Me a Carson!
Here at Pembury Partners we often get requests from clients asking, “find me the perfect Carson”, or indeed Mary Poppins, Jeeves or any number of other well-known household staff from books, TV and films. Whilst these characters are of course entirely fictional, we straight away know what they are looking for – portrayals of household staff roles such as these have become such a staple of both literature and screen-based entertainment that they’re household names in many cases.
We thought we’d start by taking a closer look at possibly the world’s favourite butler – Charles Carson (yes, even butlers have first names) from Downton Abbey. Part of the furniture, serious, even grumpy, but with a heart of gold.
A professional butler through and through, Carson’s job is his whole life. He’s known to be the ultimate perfectionist, spotting and worrying about tiny specks invisible to mere mortals. This attention to detail is actually a common trait in real-life butlers (although perhaps not to the same degree in most cases), who will often assume overall responsibility for the running of the home, delegating in some areas but micromanaging where they see fit.
As with Carson, a butler in the real world is usually a very high ranking member of household staff, and managing people is part of the job. Carson’s sometimes brusque manner might not fit well with current guidelines on management style, nor would a raised eyebrow constitute effective communication in today’s workplace, but his genuine concern that the household is run efficiently and to his exacting standards is right on the money.
More modern butlering is much more common these days, but it still combines both hands-on and management aspects, service-related responsibilities, the utmost care and discretion, and of course many more up-to-date tasks than one would ever find at Downton. Formal dress is less common than it used to be with many butlers now opting for normal business or even casual attire, depending on their principals’ wishes. It’s also worth noting that an increasing number of butlers are women – something that would have been unthinkable in Carson’s day.
Having said that, if requested to find an actual Carson for a client, they do indeed still exist. Some households are very formal in tone and there are butlers to suit. Usually these fine upstanding individuals will have been formally trained as a butler (although we recall that Carson has been at Downton since he was a small boy), and their roles are usually somewhat less varied than the more modern butlers, centring on service, overseeing important formal events, managing the wine cellar, and generally carrying on in an efficient, achingly polite, but somewhat aloof and old-fashioned manner. They are, however, rather a rare species.
We at Pembury Partners think this is a fascinating comparison: how do you think household staff have been represented in works of fiction? Who is your favourite? Who is believable, and where are the inaccuracies? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so please comment below here on the blog or on social media.