Helena Gumley-Mason’s ‘Etiquette and general possibly useful stuff’



Apologising: – More of a mea cupla (it was entirely my fault) attitude. Acknowledging the mistake you made – “sorry I am so late,” To put it far more eloquently as Debretts does ”The urge to elicit groveling self-abasement is both childish and offensive”




Banting- After the Dr Banting – how to get the new thin look by following a strict diet. You wouldn’t say someone was dieting – you would say they were “banting”


Bright Young Things. – . Usually too young to have served in the Great War. . Moneyed . Leisured.. dancing all the new dances. Driving new and faster cars. Inventing there own slang (different sets came up with different saying) For example the Inner London Set in the thirties described things as sweet or “do be a sweetie”


BBC – Monopoly. The only broadcasting company at this point. Aimed purely at middle classes and above . Hugely helping/ influencing the way people talked from Lands End to John O ‘Groats. What referred to as “received pronunciation” – basically BBC English.




Cinema – Everyone goes. Several times a week – to “watch the talkies” Sound really came in with the 30s (first was 1927 but talkies really came into their own in the thirties)


Cars /Motor Cars – Quite simply – more of them although still very few though. Of course they were needed more in towns. As the thirties went on they became smaller, cheaper and faster..


Chivalry. During the thirties it was becoming more apparent that women didn’t “need “ help /rescuing. However a few things were still expected of men toward women. The three main things: acknowledging any female presence– doffing hat and standing up when females entered a room. Walking curbside as well when escorting women in the street (to avoid splashing by motor cars or trams etc. Of course opening doors for women was expected.


Cocktails. Abbreviated by people like Wallis Simpson to KTS – Savoy American Bar developed exotic and lethal cocktails and still do them today. KTS tied in with the nightclub culture.


Club: Men of a certain club would be part of an exclusive club in London. You could stay there if you came down to London for a night. A place where you would meet people – the phrase “Come to the club for lunch ” recurred often .




Diction: watch brief encounter and talk to david for a long period of time. Nuff said. Also any Noel Coward songs – “The Stately Homes of England?” Just remember clipped, pushing of words to the front of your mouth. The more restrained and correct you are the less you will have to use your mouth and draw any attention to any kind of sensuality. Think of words like awfully, frightfully, terribly. Lengthening of certain vowels – gone owfe – clawthe (cloth) short stupid (stoopid). Garrige not garrage. Reiterated words and phrases such as “I mean” and “don’t you know”


Divorce: Increasingly common. In some sets there were competitions to see who could marry most often and get the most money out of it.


Dancing – Charleston , the Black Bottom to name a few of these new American dances. Referred to as “The new Barbarism” with the underlying and somewhat disturbing influence of jazz and blues etc.




Edward VIII abdicates. Nation united in loathing of Wallis Simpson.




Fashion. Again this ties in with posture (see later). The Bright Young Things are trend setters but first and foremost – exhibitionists. Their harshest critics …each other.


Formality; First in terms of dress even when being casual . Men wold have had a jacket and tie, you would have been used to wearing black tie and occasionally white tie . They would have felt quite familiar with dressing more formally and.


(Small gestures while wearing clothes to emphasise the care and pride you take in your appearance. Possibly every now and then just check that your tie knot is jut so..your cuff etc. Sometimes Prince Charles does it in interviews! – More about the language of gesture rather than actually adjusting your tie. When going out not only hat would be worn but there would have been stick (again more for the purpose of accessory than practical function) and gloves.)


-Ladies – androgyny !! Move away from the restrictive corsets. Moving away from the frivolity of flappers. No need any more to be afraid of using your body.. Considerably greater sexual awareness. No need to wear dresses either – slacks came into fashion as did plain shirts and plain jackets. Not about relying solely on your clothes for self expression.


Fascism; Sir Oswald Moseley and his Blackshirts. It is a phenomenon which triumphs in Spain Italy Germany. Not necessarily a bad word amongst the aristocrats and the sets. Many aristocratic people thought it was perfectly acceptable – especially when it came to appeasement




Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. She brought sex appeal he brought entertainment. Adele Astaire interestingly married into the Devonshire Dynasty – became something of a minor aristocrat.


Gramophone-Now small enough to be portable. No party should be without one. A portable band you can dance to in your own home. “How deevy!” (slang for divine – but when it came to usic – the thirties equivalent of groovy!)





Hair : Short., men using grease such as Brillliantine. KInd of lacquered look. Women leaving girlhood behind at about the age of seventeen or eighteen if you were upper class and had been presented to society.


Homosexuality: Obviously frowned upon. Although it was more tolerated in upper class circles – your friends would turn a blind eye. If caught “cottaging” (Hampstead Heath was something of a hotspot for the practice during this period) you would be sent to prison without question.



India and Empire. The notion of an entire peoples belonging to the crown and Britain still around in this period.




Jazz – new daring slightly decadent. Knowing that your parents wont like it but you and your friends you do . Nazis and Communists also hated it.





Laughter – not too much – no more than an appreciative aha. Otherwise it could allude to drunken and unruly behaviour.


Ladies – withdraw after dinner to chat while men had whiskey and cigars and so on. Important to note there were two types of lady:

-the fast set (like Wallis Simpson) – sexually promiscuous, more practised in the “art” of ex and seduction. Drink, smoke, do drugs, dance and dress sexually. Delight in causing scandals.

-and the stay at home ones like HRH Queen Liz married to Bertie who was to become King George VI




Marriage – not necessarily on the shelf if not married (for a woman) by the age of twenty five. Still very much the thing to do. Sometimes seen as the only way out of a scandal.


Mistresses – almost fashionable after Wallis Simpson. It was understood in certain circles that once children had been produced a man could take a mistress with his wifes full knowledge. Of course if a married woman committed the same act she would be cast out and rejected by society, her friends and family.




Nightclub: Increasingly common. Names like The Embassy , Kit Kat and the Scarlet Peacock.




Oil: More Millionaires and more success stories. It was now more possible than ever (mainly in the US) to get rich quick and go from being a nobody to a very sought after somebody




Posture – women – elongate the body. This is where fashion and smoking come in as well. Lifting the head so you are almost looking down your nose – aware of your own self importance and self confidence without being rude. The more you bare your neck the more you show how comfortable you are (think when a wasp comes near – most push their chin down and hunch their shoulders as a self defense mechanism)


Politics: after a brief flirtation with Labour in twenties than it was Conservatives throughout thirties with Baldwin and and then Chamberlain


Pride – upper classes the words pride and patriotism recur often. Not a dirty word. All levels of society in their own ways were proud of where they came from and their country.




the Season. Something Nina, Agatha, Mary and Martha would have taken part in. Presentation at court at the age of seventeen. Learn everything from the useless (flower arranging) to the slightly less useless formal circulation of a party of people.


Smoking – this ties in with posture. One never smokes holding between finger and thumb always between index and middle finger. Treat it as a gestural tool and an extension of your fingers. Not only does it elongate your hand it also distinguishes you. By this I mean – servants and those in a lower position would usually hold cigarettes between forefinger and thumb so they could hide it from their employers at a moments notice. Similarly in the Army , if you were smoking on duty , you could quickly hide it from your commanding officer. Men always light women up with matches. When women can – use a holder. Pipes also optional. Cigars at big dinners. Everyone smoked.


Sex – Bedhopping among upper classes common. (obvs) marriages often contracted dynastic or land reasons and consequently more bed hopping continued after heir produced. Quite usual to have a mistress – “an heir and a spare.”


Scandal – upper classes try to avoid newspapers at all costs. In their opinion, “hatched matched dispatched” should be the only time a respectable family appear in news. The Bright Young Things love and loath the papers as we see in the play,




Tea – all drink tea – no one unless very upper class would have coffee. One would use pots and tea leaves not cups and tea bags.




Underwear- for women – no more corsets !! Easier to get on and off and increasingly scanty.


University – the only options would be Oxford and Cambridge and a few other mostly red brick places around the country.




Victorian – term of abuse used by the young swinging beings of the Thirties




Work – publishing houses would be the main respectable option for the young men of the sets. Anything which required very little specialist knowledge and wasn’t paid very well.


War – all terrified of it. Very recent memory.


Wireless no one listened to the radio – everyone listened to the wireless.




Yachts – the new King Ed VIII goes on a naughty cruise with Mrs Simp – to gasps of horror across the empire. You may have a grand friend who has one.




Zips – of course fewer and fewer ladies maids are around. Also about ease comfort and economy.


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