Modern Times: The Last Dukes

Like coal, steel and video rental shops, the bottom has really fallen out of the duking business. There are only 24 non-royal dukes left in Britain, and quite a few of them are on their uppers. (Relatively speaking, of course: I don’t expect they’ll be worrying about changes to tax credits.)

Take the Duke of St Albans. The dukedom was created for the illegitimate son of Charles II and Nell Gwynn, but no longer comes with an estate. For this entertaining Modern Times documentary, filmmaker Michael Waldman visited the current Duke and Duchess in their (don’t get me wrong, very splendid) terraced house in London, where they obligingly dug their ermine robes out of the loft. His Grace explained that he still holds the title of Grand Falconer of England and that, until recently, it had come with an annual payment of a quarter of a deer from Richmond Park, but Tony Blair had put a stop to that. ‘What did you think about that?’ asked Waldman. ‘Pretty poor show,’ huffed the Duke.

Others had the weathered the changing times better. The seat of the Duke of Marlborough is still Blenheim Palace, the seven-acre Oxfordshire pile that makes Downton Abbey look like a Travelodge. Like Downton, though, the estate was only saved when the ninth Duke married an American heiress, the splendidly named Consuelo Venderbilt.

Over at Belvoir Castle, the Duke and Duchess of Rutland – whose glamorous daughters Lady Violet, Lady Alice and Lady Eliza are as close to a modern-day Mary, Edith and Sybil as you could hope to find – have hit on a practical solution to their marriage problems: they’ve simply moved into separate wings.

Several families spoke of a sense of restlessness that can come from not having a proper job. Lady Camilla Osborne, daughter of the late Duke of Leeds, said her father had been an unhappy soul who never figured out what his purpose in life was – and that she, too, had lived a ‘slightly aimless’ existence. On the plus side, she still had the family coronets, which she revealed her father had kept his sandwiches in during long and boring state occasions. So clearly duking wasn’t all bad.


 TV extra:


Jekyll and Hyde

‘Downton Abbey with monsters’ is how Charlie Higson describes this new fantasy adventure (see p10). Sadly, we didn’t get to see the Dowager Countess tussling with Godzilla (though we all know who’d win), but Higson’s comic book take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s horror classic is still great fun. Set in the 1930s, it stars Tom Bateman as the original Dr Jekyll’s grandson, struggling with anger management issues that would make Gordon Ramsay blush. It’s The Incredible Hulk in Homburg hats, basically. And what’s not to love about that?


The funniest, filthiest comedy of 2015 is back for a second series, with Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney now proud parents to two children (so probably about time he updated her name in his phone from ‘Sharon London Sex’, really). Rob is struggling to pronounce his new daughter’s Irish name, and Sharon is upset because her dad’s got Alzheimer’s, the dog’s dead and ‘three people in this house wear nappies, and I’m one of them’. The rest of the jokes are NSFW (Not Safe For Weekend), but suffice to say it’s an absolute blast.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, October 29, 2015

(c) Waitrose Weekend