Why are butlers in American movies usually British?

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Fenn
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01 Oct 2021, 3:27 pm

I think the first "big screen" Butler or at least one to really make the character type firmly fixed in people's minds would have probably Godfrey in "My Man Godfrey" 1936.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Man_Godfrey

Or perhaps Jeeves in "Thank You, Jeeves!" also 1936.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thank_You%2c_Jeeves%21

I haven't seen either, though my wife and I recently watched several of the Thin Man films - William Powell playes detective Nick Charles in all of the Thin Man Films (The "Thin Man" in the original film is not Charles, but the detective series used the "Thin Man" name and people came to associate the Charles character as "being the Thin Man"). William Powell has a distinctive American Accent - so unless he put on an English Accent for Godfrey I guess Jeeves would be the British Butler archetype).



There was also a Butler character in Top Hat (Fred Astair) 1935, but I have seen that film and he is a minor character by comparison to Godfrey's title role.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Top_Hat

There is a list of "Fictional Butlers" here and it can be sorted by "Year Introduced", though it mixes film, books and other media:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fictional_butlers

These were both American Films - they were both released during the Great Depression so the life of "the rich" on the screen would have been very different from the life of people watching.

The idea of a British Butler precedes that as you can see in the list (though you have to dig into each character and actor to create a time line, and tease it out by type of media).


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Last edited by Fenn on 01 Oct 2021, 4:16 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Fenn
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01 Oct 2021, 3:42 pm

Does "Emma Watson" count as a British Accent or an English Accent?

I bet a lot of American males had a crush on her.

(She is too young for me - I am not even sure if I have seen any of her films)

There was a cliche in American teen movies where there was a very attractive female "Foreign Exchange Student" in the local high school (aged about 14 to 18 - or supposed to be). The key thing to be attractive was to be Foreign, and British counted. I think there is something "exotic" about the idea of falling in love with someone from another country. Think about half of the Bond Girls ("Bond Women" if you want to be politically correct).


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01 Oct 2021, 4:14 pm

Quote:
You remember the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, right?


I never watched it.


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Fenn
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01 Oct 2021, 4:28 pm

Joe90 wrote:
Quote:
You remember the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, right?


I never watched it.


The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (the butler was Geofrey also known as G)


And

Soap (the butler was Benson)


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01 Oct 2021, 7:19 pm

Redd_Kross wrote:
The more working class you are, the stronger the regional dialect.


That's a good way of putting it. I do have a regional accent and pieces of dialect, but it's mainly covered by RP. Which is probably why people have called me a toff before. However, some words are heavily accented, which has confused people in the past. My accent is mainly a mixture of where I used to live and where I live now. However, where I used to live used to have a significant amount of Grammar schools that would promote received pronunciation. The Grammar schools were all gone when I was growing up, but I was still influenced by the speech patterns of the adults who used to attend them.

I remember having an app that tried to place your UK accent on a map by answering a bunch of questions, and with each answer it would light up in red the areas of which that pronunciation was the most common. After the last question, it would make an educated guess based on the data it had collected on other users. You could either say yes or no to whether the guess was accurate. It also had playable samples of how each pronunciation is said along with a written out version. Pretty cool app imo.

Anyway, I downloaded it because I was curious what it would guess since my accent is technically a mixture. It was fascinating to see where it placed me on each question, unexpectedly on a very small amount of questions it actually placed me in Ireland. Technically I'm an 1/8 Irish, but my family haven't lived in Ireland in decades. So that was probably just a glitch / mistake. Anyway, most of it was pretty spot on. The final guess made by the app was a small place halfway between where I used to live and where I live now. Which is a good guess, but technically that place has it's own distinct accent that differs from both places, it makes sense that it would guess that though. Since I have elements of both accents, it makes sense to assume that I live between the two areas. Unfortunately I can't remember the name of the app, but I could probably find it if I did some digging.


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Last edited by Lost_dragon on 01 Oct 2021, 7:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

cyberdad
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01 Oct 2021, 7:28 pm

@OP

The awful reason is that the only butlers Americans actually had were slaves

So they probably have no choice but to employ British bulters

I actually thought Niles (The Nanny) and Geoffrey (Fresh Prince) were Americans who went to Butler school?



Fenn
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01 Oct 2021, 10:14 pm

This film probably started it all.

Thank You, Jeeves!


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cyberdad
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01 Oct 2021, 10:48 pm

It's probably not a shocking discovery but Jolly O'l England is still racked by a class system where a child of working class parents would be expected to "know their place" in terms of trying to hobnob with high society,

High society means totally different things in the US, Australia and Britian.
The landowning aristocrats in Great Britain employed servants from the working class. A very good female servant or male servant who was honest and trustworthy and loyal might be put through finishing school and become matrons or butlers adept in the art of service.

The landowning aristocrats in the US simply used slaves as servants (no brainer). Good dutiful house slaves (often the children of the master like Thomas Jefferson) would rise in rank and be the head house slave,

The landowning aristocrats in Australia used convicts as servants.

So outside of Britain nobody had Butlers. That's why the caricature of the butler always has a British accent.



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02 Oct 2021, 7:01 pm

Joe90 wrote:
And how come it is never racist?

I've seen lots of American movies and cartoons where rich characters have butlers who are snobs with a posh British accent. The actor playing them is usually American.

Why isn't this ever racist? Why doesn't this offend British people? Why would it be offensive and illegal if the butlers were black or Asian, or even other white nationalities such as German?

It's like the British are stereotyped to be snobs with a weird posh-sounding cockney accent that hardly exists these days in England.

I don't understand. Even Google won't answer my question.


My guess would be Alfred from the Batman comics.

Butlers are rare in the US. Only the very wealthy have household servants.



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02 Oct 2021, 7:03 pm

Mikah wrote:
Better butlers than villains, which is more common in my memory.



Lol you are right. The Hulk fought a British villian in his last stand alone film and most of the Imperial officers in Star Wars were played by Brits.



Fenn
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03 Oct 2021, 3:32 pm

In Franco Zeffirelli’s - Jesus of Nazareth
All the Romans had American accents and were played by American actors.
I think it was a conscious choice by the directory.


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Fenn
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03 Oct 2021, 3:39 pm

Axeman wrote:
most of the Imperial officers in Star Wars were played by Brits.


I disagree - lots of Brits in Star Wars because that is where it was filmed. Darth Vader and other (bag guy) voices were dubbed to American accents/American actors. Darth is THE bad guy in the original film - so hard to make a case for "all bad guys are Brits".


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cyberdad
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04 Oct 2021, 12:27 am

Fenn wrote:
Axeman wrote:
Darth Vader and other (bag guy) voices were dubbed to American accents/American actors. .


huh? Since when was James Earl Jones British?



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04 Oct 2021, 1:10 am

smudge wrote:
I like all the above stereotypes of us. We are intelligent, sexy, sophisticated, classy, evil villains 8) .

The cockney accent and RP accents are separate though, I really don't understand why the yanks combine them into one in a person.

Maybe a yank can confirm, I *think* it's British men's accents that are considered attractive to American women. I haven't heard of a British female accent be considered attractive to American men.

Am I wrong?

Posh or RP can be quite sexy in woman. It didnt hurt Joan Collins, Dianna Rigg, or Elizabeth Hurley. Lower class British accent dont ...add to a lady's sexiness much for me. Amy Winehouse was hot despite her dialect. Not because.

I do a show at a little public access radio station here in the US. And when I talk with fellow performers and deejays it always frustrates me that they ask me to "do a British accent". Then have to explain to them "there are TWO KINDS of British accents" (there are actually dozens of kinds of British accents- But in American showbiz there are two basic kinds- and most americans cant even grasp THAT). Those two kinds are what we call "Upper class" (what you call RP), and "Cockney" (London working class). And I have to educate them that they have to tell me what kind of character they want me to be - so I can decide which accent to put on. Like if I am supposed to be a working class bloke you go Cockney, or if its a scientists and you want to spoof David Attenborough you go RP. Like youre saying they are very different dialects. Not just in sound- the two dialects require that you do very different things with your mouth when you speak. When you do Cockney you "tawk outta tha side off your mout loik this" in a rather unique way unlike either BBC English or in any American dialect.



Last edited by naturalplastic on 04 Oct 2021, 1:11 am, edited 1 time in total.

Axeman
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04 Oct 2021, 1:11 am

cyberdad wrote:
Fenn wrote:
Axeman wrote:
Darth Vader and other (bag guy) voices were dubbed to American accents/American actors. .


huh? Since when was James Earl Jones British?


Fenn wrote that not me.



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04 Oct 2021, 1:18 am

Fenn wrote:
In Franco Zeffirelli’s - Jesus of Nazareth
All the Romans had American accents and were played by American actors.
I think it was a conscious choice by the directory.


In school lit class we studied the ancient Greek play "Lysistrata"- which is about the wars between the Greek city states. We listened to a record of actors doing the play. All of the Spartan characters spoke in Southern US dialect, and the Athenians all spoke in general purpose US dialect. :lol:

The teacher said it was to simulate the dialect differences of the ancient Greek regions. Though there is a certain logic to doing it that way- it still seemed laughable to us.