Friday, September 2, 2011

The Butler Does It!

The wonderful John Gielgud as the butler, Hobson, in ARTHUR.(1981)

I was reading a post by Les Blatt over at his blog, CLASSIC MYSTERIES in which he mentions a character in Michael Innes' book, A NIGHT OF ERRORS. The character is a butler named Swindle.

How perfect is that name for a butler? Purely perfect, I'd say. Then I thought about how some authors seem able to come up with just the right name for servants in their books, the butler being the most important one since he is usually head of staff. I can't tell you how many books have been saved by the butler's having exactly the right name.

(Well, not really, but it's certainly something I look forward to, especially when I'm reading an English country house murder mystery.)

Being able to name a butler correctly is a talent in and of itself. Not everyone is successful at it. If done just right it shows cleverness and imagination on the part of the author. Done wrong, as in a boring or banal name, it shows an abysmal lack thereof.

Before I post my list of terrific butler names (and one cook and a valet), I will reveal my favorite butler name of all time: Guppy. He is the butler to the Earl of Ravenwood in one of Amanda Quick's Regency books, SEDUCTION. I'd thought Guppy had been originated by Catherine Coulter, so I'm glad I double-checked.

Of course the most perfect butler name of all time (next to Guppy) is P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves. I mean, it can't be topped. Somehow the very name 'Jeeves' has become iconic.

A few other butler names I am very fond of:

Lord Peter Wimsey's butler and all around fixer-upper: Bunter.

In Amanda Quick's book, RAVISHED, Gideon Wesbrook's butler is named: Owl.

In Catherine Coulter's book, THE NIGHTINGALE LEGACY, the butler is: Coombe.

In Stella Gibbons, COLD COMFORT FARM, Mrs. Smiling's butler is named: Sneller.

In Agatha Christie's MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, the butler is named: Beddoes.

John Gielgud as the butler, Beddoes.

In Amanada Quick's book, DANGEROUS, the Earl of Anglestone's butler is named: Flowers.

In James Anderson's book, THE AFFAIR OF THE MUTILATED MINK (and two other titles), the butler is: Merryweather.

In the Agatha Christie books, Hercule Poirot's butler is named: Georges.

In Agatha Christie's THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS, the butler is named: Tredwell.

In Agatha Christie's POIROT INVESTIGATES, The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman, the butler is named: Graves.

In Agatha Christie's THE ADVENTURE OF THE CHRISTMAS PUDDING, The Dream, the butler is named: Holmes.

In Agatha Christie's WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, the butler is named Mr. Digby.

In Agatha Christie's A POCKET FULL OF RYE, the butler is named: Crump.

In Agatha Christie's N OR M, the butler is named: Appledore.

In Catherine Coulter's THE WYNDHAM LEGACY, the butler is named: Sampson, the valet is named: Spears and the cook is named: Badger.

Is this making any sense to you? It does to me. But then I've been known to jump the rails in my literary thinking now and again. Ha!

The Singing Butler by Jack Vetriano


  1. Strangest butler name I can think of is in August Derleth's THE NARRACONG RIDDLE. The butler (whose real name is mentioned exactly once late in the book) has a habit of sleepwalking naked is dubbed Miss Wilberforce by his cruel employer. He is referred this way in about 90% of the book. Only later do we learn his real name is Thomas. The nasty nickname is never explained. I had to do an intensive Google search to learn the reason. South Wind (1917) by Norman Douglas has as one of its characters Miss Wilberforce, an American who drinks heavily and undresses in the streets. Now there's an obscure literary allusion for you.

  2. This is such an amusing idea for an article, Yvette. Loved it! I can't think of any other butler names at the moment, but the whole concept and depiction of the butler in movies and books has always been a favorite of mine. Was the great John Gielgud the best butler, or what? Love that man!

  3. Cool post! My favourite butler name appears in the film: 'Sir Henry at Rawlinson End' played by JG Devlin, he's called Old Scrotum, and is refered to as 'the hairy retainer'. :D

  4. Petra: I've never heard of this film...hmmm. I'll have to check.

    But that is a very funny name for a butler. You got into the spirit of the thing for sure. Ha!

  5. John: Miss Wilberforce. I wonder the butler put up with this. You know how fussy they can be. :)

  6. My favorite movie butler besides John Gielgud (whom I simply ADORE!) is Sneller, the wonderful butler to Mary Smiling in COLD COMFORT FARM. He is perfection.

  7. I have to rewatch Cold Comfort Farm, between the characters and the plot.

    My favorite butler role is Anthony Hopkins playing Stevens in The Remains of the Day ... brilliant performance. And Emma Thompson, another favorite of mine, was good also.

  8. Kathy: I love COLD COMFORT FARM, it's one of my all time favorite books AND the movie as well. Just wonderful AND very funny.

    I like Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson too. :)

  9. Yes, your raves about Cold Comfort Farm have propelled me to put it on my TBR list to see it again. Hopefully, the library hasn't taken it out of circulation, which they've been doing with books.

  10. Kathy: It's a book worth owning. :)

  11. What a fun post! I'm just now reading John Hawkesworth's novel version of Upstairs, Downstairs and thought about this very thing with the introduction of Hudson, the Bellamy's butler, who embodies butlerdom nonpareil. Come to think of it, "Mrs. Bridges" does the same thing for cook.

    Where do you get these great ideas, Yvette?

  12. Elizabeth: Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it. Hudson was, indeed, the epitome of butlerdom.

    Well, the idea came to me when we dishing a butler named Swindle in a Michael Innes book, on Less Blatt's blog. One thing leads to another - you know how it is. :)

  13. I agree with you about such marvelous characters as Jeeves and Bunter (and even Campion's regrettable Lugg), Yvette. Alas, I fear Swindle is in a somewhat different class - he tends to terrify his household, is reptilian (in more ways than one; you'll have to read Innes's "A Night of Errors" to understand), often described as "unspeakable," whose primary utterance appears to be a rather gutteral and drawn out "Urrrr..." He's memorable indeed!

  14. You've mentioned three of my favorite literary butlers: Bunter, Sneller and Jeeves! Hope you're enjoying your Labor Day weekend!

  15. Les: I have the book right here and mean to read it as soon as I get a chance. I'm looking forward to meeting the terrifying Swindle.

  16. Lauren: I'm just a butler maven. Ha!

    Yes, good day today. A bit quiet, but pleasant. Hope yours was equally good. :)

  17. What a great idea for a post! Bunter was an awesome butler--he was perfectly played by Glyn Houston in the 1970s BBC Peter Wimsey mysteries with Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter.

  18. Thanks, Rick. I am big fan of Bunter too - I'm convinced Wimsey would not have been able to get along without him. :)

    Clyn Houston epitomized what I call the 'action' butler.


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