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Manor House Mister Jonathan
"This is a great opportunity to get away from the temptations of television, email and the telephone." Mister Jonathan
Mister Jonathan
THE PROJECT|THE HOUSE|THE PEOPLE|EDWARDIAN LIFE|YOU IN 1905|TREATS|SNOB QUIZ
Mister Jonathan

Watch the video diaries

Mister Jonathan's Day

As the heir to Manderston, Mister Jonathan would be a very eligible young bachelor
As the heir, Mr Jonathan would be a very eligible young bachelor

Edwardian Life

A Typical Day in the House

How to Treat your Servants

Upstairs
Downstairs
The People: Jonty Olliff-Cooper

Jonty: Thoughts After Leaving the House

What expectations did you have about entering Manor House?
To be honest, I thought it would be very boring. However, my family wanted to do it and I did not want to obstruct the whole process for them. Obviously, it appealed more than stacking shelves for my summer holidays. Still, I don't think that there are many teenagers who fancy idea of being locked up with their family for three months, let alone under the restrictive etiquette of Edwardian society, and still less with the cameras rolling on them.

Do you think that taking part has changed you?
I think I now have a great deal more respect for ways of behaviour of those not of my generation. That applies to the habits of my parent's generation, and my grandparent's. I realise now that not everything that young people do is better than everything that old people do. I think I am certainly less trend conscious.

Has anyone said that you have changed since you have returned to the 21st Century?
Certainly. I think my manners are much better, and my friends certainly comment upon it.

What do you feel you've learnt?
I think I have a better appreciation of a period of history for its own sake, and not just for what we can extract from it for our own use. I am reading Modern History at Oxford at the moment. It seems to be something that academic historians often forget.

I think I have a lot more respect for those stiff and awkward figures that you see in black and white photographs. If you see early film, the figures will walk very quickly and awkwardly. There is something rather comic about it, even if the subject is horrific like the First World War. I think taking part of the project has told me to see those stiff and awkward figures as real humans, with life, feeling, memories, and experiences, all of which have now crumbled to dust. That is very sad, but simply the way of things.

Have you remained friends or stayed in contact with anyone from the household? Why?
Obviously, I have stayed in touch with my family! I would not say that I have kept in very close contact with anyone from the house. Perhaps I was less involved in it. After two months, I left to go to Oxford. I returned every weekend, but I think that this, and my position in the house meant that I never had close relationships with any of the servants, with a possible exception of Charles and Robin.

Edgar came to spend a few days with us over the new year. I have heard from Morrison, and from Bill and Mary Bryson, the owners of the horses that were used in the programme. In fact, I am going back to Scotland this Easter, to help them with lambing on their farm.

It is nothing socially divisive, like 'I thought that the servants were an inferior sort of person' or anything stupid like that. However, several members of the junior staff I would not see from one week to the next. They lived in a separate part of the house to me. They were not supposed to meet me. If we did meet, I was not supposed to talk to them. Under such circumstances, it is very difficult to build up a close relationship. I have been a university since the programme was filmed, so I have had plenty to contend with.

What did you enjoy most?
A difficult question to answer. I enjoy a number of the sports and activities: riding, rowing, cycling, and dancing. I enjoyed going to a new part of the country, and living in a style to which I am unaccustomed. I enjoyed the quality of the food, the service, the clothing. I think what I most enjoyed was being part of a community larger than my own family. I do not know what the servants thought of us, but we had great affection for them. I certainly did not feel as isolated up in the wilds of rural Scotland as I had expected.

What did you like least?
I think what was most disturbing about the project, was the way in which we were obliged to treat humans badly. We did our best not to treat them badly by Edwardian standards, but if we were to make the whole project worthwhile, we had to be pretty harsh on them by modern standards. For example, I was not allowed to talk to the servants, or to see the conditions that they lived and worked in until the very last day. It was not my place to inquire whether they were having a good day, whether they had too much work, or what was going on below stairs. I found this quite a strain. I hate the idea that they could have been hating us behind our backs. I tried my hardest not to give the many more work them was necessary. I almost always dressed myself, ran my own bath, shaved myself, and so on. These are all things that I could have asked my footman to do for me. But I know that he had enough to. The only thing I really needed help with was putting on my leather riding-boots. These were exceptionally small, so I had to have Charles to help me to fit my breaches into them. It will be interesting to hear what he says, but I hope that they did not mind coming up to help us too much. It is what they asked for after all in applying for the programme. I would imagine that working at the coal face as it were, in the kitchens, scrubbing and scraping was the most unpleasant part. Coming up to have a brief chat in our sumptuous surroundings upstairs was probably not too bad. Of course, I have no real idea, as convention prevented us from speaking freely or often.

What did you find the hardest aspect of the role you assumed?
There was a great stiffness in conversation to be maintained on formal occasions, and in front of the servants. At first that was a bit of a strain, but very quickly I became used to it. To be honest, I think that my role was perhaps the easiest in the entire house. I had very little responsibility, beyond behaving with probity. I did find that it was difficult when my girlfriend came to stay. We were not allowed to be alone, and I had not seen enough for a month, (nor spoken to her, as the telephones end to be used for ordering household goods). When we were together, chaperoned of course, we were only really allowed to enquire after one another's health

What did you miss most from the 21st century? Did you ever give in to temptation?
Well I suppose in a sense I did give in to temptation. When I came up to Oxford, I was no longer in Edwardian mode, so I was able to use modern things then. However, surprisingly, there was nothing that I especially missed.

Letter writing was especially laborious, but on the other hand I had plenty of time, and it is so much more personal. I would have liked have kept up-to-date with news. We were in the house on September the 11th, and knew only the sketchiest outline of the events from hearing a sermon in church that Sunday. We knew something serious had happened, but had no idea what it might be. Manderston is in the NATO low-level training area for fighter jets. Around that time they stopped flying over, so we knew something must be up. I remember us talking about it in the carriage on the way to church. It all seemed very distant, and somewhat irrelevant.

Do you think that the 21st century can learn anything from the Edwardian era?
An enormous amount. Nationally, I think that the British have changed a great deal between then and now. It is difficult to describe. A confidence, a pride in oneself and nation. Society today is far too orientated towards youth. In the 1900s, you only entered society and parties at the age of 18. I am 19, and I feel somewhat over the hill now when my ten year-old brother tells me about Limp Bizkit, and what is cool. Of course it is all right for me at the moment, but it does mean that you feel cast on the rubbish heap later on. I think this leads to a fragmentation of society as serious as the social fragmentation that the Edwardians imposed upon themselves.

What did you like and dislike most about the Edwardian era?
My social status in Edwardian period was not commensurate with my social status in the modern period. To disentangle the things I enjoyed about that period from the things that simply come with being rich in any period is tricky.

I enjoyed the painstaking quality of everything, especially the food and the clothing. The presentation of the food was perfect. In a modern restaurant, I always feel as if the waiters only smile at you to get a large tip. In the house, I always felt as if Robin and Charles were doing their best in order to prove themselves to us, or honour us in some way. They seem to proud to put on a good effort. I miss that.

If you could have your time at the Manderston again is there any one thing that you would have done differently?
No. at least nothing of significance. I would have liked have spent more time riding. Most of the things I would have changed were not do with Edwardian factors, but to do with how we interacted with the television company. I suppose it would be helpful for me to have done more of my Oxford reading list before I went to Oxford. Then perhaps all appeal to return more often/for longer in the last month of filming.

Did you find that the Edwardian setting changed the way that men and women related to each other? How do you feel about it?
I certainly think that men and women behave differently in Edwardian society. I do not think that was necessarily detrimental. In most cases I think it was detrimental, but this was not of necessity. To the 21st century mind, the most obvious thought is that women were oppressed in some way. It is true that women held a different social status from now. However, I do not think that it was necessary the intention of the Edwardian system to enforce the subordination of women. There were different spheres in which it was appropriate for a man to operate, and other areas that were a women's jurisdiction. I agree, that in many cases women were subordinated. However my experience does not lead me suggest that this was how the system was deliberately designed. [Of course, it was not designed at all, but evolved.]

I think there are many advantages to the way that men and women interacted in Edwardian society. There was a respect and courtesy. This benefited both the man and woman. Both feel more gracious. It may seem a fatuous social construct to the outsider. However, I found that being forced to behave in a more respectful manner, actually made me become more respectful. The pace of Edwardian life helps as well. For us, there was very little time pressure. There is no dash to get through a door, and hence no reason why in one should not wait and let another go through it first.

Any other stories you want to tell?
The television programme could never possibly reveal the genuine experience that we have had. Even if it was three months of continuous television, it is a different thing to be taken out of your living room and cosy 21st century surroundings, and taste, touch, speak, read, here only the 1900s.

I now find it impossible to walk through the door first, if I am with somebody else. I think particularly young people of my generation miss a lot of what is good from their forefathers generations, in a wild race to be cooler than each other.

I expect people think that when the cameras were turned, we all just chatted and behave like modern people. We did not. Furthermore, and more interestingly, we did not want to. I did not go to Manderston to live like a rich kid. I was not there to boss around servants, but I was there to live like an Edwardian. The level of realism surprised visitors to the house. It was not all just a show for the cameras.

 


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