How to give Downton Abbey's Carson the butler a run for his money

First aired on Airplay (05/14/13)

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For most people, the television show Downton Abbey offers an escapist view into a long-ago world of servants and masters. But although the job description has changed somewhat, "butler" is still a viable profession -- as long as you have the proper training!

Charles MacPherson has been in the, er, buttling industry for more than two decades, and he runs the only school for aspiring butlers in North America. He's also written a book about how to be your own best butler. MacPherson spoke to Dave White on Airplay about The Butler Speaks earlier this week.

MacPherson doesn't believe that proper etiquette is a matter of snobbery, but rather one of self-confidence and general graciousness. "You learn by watching people with good etiquette that that's how they succeed in life, and that brings them confidence," he said. "That's what etiquette is about, is about self-confidence and making other people feel good."

You don't need to be wealthy to have good manners. "We do associate [proper etiquette] with rich people, but it's really for all of us," he said."

So what are some proper ways to be a good host? MacPherson has some tips. "When your guests arrive and you greet them, make sure everyone gets a drink in their hand," he said. "Make sure more importantly that they know where the bar is so they can help themselves...and also that they have someone to talk to."

It turns out that the physical details, like laying out the best dishes, aren't as crucial as you might fear. "At the end of the day, the two secrets that I've learned is that everyone wants to have a drink or something in their hand, and more importantly, they want to be able to socialize with someone they're having a good time with," said MacPherson.

But as a host, you need to step up an take responsibility -- you can't be a guest at your own party. "A good host is somebody who really makes sure that the guests are having a good time," he said.

So how does real-life modern butler MacPherson think of the fictional Edwardian butler Carson? "What I love about Downton Abbey is how professional they are, and how accurately the show is portrayed," he said. "But in real life in the 21st century, the butler does not only the things that Mr. Carson does, but also does many things in a managerial perspective -- you're basically the manager of a small business."

What's MacPherson's favourite part of the job? "I love seeing history happen from the sidelines," he said. "I love to be able to watch captains of industry at the dinner table."

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