November 03, 2010
I began thinking about this column one week before I noticed that Craig Brown had pinched it. He had actually written what I meant to write one week before I decided to write it, which I guess cannot be called plagiarism merely because I had thought of it first. (If I had, that is.) It’s about the man who wrote Downton Abbey, the greatest and most popular soap opera since Upstairs, Downstairs.
It was during a von Bülow lunch in a St James’s club which is also mine, and I was seated next to a plump, bald man who smiled brightly and introduced himself as Julian Fellowes. “My wife is lady-in-waiting to Princess Michael of Kent,” was his opening line. I burst out laughing but said nothing in order not to be rude. My first thought was, “Is he bragging or complaining?” Now that I read an interview he gave to a tabloid newspaper, I guess it was the former. Amazing what fools men and women can make of themselves even at middle age. But to be fair, he also could have said it because he knew that I know what a phony aristocrat Marie Christine of Kent is.
As everyone outside Hollywood and Wall Street knows, snobbishness is simply an assumption of false superiority. The Fellowes couple seems to practice it with the limitless appetite of true parvenus. In their interview they admitted awarding black marks if they spotted someone tipping the soup plate toward them. And woe to those who “grasped their knife like a pencil.” Now they tell me. I even know people who grasp both their knife and fork like a pencil. I also know that pointing this out is even more common than holding one’s knife like a pencil, as is awarding black marks for lack of superficial manners.
Let’s face it. There’s nothing better than exquisite manners—alas, hard to come across nowadays—but there’s also such a thing called humanity. Would the Fellowes prefer to dine with a great and interesting historian who, having grown up behind the Iron Curtain (I do have someone in mind), holds his knives and forks like pencils, or with a moron such as Michael of Kent? Personally, I prefer the brain to the fork any day. And come to think of it, the Fellowes would be a great hit in Palm Beach, a place where Princess Michael is actually taken seriously.