Lovers and Liars

Lovers and Liars : A David Garrick Double Bill

Master/Servant Relationships

The phrase ‘the butler did it’, from a British detective novel is reproduced in the context of a joke. Such phrases have provided clues to the ways in which servants are perceived. The butler being a marginal person in the household was the most unlikely of all to have done the deed. As a non-person he did not count and therefore, provided a surprise twist to the construction of the plot. Servants have also been used to convey ideas about societal norms and values as well as aspects of social change. The representation of the servant is summed up as, “The literary writer’s servant is there in an active variety: as a loyal tool, mercenary opportunist, active agent, disturber of the social order, representative of the rising bourgeoisie, fore runner of the revolution” [Hansen 1989:22].


Lakshmi Srinivas asserts that ‘the British were continuously making comparison between the empire and the household, which became a symbolic microcosm. If ‘servants were badly trained, it reflected on their master’s ability to rule the country. British housewives were therefore expected to supervise their servants much as their husbands supervised their troops,

Victorians had for the most part regarded their jokes about servants as harmless or even as a healthy way of ensuring that servants knew their place. But, from around the turn of the century, reformers habitually talked of the comedy value of servants as a major problem, indicative of the lack of respect and dignity afforded the profession. The widely debated “servant problem” was often recast as a “humor problem,” a damaging tendency to laugh at all involved with domestic service. A 1919 government inquiry into domestic service described how the press represented servants as “comic or flippant characters … held up to ridicule,” while the domestic difficulties of employers were also commonly portrayed as “ignoble and laughable.” Investigating the humor problem captures the deep socio-cultural significance of domestic service in Britain and reveals the significance of laughter and comedy in delineating class and gender identities.

Such evolution of the master and servant relationship has been extremely influential to both the Miss in Her Teens cast and The Lying Valet cast. Each play is littered with these partnerships, but each is slightly different from the last. Both Sir Simon and Jasper and Gayless and Sharp resemble a  traditional pairing of strict and authoritative  master relying on a lowly yet dependable and loyal servant. Biddy and Tag on the other hand, have an amicable friendship acting as confidantes whilst seeking advice and using one another for their own intentions, whilst different again are Melissa and Kitty, who have a professional but tempestuous bond. Yet whatever the relationship between the duo, their interaction with the audience remains constant. Bouncing off each other’s status’, their dialogue is often quick and rhythmic whilst their physical movements are well timed and harmonious – a trait of double acts that audiences have been exposed to for centuries. When recreating these farces on stage, we strive to recreate such paradoxical embodiments and the humour they can induce.


Master-Servant Relationship in a Cross-Cultural Perspective Author(s): Lakshmi Srinivas
Reviewed work(s): Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 30, No. 5 (Feb. 4, 1995), pp. 269-278 Published by: Economic and Political Weekly Stable URL: .
Accessed: 17/02/2013 15:04

Criminal Law. Liability of Master for Acts of Servant. Master Ignorant. Servant Acting Contrary to Master’s Instructions. Allen v. Whitehead. [1930] 1 K. B. 211

Kitchen‐Sink Laughter: Domestic Service Humor in Twentieth‐Century Britain
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The North American Conference on British Studies
Article DOI: 10.1086/652002
Stable URL:

The Cambridge Law Journal , Vol. 4, No. 1 (1930), pp. 66-67
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of Editorial Committee of the Cambridge Law Journal
Article Stable URL:


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