PBS presents Manor House, a gripping new series which brings class to reality television. Nineteen volunteers from the modern world find that life of a grand country house in the early 20th century is plagued by all-too familiar themes: money, power and position.
Taking Manderston (an authentic Edwardian pleasure palace in the Scottish Borders), a family of five and a newly formed staff of 14 - this six-part series turns back the clock to re-create life as it was for the new rich and their servants during the halcyon period in British social history before the First World War. Everything is quintessentially British: a magnificent house and boating lake, model dairy and tea room, croquet and tennis in the garden, a stable full of horses and carriages - and a group of people utterly divided and ruled by class.
Our modern family upstairs, the Olliff-Coopers, have been taken away from the stresses and strains of modern life to a world where everything is done for them. Attending to their every whim and desire is a team of 14 staff who will do everything for them from picking up clothes to brushing down horses.
All the staff downstairs are volunteers with no experience of working as a servant in a 'big house'. The butler and the housekeeper have been given some training in their duties and it is their responsibility to turn their fellow recruits into a crack team of country house servants: an efficient, discreet and respectful machine.
For three months, the household functions as it would have done in pre-First World War England. Every participant in the experiment has agreed not just to live with Edwardian technology, but to abide by Edwardian standards of behaviour and to adapt to a complicated set of rules that governs everything in their daily lives.
The House Hierarchy
Overarching these rules is an intricate pecking order, which firmly places everybody in the house in a set social position and decides every aspect of life - who can initiate conversation, who has pudding at lunch, who can have a bath and when. The hierarchy is all-important amongst the servants, but it is most obvious in the division between family and staff. Everyone from the maid in the scullery to the master in the study will act in a fashion appropriate to his or her status.
How will each of the 21st century volunteers react to a social structure where there is a place for everyone and everyone knows their place?