The Butler Did It

Arthur Inch, the former butler for Winston Churchill and the Queen Mother, talks about his book, “Dinner Is Served.”

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Arthur Inch

Photo By Michael Denman

NEW YORK — Some might say that rules are made to be broken. Not Arthur Inch. The former butler, who served everyone from Winston Churchill to the Queen Mother in his day, prides himself on doing things properly. And judging by his new book, “Dinner Is Served” (Running Press) written in collaboration with Arlene Hirst, entertaining by the rules is much harder than it looks.

“We would start at 6:30 in the morning,” says Inch, calling from Sussex, England, where he retired in 1980 after 50 years in private service. “When you got to be butler, which was one step up from first footman, then your main work was overseeing the dinner table. Getting all the silver, glass and the china ready for a big dinner party used to take all afternoon.”

Inch, now 87, began his career as a hall boy at age 15, serving in the house where his father was a butler and his mother was a housemaid. “I grew up playing billiards with the footman and odd men,” he says. By 19, he’d landed a position as a footman for Sir John Dashwood and worked his way up the ranks, becoming a second footman at the Spanish Embassy, a first footman to the Duke of Marlborough, then a lady’s footman to the Marquis of Londonderry, where he occasionally served in full livery, breeches, stockings and bicorne hat.

“When you’re a boy, you’ve got your friends, and when I was working the weekends I used to think, ‘By jove, I wish I was out with them,’” says Inch. “But in those days you had to do what your father told you, and consequently, I just carried on working in private service until the war time came.”

For those serving in England’s grand homes, where staff members were plentiful and the lifestyle was as ritualistic as it was lavish, the war changed everything.

“There’s no sort of private service like there was before World War II,” says Inch, who consulted on the film, “Gosford Park.” “Now the girls just won’t go back into private service because they had so much freedom during the war. Private service is a very tiring occupation. Many’s a time I’ve worked a 20-hour day.”
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