One can't get the staff

'In these peculiar times, one's servants are liable to treat one's discarded letters and items of intimacy as a potential cash crop'
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Seldom can there have been a more troublesome time in which to be an employer of domestic staff. The candidates are there, of course, but finding the sort of person on whom one can actually depend has become impossibly difficult. When a perfectly respectable little man, a rock to the Royals, ends up spilling the beans to the tabloid press, one begins to realise that a new, modernised form of etiquette is required when it comes to dealing with servants.

Seldom can there have been a more troublesome time in which to be an employer of domestic staff. The candidates are there, of course, but finding the sort of person on whom one can actually depend has become impossibly difficult. When a perfectly respectable little man, a rock to the Royals, ends up spilling the beans to the tabloid press, one begins to realise that a new, modernised form of etiquette is required when it comes to dealing with servants.

Upon interviewing a potential new member of staff

It is wise to insist that the interviewee stands throughout. You can tell a lot from stance. The rock to the Royals seemed to stand perfectly – erect, yet respectful. Then one notices the way he clasps his hands in front of him, like a creepy little undertaker. Gave the game away, frankly.

Having established references and basic know-how of domestic tasks, casually mention some item of media gossip – "They say Cheryl Barrymore's book is already reprinting" – and watch for his reaction. Any knowledge or interest in the world of journalism should put you on your guard.

Upon drafting a contract for a new employee

Always include a confidentiality clause, but bear in mind that in the heat of a tabloid auction, legal niceties are soon forgotten. Under these circumstances, you may like to screw your servant down for a full 50-60 per cent of serialisation, book, foreign and TV rights for any story in which you are mentioned.

Upon being transported to confidential overnight meetings in the boot of one's car

Today's employers face delicate questions of etiquette in this matter of modern transport. How should one raise the question of travelling by boot? What is the socially correct way to enter and debouch from a car when travelling in this way?

As a general rule, it is advisable to behave as if there is nothing unusual in the arrangement. Say, as casually as you can manage, "Oh, I think I'll go there in the boot tonight," take a copy of the newspaper with you and, if acoustics allow, carry on conversation as normal during the journey. When emerging, smile graciously, allow your man to brush you down and then head for your rendezvous.

Upon establishing the copyright to the contents of one's dustbin

In these peculiar times, staff are liable to treat one's discarded letters and items of intimacy as a potential cash crop. It is generally regarded as vulgar and bad form to have a shredder in one's house, so a more satisfactory solution is to have one's family crest pasted on all dustbins with the words "Copyright reserved" written in bold letters.

Upon finding that one's member of staff is wired for sound

Obviously, the sensitive employer will avoid at all costs the embarrassment of discovering a hidden microphone on the person of servant; the odd, semi-humorous remark – "Are we going out live tonight?" – will often do the trick. If friendly warnings have been ignored, do not conduct spot body-checks, which will merely give your employee more material, but install an electronic jamming device in the library, bedroom and any other sensitive area.

Upon happening upon a scene of inappropriate behaviour

Servants are people. They have their urges, just as we do, but have not the benefit of lessons in deceit and degeneracy passed down from generation to generation.

As a general rule, it is never sensible to take too harsh a line. The servants' quarters have always been a lively place, where anyone might fall prey toan act of startling, unscheduled intimacy, so it is a good idea to retain a sense of proportion.

On the other hand, if a member of staff is found to be indulging in three-in-a-bed capers with a couple of Star birds, it invariably means that he is falling in with bad company – journalists, media agents and the like. On these occasions, you may feel that the only alternative is to enter into the spirit of the occasion and join in.

Upon a member of staff entertaining Mr Max Clifford to tea in the servants quarters

A smooth, well-groomed man with excellent manners, Mr Clifford does have a talent for taking what you or I would call a small incident of unbuttoned behaviour and weaving out of it a soft-porn fantasy for the tabloids. Fortunately, he is immensely class-conscious and is profoundly in awe of the officer class. Invite him to a family Sunday lunch in the main dining room and soon your problems will be forgotten.

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