The knack: How to be a Beverly Hills butler

"Forget everything modern and trendy. You need to be a terrific snob and have a plummy voice, otherwise it simply doesn't work. To get the performance right, you have to model yourself on fictional characters - read Wodehouse and watch John Gielgud's performance in Arthur, it's perfection. Like these examples, you need precisely the right blend of unctuousness and contempt - but only offering your opinion on your employer's behaviour if asked. Remember that a good butler must always be ready with an apparently spontaneous epigram, preferably a dry one.

You can learn the nuts and bolts of etiquette from books but, basically, always refuse any kind of familiarity - don't sit down with the guests or employers. Behave in a very reserved way at all times. In order to protect yourself you have to retain some kind of spurious dignity and know where to draw the line - don't even think about putting toothpaste on someone's toothbrush for them. Menu planning and knowing the right wines are frightfully important - get Larousse Gastronomique and Brillat-Savarin's The Physiology of Taste. Being a butler is quite a tongue-in-cheek thing, it really is a role. What most employers want is someone English who will remind everybody of the fictional characters they all know. In America it's an extension of, `Oh, I love your accent' - and you can hardly fail to be successful." Interview by Fiona McClymont

Ian Ross, whose book `The Beverly Hills Butler' is being made into a film staring Rupert Everett, can be consulted on the finer points of haute home entertaining on 07931 930 831

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