From Mayfair to Park Lane, You Rang, M'Lord?
You will hear the same refrain,
In every house, again, again,
You rang, M'Lord?
was a Brit Com
in the early 1990s. Written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft and featuring many cast members from their previous comedies Hi-de-Hi!
and It Ain't Half Hot Mum
, the show was set in a London townhouse in the 1920s, and centred around an aristocratic family and their servants.
The pilot, broadcast two years before the series properly began, opens with a prologue set during World War I, where a soldier called Alf Stokes (Paul Shane) robs the body of a fallen officer, to the disgust of his reluctant partner in crime James Twelvetrees (Jeffrey Holland). He plans to use the body as a human shield
but the officer isn't dead after all: recovering in hospital, the Honourable Teddy Meldrum thanks them for heroically saving his life.
Nine years later, James is Teddy's valet with aspirations of promotion to household butler, until Stokes - who's been performing with his daughter Ivy (Sue Pollard) in a music hall act - applies for the position with references he blackmailed out of a former employer. Stokes gets Ivy a position as a maid in the household, warning her not to reveal that he's her father, and pointing out to James that anything he might say to discredit him would incriminate himself.
The rest of the below stairs staff comprise Mrs Lipton, the cook, Henry the boot-boy, and Mabel, the charwoman, who's looked down on by the other servants. The family are Teddy's older brother, Lord Meldrum; his mother-in-law, the senile Lady Lavender with an alcohol problem; and his two daughters, Poppy and Cissy, respectively a spoiled flapper and a crossdressing, lesbian aviator and socialist. Other characters appear in almost all episodes, including the local policeman Constable Wilson and Lord Meldrum's mistress, Lady Agatha.
The four series, 26 episodes in all, are a mix between standard sitcom plotlines (Stokes has stolen some money and hidden it in a vase, but it's been sent to the church auction), ongoing story arcs (Ivy's unrequited love for James, Teddy's obsession with servant girls that leads to him eloping with one) and social commentary on the 1920s class system. The series is reminiscent of both the drama series Upstairs Downstairs
and the Jeeves and Wooster
novels: the latter is lampshaded
several times in the series, most obviously when Stokes responds to Teddy's convoluted plan
for getting out of his arranged marriage with "I think perhaps, you've been reading too much P. G. Wodehouse
Unusually for a British sitcom, the episodes were 50 minutes long: while this allowed for more complex plots, this has been cited as a reason for why the show has been less frequently repeated than other comedies.
This series provides examples of:
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: At least cruelly strict boys. Ivy.
- All Love Is Unrequited: Henry loves Ivy, Ivy loves James, James loves Poppy. Madge loves Teddy, Teddy loves Ivy...
- Bifauxnen: Cissy really does rather suit those dinner suits.
- Black Comedy Rape
- Teddy is obsessed with maids and has got Ivy's five predecessors pregnant. It's taken for granted that he'll try the same with Ivy, even though she's horrified at the idea. Teddy also causes a major problem at one of Lord Meldrum's businesses by sexually assaulting two female factory workers.
- The staff implies that Cissy is equally threatening, if not worse, though she's a perfect gentleman.
- Break the Cutie:
- When Poppy was trying to ruin the ball for Ivy.
- When Lady Agatha dumped George and made him cry.
- Break the Haughty: James and Poppy in the servants' ball.
- Butt Monkey: Henry and Mabel share the role.
- Catch Phrase: About once an episode:
- "Least said, soonest mended."
- "That'll be nice."
- "That's what you always say, Mrs Lipton."
- "...starched aprons and scrubbed shiny faces..."
- "Can I have a cup/bit of your excellent tea/cherry cake, Mrs. Lipton?"
- "I can't remember the last time I've had ..."
- (Anyone to Ivy after she announces she's been to Cissy's room) "You didn't stop long, did you?"
- Cloudcuckoolander: Lady Lavender.
- Crazy Jealous Guy: Sir Ralph, though he has a reason to be.
- The Cutie: Ivy, Lady Marigold.
- Deadpan Snarker: Henry and Cissy. Sometimes Mabel and Stokes.
- Dirty Communists: subverted. Stokes and Cissy are both openly communist, and when Cissy takes over the family business in the finale she makes it far more successful by running it "like they do in Russia".
- Dogged Nice Guy: Henry for Ivy, James for Poppy.
- Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Teddy plans to get out of marrying Madge (the employer of his real love, Rose) by letting her believe he's impotent; she has her way with him instead. Although the character seems distressed, it's very much played for laughs.
- Fake-Out Make-Out: James and Ivy in the cinema, when Lady Agatha enters with her lover.
- Fawlty Towers Plot: Stokes' schemes usually end up as this.
- Femme Fatale: Poppy for James.
- Foregone Conclusion - After the family losing most of their fortune in the last few episodes things seem to be looking up, and in one of the last scenes Lord Meldrum cheerfully says that he thinks the next year will be a very good one for them. The next year is 1929; the Wall Street crash is only months away.
- Genteel Interbellum Setting
- Grumpy Old Man: Sir Ralph.
- Hidden Depths: James Broach-In-The-Ass' human side, for example his hopeless love for Poppy or his troubled family background.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: In tears, Ivy tells James that because she loves him she'd be happy for him to be with Poppy if Poppy didn't treat him so badly.
- If I Can't Have You: Sir Ralph.
- The Jeeves: Technically James is the valet, but Stokes is very much the Jeeves.
- Kindhearted Simpleton: Ivy.
- Love Martyr: James for Poppy, Ivy for James, Henry for Ivy, George for Agatha.
- Na´ve Newcomer: Ivy joins the staff in the pilot, having never worked in service before.
- Politically-Active Princess: Cissy
- Running Gag: Teddy chasing maids, Mabel trying to scrounge food from the other servants and being thwarted.
- Schemer: Alf.
- Shout-Out: To Jaws, of all things: on Cissy's poetry reading evening one of the artists plays the iconic theme on her cello.
- A Sinister Clue: Inverted. Ivy is left-handed.
- The Spock: James.
- Spoiled Brat: Poppy.
- Story Arc: To a surprising degree for a Situation Comedy.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: "You're not [having an affair with another man], are you?" "What woman of my age would want to carry on with a man twenty years younger than herself?"
- Time Skip: 1918 to 1927 in the pilot, and a "one year later" in the finale.
- Upper-Class Twit: Teddy, Jerry, most of the friends of the younger members of the household.
- Welcome Episode
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Cissy dresses as an English gent throughout the series.