You will hear the same refrain,
In every house, again, again,
You rang, M'Lord?
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 late 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 (Michael Knowles) thanks them for heroically saving his life.
Nine years later, James is Teddy's family's footman with aspirations of promotion to household butler, until Stokes - who's been performing with his daughter Ivy (Su 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 (Brenda Cowling), Henry Livingstone the boot-boy (Perry Benson), and Mabel Wheeler the charwoman (Barbara New), who's looked down on by the other servants. The family are Teddy's older brother, Lord Meldrum (Donald Hewlett); his senile, alcoholic mother-in-law, Lady Lavender (Mavis Pugh); and his two daughters - Poppy (Susie Brann), a spoiled flapper, and Cissy (Catherine Rabett), a crossdressing, lesbian aviator and socialist. Other characters appear in almost all episodes, including the local policeman Constable Wilson (Bill Pertwee) and Lord Meldrum's mistress, Lady Agatha Shawcross (Angela Scoular).
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, sir."
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:
- Actor Allusion: Frank Williams, who played the Bishop, had previously played The Vicar in Dad's Army.
- 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...
- Betty and Veronica: Ivy is Betty and Poppy is Veronica to James's Archie. James loves Poppy and he is oblivious to Poppy's true nature - she toys with his feelings. This is notably seen in "Meet The Workers" when she pulls Dickie Metcalfe onto her armchair while James is looking. The footman finally realises that Poppy is a bitch and a Spoiled Brat when she tries to embarrass Ivy in "Come To The Ball". This causes James to lose interest in Poppy and ruin her dress using food. Ivy truly loves the footman, but he is Oblivious to Love. However, in the final episodes, it is implied that James started to reciprocate the affection.
- 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.
- Catchphrase: 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 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: Mostly Mabel, Henry, Cissy, and Stokes. But James, George, and Teddy also have their moments.
- 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: James gets himself in hot water with Poppy for defending Mrs Lipton against Poppy's criticism, claiming that he couldn't stand to see her humiliated, oblivious to the fact that he and Mrs Lipton are equally are harsh towards Henry, Mabel and (sometimes) Ivy.
- 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. On the other hand, when you remember all the woman he sexually assaulted, this could be viewed as Teddy getting a taste of his own medicine.
- Economy Cast: The servant body is surprisingly small, consisting only of Stokes, James, Ivy, Mrs Lipton, Henry and Mabel. Although the house isn't huge, compared to say, Downton Abbey, you would at least expect there to be more than one maid.
- 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.
- Haughty Help: The servants are deferential to their employers, but have their own hierarchy of snobbery. In particular, James the footman and Mrs Lipton the cook can both be quite unpleasant towards Mabel the charwoman and Henry the boot-boy, who are at the bottom of the heap. By contrast, Mr Stokes the butler (nominally at the top of the servant hierarchy) is usually quite nice to the junior staff, only taking a hard line when it's necessary to keep up appearances. A certain amount of the conflict between him and James comes from their differing attitudes on this subject — Stokes is something of a closet socialist, proud of his working class background and secretly disdainful of his wealthy employers, while James fully believes in the class system and his place it it.
- Hidden Depths: James' human side, for example his hopeless love for Poppy or his troubled family background.
- If I Can't Have You : Sir Ralph.
- It's All About Me: Poppy all over.
- 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.
- The Jeeves: Technically Stokes is a butler but he is very much the Jeeves.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
- Lord Meldrum can be very harsh towards other people, but he treats his servants well - even the charwoman Mabel and helps his daughter Cissy (and the United Workers Party) in her work while he does not like socialistic ideas.
- The Schemer butler Alf is a thief and often pursues financial gain, but he cares for his daughter Ivy, is loyal to Lord Meldrum and his brother in his own way. He also, in contrast to Mrs. Lipton and James, is not a jerk towards the lower-rank servants.
- Kindhearted Simpleton: Ivy.
- Love Dodecahedron: A very complex one, actually. Tedy pursued various servants girls and was loved by Madge Cartwright, Cissy, Teddy and Henry the bootboy were attracted to Ivy, Ivy loves James, James loves Poppy, Poppy had a romance with Dickie Metcalfe, who had a romance with Lady Agatha, Lady Agatha is married to sir Ralph Shawcross, has an affair with Lord Meldrum and attempted to seduce James. And there is also the Love Triangle between Mrs. Lipton and Constable Wilson.
- Love Martyr: James for Poppy, Ivy for James, Henry for Ivy, George for Agatha.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Sir Ralph curses Lord Meldrum with a home-made voodoo doll over his affair with Lady Agatha. Lord Meldrum's business goes under and the house is struck with a run of bad luck, it's not clear whether the curse actually worked or if it was all just coincidental.
- Naïve Newcomer: Ivy joins the staff in the pilot, having never worked in service before.
- Politically-Active Princess: Cissy
- Rich Bitch: Poppy.
- Running Gag: Teddy chasing maids, Mabel trying to scrounge food from the other servants and being thwarted, Henry getting smacked round the back of the head.
- 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.
- Uptown Girl: The Honourable Teddy is a gender-inversion to Rose the maid. Although Teddy chases maids in general, his feelings for Rose seem to be genuine. Averted with James and Miss Poppy, although they clearly like each other his sense of propriety and her stubbornness means neither is prepared to do anything about it and the Sexual Tension remains Unresolved.
- Welcome Episode
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Cissy dresses as an English gent throughout the series.