“Here’s your coffee, Mrs. Owens.”
“Oh, thank you, Mr. Belvedere, but Mr. Belvedere?”
“This is double Dutch mocha, I wanted Swiss orange mint.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, let me draw you a map to the kitchen.”
The television butler isn’t just about cooking and cleaning. In any good TV show, the butler provides much-needed comedy and keeps things moving along.
This is a continuation of our “Man of the House: The 10 Best Television Butlers(#10 to #6)” post from earlier this week. To recap, they are:
10. Duckworth from Duck Tales
9. Cadbury from Richie Rich
8. Lurch from The Adams Family
7. Max from Hart to Hart
6. Benson DuBois from Soap
And now, without any further ado, here are the five best television butlers, according to us:
5. Hop Sing from Bonanza
Let’s admit, even the oldest of us children of the 80’s and after would have a tough time fully recalling the classick Western TV series Bonanza. The most memorable part of it was the opening theme song, which you’ve probably heard in some form either on repeats, in other television shows or during the world’s cheesiest hay ride. Airing from 1959-1973, the adventures of Ben Cartwright and his three sons Adam, Hoss and Little Joe on the Ponderosa were enjoyed every week, more than likely by your parents or grandparents. Rounding out the regular cast was Hop Sing, a Chinese immigrant who served as cook for the Cartwrights.
Played by actor Victor Sen Yung, Hop Sing was portrayed as comic relief for the show, feeding into racial stereotypes of Asians and doing it all with a smile or some sort of joke to keep the laughs pouring in. There was even a running gag where his blood pressure rose whenever the Cartwrights came home late for dinner. Despite how negative and unacceptable this portrayal would be in modern television, for its time and in the place of TV butlers, Hop Sing’s loyalty and fidelity earn him the 5th spot in our list!
4. Alfred from Batman
Played by actor Alan Napier, Alfred Pennyworth was a regular cast member of the campy 1960’s TV series Batman, including the TV film of the same title. Cheerful, loyal, and always protective of Bruce Wayne’s and Dick Grayson’s secret identities, Alfred kept Wayne Manor cleaner than a whistle while also maintaining the underground Batcave, all the Bat vehicles and restocking Batman’s supply of Shark Repellent Bat Spray! (Here’s a thought, did he have to clean them fireman’s poles that Bruce and Dick slid down each time? If so, yuck!).
Given how utterly campy the show was,Alfred fit right in with really corny quips and extremely sketchy explanations of his employer’s whereabouts to keep Commissioner Gordon, Chief O’Hara and most especially Aunt Harriet at bay. There were also times where Alfred held his own too, particularly squaring off against members of Batman & Robin’s rogues gallery either directly in hand-to-hand combat or by assisting The Dynamic Duo in solving puzzles or riddles that may have stumped them. No question, The Caped Crusader would not be successful in ANY medium without Alfred, earning him the fourth spot in our list.
However, for the record….
Christopher Nolan trilogy Alfred > Batman: The Animated Series Alfred > 1960’s Batman Alfred > Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman Alfred.
Apologies to the late Michael Gough, but you should have known better than to let Vickie Vale into the cave!
3. Niles from The Nanny
The top three television butlers on this list have this much in common– they’re all (somewhat) British, clever-witted and have non-stop comedic timing, few moreso than Niles. The butler with no last name was played by actor Daniel Davis for six seasons on the hit 90’s series The Nanny.Playing opposite the unmistakably nasally voice of Fran Drescher’s title character, Niles was a loyal servant of the Sheffields who had a penchant for eavesdropping whenever possible in the household. Aside from being a snoop, Niles was also highly manipulative.
Through the first few seasons, Niles was constantly at odds with Chastity Claire (C.C.) Babcock, who was Maxwell Sheffield’s business partner and wanna-be next-girl. Most of the one-liners on the show were jabs and insults pointed in her direction. However in later seasons, the two were involved in what UnderScoopFIRE‘s Howie Decker would call a “sexual game of cat and mouse” where they eventually became friends and later lovers. By the show’s finale, Niles and C.C. were married and both fainted when it was discovered that they were having a child together.
Here’s some of the best of Niles
2. Mr. Belvedere from Mr. Belvedere
To quote wrestling legend The American Dream Dusty Rhodes, “I have wined and dined with kings and queens, and I’ve slept in alleys and ate pork and beans!”. The transition of Lynn Aloysius Belvedere from serving under royalty in Great Britain to live-in housekeeper for a middle-class family in a Pittsburgh suburb garnered successful ratings for Mr. Belvedere when it aired on ABC from 1985-1990.
Actor Christopher Hewett portrayed the title character, a posh English butler who over time becomes a valued member of The Owens family that takes him in. After hanging out with the likes of Churchill & Ghandi in the opening credits, Mr. Belvedere has to contend with sportswriter George, played by Mr. Baseball Bob Uecker, wife Marsha and the children: Kevin (played by Rob Stone, who was later rumored to be Marilyn Manson), Heather (Tracy Wells) and Wesley (Brice Beckham). Belvedere and Wesley have the most developed relationship on the show, progressing from antagonism and pestering at first to a closer relationship in the later seasons. It was Mr. Belvedere who Wesley turned to when the camp counselor molested him and when some random kid in his class contracted HIV on two very special episodes of the show.
As with most of the men on this list, Mr. Belvedere became more than just “the help” and did so with the grace and dignity of a gentleman. The only things that keep him from taking the top spot on this list are (a) we are still emotionally scarred by the mention of his taint in an edition of “The Fifth” from The Eclectik Discussion Podcast and (2) he ended EVERY single episode of the show writing some entry in his
diary journal about his time with the Owens clan. But as we learned with Alfred from 1989’s Batman… no one likes a snitch!
Well, if the number ONE butler in television isn’t Mr. Belvedere, then who could it be???
1. Geoffrey from Fresh Prince of Bel Air
Geoffrey Barbara Butler is the butler to end all butlers. The first character to appear onscreen in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air pilot episode, Geoffrey has become synonymous with butlering because, well, it’s his LAST NAME! Let’s review the tale of the tape, shall we?
- Studied at the University of Oxford
- Marathon runner, former Olympic gold medalist for Great Britain in the 70’s. He had his medal stripped from The Queen when it was discovered he took a cab to the stadium during a race, as discovered in the documentary “Shame of a Nation“
- Former butler for Led Zeppelin
- Former sparring butler for Chuck Norris
- Godfather to big-head baby Nicky Banks
- Constantly made jokes about Uncle Phil’s weight, many of them right in front of his employer. He also cracked wise on Hilary’s aloofness, Carlton’s height and whatever else was available in the hilarious Banks household.
- Posed as militant black poet Raphael Delaghetto, who was conjured up by Will to impress Sharane from House Party (played by A.J. Johnson, a.k.a. Baby Boy’s mom).
Here’s some of Geoffrey’s funniest wisecracks from the show.
During the entire show’s run from 1990-1996, actor Joseph Marcell cemented his place in TV history by transforming how we view butlers. For that reason, he is hands down number ONE!
And now, to celebrate!
Did you like our 10 Best TV Butlers list? Agree or disagree? Did we miss any? Tell us about it in the comments below!
*Note: Apologies to fans of Florence Johnston and Rosie the Robot Maid, but this list is butlers only. Maids will be profiled in a separate post down the road.