Servants - The True Story Of Life Below Stairs

9:00pm Friday 12 October on BBC TWO

In No Going Back, the final episode of this series about Britain’s servants, Dr Pamela Cox explores how the 20th century dealt a hammer blow to domestic service as we knew it. It’s the story of how – the moment they had a choice – servants left domestic service, leaving the master-servant relationship spiralling into decline.

The First World War dealt the first blow, as menservants enlisted and women stepped in to fill their roles, both in stately homes and factories. Having had a taste of better working conditions, women were reluctant to return to service, with its hated, now old-fashioned starched cap and apron. Mistresses tried to tempt women back with prettier uniforms and even a Masters’ & Servants’ Ball. Yet radical change came from suburban housewives in a new type of house springing up in the 1930s: the semi-detached home. Here, new ‘daily’ servants used novel technologies like the vacuum cleaner – but still had to use the outside toilet.

Women after the Second World War opted for jobs in offices, shops and the new NHS. Finally, typists and clerks overtook servants as the largest category of female employment and servants’ quarters in stately homes were transformed into visitor attractions. Today, the rich still have staff and many of the middle classes now rely on cleaners and nannies, but the ‘servant class’ has long since disappeared.

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