Super Servants, Super Service

The English Manner has long used the phrase ‘super-service’ when training in private households, yachts, planes and hotels.  To our minds, this means the employee reaching their utmost potential and giving 110% to their tasks, ensuring that nothing is left to chance and that the needs of every guest or household are anticipated before they even know they desire it!

Domestic service has become fashionable in the media in the past few weeks thanks to the fabulous ‘Downton Abbey’ and a revival of the old favourite, ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, and we applaud this as there is no doubt that working for others in this way has become something to be looked down upon in the eyes of the world, and is no longer recognised for what it is: a fabulous career path with the potential to travel, broaden your horizons and skill levels; and good potential rewards – and relationships -  for life.

Downton Abbey staff

The staff of ITV's hit Downton Abbey

But the tide is turning and we are getting daily enquiries for traditional training with a modern twist – for the ‘super-servant’ – a personal concierge who can multitask (women do this as a matter of course!) juggling diaries and schedules, dinner parties and driving, school runs and swimming pool maintenance, alongside purchasing property, wines and antiques and balancing portfolios of fine art with treasury bonds.

Economically it made sense for staff to live in, now they are earning so much money in these high profile roles that they often own their own homes, and without the financial need, they and their employers welcome the privacy and space afforded by shutting the front door at the end of the day, unless they can afford the mews house next door!

Days though are usually long, and often involve extensive overseas travel, constantly changing schedules, and sometimes an innate lack of understanding of any form of private life or personal ties.  These roles are not for the encumbered, they are ideal for the sophisticated with an eye for detail, with an understanding of how to enjoy the finest things in life, without crossing the line.  Both parties have to learn to keep their distance otherwise disaster strikes; nannies have always accompanied the family on outings but did not usually join dinner parties, and in a bygone era, everyone knew their place.  Most people under the age of 60 do not have any personal experience of private staff whatsoever.  As a result, our attitudes have changed, and most employers now feel uncomfortable around their staff, either over compensating by charm or, more often than not, by being standoffish and plain rude.  It is our task to educate the employer as much as the employee, and show them how to respect those who work for them and with them.  If that is achieved, high morale and retention follow.

Most staff at the highest levels now have their own assistants but the hierachy is nothing like the days of ‘Downton Abbey’ when the local villagers would vie to work in the ‘big house’ rather than in the mill, the mine or even on the land.  In London most junior domestic staff come from overseas, precisely because working for others has been regarded as the lowest of the low by we British for some years, and we are trying hard at The English Manner to educate young people to start to train for domestic service.  Many who might have taken a gap year will now miss out on a university place:  what better way to start work than to train for a secure household as a mother’s help, cook or housekeeper?  Our sister company, The Household Academy, runs regular classes for traditional training in these roles, as well as bespoke training for those who may have already begun their career but who want to make the leap to House Manager or PA, and need to acquire the extra skills and confidence to do so.

London is now home to a vast tranche of overseas wealth as well as UK based super-rich such as hedge fund managers and City bankers.  Money rules now more than ever before and with that wealth comes the need for presentable, well spoken staff who can turn their hand to any task.  Let’s put some pride back into the household and instead of allowing the plum jobs to be taken by those who have seen the opportunity from Australia, America or Italy, encourage our young people, as well as those who perhaps are leaving military service careers in early middle age, to go back to basics and train in the traditional methods of private service but with a modern twist:  money rules, and the world has to prove it can rise up to the challenge of servicing it.

Alexandra Messervy
Founder, The English Manner

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3 Responses to “Super Servants, Super Service”


  1. 1 Jay Remer 7 January 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Very well spoken, in my opinion. I would add a slight twist to this. I was brought up with the understanding that knowing first hand how to execute any job or task you hire another person to do for you is a great asset. Knowing one’s skill sets and one’s priorities in life help one to decide where one requires assistance. My guess is that there could be just as many employers as employees who could benefit from your course offerings on many levels. Continued success!

  2. 2 Glenn Ludlow 7 January 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Dear Ms. Messervy,

    An interesting piece somewhat let down by suggesting a person is able to give 110% effort. I suggest we leave such nonsense to those that partake in Association Football, which is where, I believe, this phrase has originated.

    Kind regards,

    Mr. Ludlow

  3. 3 Rebekah 10 January 2011 at 7:13 pm

    The first episode of Downton Abbey aired last night here in the U.S. There were several lines uttered from the recently appointed heir that indicated his discomfort with and disregard for trained staff who are not just devoted to their work, but take considerable pride in their ability to perform their tasks/art expertly.

    I do not have the level of social connections where I encounter professional household staff on a regular basis. But when I do, I feel uncomfortable and do not know how to act (apologetic? indifferent? indulgent?).

    Programs like Downton Abbey, Gosford Park, and Upstairs, Downstairs remind me that trained staff do not do their tasks out of a reverence for me, but out of respect for their chosen profession and their eagerness to do their job well. This should change not just my attitude in chance encounters, but also the attitude of the privileged few who enjoy their services as a part of daily life.


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