Monday, September 9, 2013

Downton's etiquette errors give Countess the vapours: Stately home hostess reveals blunders in period drama dining scenes

Fiona, 8th Countess of Carnarvon

It is enough to make a butler lose his composure. For Downton Abbey has been accused of basic etiquette errors – by the lady of the house.

The Countess of Carnarvon, the mistress of Highclere Castle where the series is filmed, has criticised the ITV1 drama’s repeated faux pas.

Among them, says Lady Carnarvon – who writes a blog in which she reveals how a stately home should really be run – are the incorrect setting of the table for dinner and the lack of servants.

‘It’s the little details,’ she says. ‘Glasses are back to front and things are set wrong.  ‘Setting up the table is an art. Knives, forks and spoons are set from the outside in, beginning with the bread knife and working through each course to cheese.

‘A pat of butter is impressed with the intertwined Cs and coronet and placed in front of each guest.

‘The wine glasses and water tumbler are arranged to the top right of each setting. Downton prefer a different arrangement.

‘I don’t want to step on people’s toes so I’ve tried a few times to  say, “Do you know you’re setting the table wrong?” I do feel, after  all, that it’s my dining table and obviously we wouldn’t set it like that. 

‘They look at me blankly and I sort of try once more and then I give up… and now I try not to look because it’s easier.’

Other tips from Lady Carnarvon, whose husband the 8th Earl of Carnarvon owns Highclere, near Newbury in Berkshire, include butlers wearing white gloves to keep fingerprints off the glasses.

She has previously said a stately home of Downton Abbey’s size would, in the early 20th century when the programme is set, have had up to 60 domestic staff.  At the end of the third series, the fictional Crawley family had only about a dozen servants.

Her observations will delight  the small group of Downton  fans that takes to the internet  after each episode to point out anachronisms.

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