What the Butler Saw: Alfred Pennyworth and Friends


The best (and worst) butlers/gentleman’s gentleman/valets in TV and film.

When you need tea, you ring for the butler. When you hear the doorbell, the butler will be hot-footing it to answer. And when you’re a billionaire playboy moonlighting as a caped vigilante superhero, he’ll knock you up a nifty costume.
If you need life advice delivered in the form of sassy one-liners, the butler is there to provide it (asked for or not) alongside your perfectly prepared breakfast/luncheon/supper, together with an ironed newspaper and  single flower in a cut glass vase. Class.
The butler, (or valet, ‘gentlemen’s gentleman’ or majordomo, if you want to be fancy) is a staple in cinema, books and television.
Hearing that the Batman prequel Pennyworth was going into its second season, I thought I’d consider some of the various butlers we’ve seen on film and TV.
Note: this is NOT meant to be an exhaustive list, so please, no snarky comments saying ‘you idiot, why didn’t you include such and such a character’ etc.
First the good: these would include Stephen Fry as Jeeves, Gordon Jackson as Hudson (Upstairs, Downstairs), and naturally enough Jim Carter as Mr. Carson (Downton).

The heroic? – aside from the many incarnations of Batman’s Alfred there’s The Admirable Crichton (Kenny More) Jarvis (James D’Arcy) in Agent Carter, Hillary (Chris Barrie) from the first two Lara Croft pictures, Denholm Elliotts’ Coleman in Trading Places along with father figures such John Gielgud’s sarcastic Hobson in Arthur.

Trading Places - It's All Yours


I'll Alert the Media

Got tragic? –  Tony Hopkins’ ‘stick up his arse’ Stevens in Remains of the Day, Erich Von Stroheim in Sunset Boulevard, Alan Bates and Clive Owen in Gosford Park

The Remains of the Day (1/8) Movie CLIP - The Rules of the Manor (1993) HD

Comic? –  Lurch (Addams Family), Parker (Thunderbirds), Benson, Mr Belvedere, Ferguson (Frasier), Niles (The Nanny), the hapless Kato (Pink Panther), Edmund Blackadder (Blackadder The Third), Emilio (Mr. Deeds) and the blind butler Jamesir Bensonmum (Alec Guinness) in Murder by Death.

Clouseau v. Cato - Round 7


The Blind Butler (Alec Guinness) from "Murder By Death"

And of course who can forget those nasty manservants – Dirk Bogarde in The Servant, Terence Stamp (The Haunted Mansion) and our naughty little friend Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize) from The Man With The Golden Gun:

James Bond VS Nick Nack

Annoying?  Henry the butler from William (Marathon Man) Devane’s ‘Rosland Capital’ adverts, which seem to play incessantly on the UK’s digital TV channels.

'Britishness' featuring William Devene - Rosland Gold

Going back to the character of Alfred Pennyworth, I confess (and many will disagree with me) that my favourite recent incarnation was Jeremy Irons in the last few DC movies.
At any rate he was less needy than Michael Caine or doddery than Micheal Gough.
Can’t have anything to do with the fact the Jeremy very kindly shot (gratis) an intro for me for the charity channel Together in the UK last year.
Could it?

Join Jeremy Irons in Our New Show, Trashed


Batman v Superman - Bruce and Alfred first scene

Would Sir be requiring anything else this evening?


Avatar photo

Stephen Arnell

Culture Comment Content Provider. Portrait courtesy of artist Darren Coffield. 'Non satis me tempo'