Leading Article: Buttling for Britain

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A COUNTRY, economists tell us, should play to its strengths. And it still seems, after all these years, that one of our national advantages lies below stairs. Britain buttles better. A new school is opening to train butlers for the world. There clearly is a niche in the services market. With the growth of affluence - generated by people who have less and less time for domestic work themselves - the demand for at-home services grows and grows. Technology helps but machines do not open doors or serve guests.

Yet the problem with butlers, at least in this country, is the old social class associations - witness our insatiable enthusiasm for Edwardian costume dramas in which the lower orders still knew their place. Can a butler buttle in, as it were, a purely functional fashion, without reinforcing the superiority of his employers and the inferiority of the other servants. Did we say "his"? Surely the new British buttling school should also be aiming to recruit women. Female butlers would break the mould, making it more of a general service job than evidence of social status. Women would do a butler's work as well, just as they would make good sommeliers and already make great chefs. In the new service order some shaking up of the genders is long overdue. Traditionally the lower downstairs you get the more female the staffing. In future let's hear it for Mrs Hudson and Mr Bridges.