The Duke of Northampton

A sketch from A Bit of Fry & Laurie

Aerial shot of a large stately home. Grand music. Stephen is standing in his study, stroking a labrador. Hugh, in a dress, is sitting on a sofa, petting a spaniel.

Stephen I suppose in a way we are very lucky. A lot of people would consider us very privileged. Actually, you see, I don't own Hartington Castle. It doesn't actually belong to me.

Voice off Yes it does.

Stephen Yes. It does. It does. In that sense it does. I do own it. But I think, I always think, that actually I've simply borrowed it.

Voice Who from?

Stephen From my children.

Hugh (softly) That's lovely.

Stephen It's a trust. I'm just the bloody caretaker, you know? Just the bloody old caretaker.

Hugh We don't really use this room, do we?

Stephen That's right. My grandfather used this room. They say Lloyd George vomited in that awful silver bucket thing over there.

Hugh We rather hate that, don't we?

Stephen Can't stand the sight of it. Now this is rather fun ...

Stephen takes a small metal object from a display case.

Hugh Great fun ...

Stephen Have a guess at what that might be. Close up of the object.

Voice Oyster knife? Stephen chuckles richly. So does Hugh.

Stephen A lot of people say that. Actually it's not an oyster knife. Have another guess. Interviewer says something we can't quite hear. Not that. I don't even know what an interuterine device is, actually. Have another guess. (Pause.) No? I'll tell you. It's just a knife. An ordinary knife. We keep it here. Can't sell the bloody thing of course. Costs a fortune just to keep it heated. But it's rather fun and it's a heck of a thought that my great grandchildren will take it out some time next century.

Hugh Such fun.

Stephen (putting it back carefully) Great fun. Cut to garden. Hugh is pruning roses in the background and doing something rather silly with them. Stephen stands by a fountain. That's the challenge of course. You know. One's descendants. If my bloody ancestors ... mostly a gang of old crooks actually... if they could keep this damned thing going, without the advantage of mains shopping and what have you, then ... you know, as I say. This (pointing at flower bed) is rather interesting, actually. The third Duke, I think it was, had these beds planted out, very much the thing then, of course. Hugh falls over in the background. And apparently the soil that existed in the beds was completely wrong, so what do you think he did? They thought big in those days, of course. Well, he had over four hundredweight of the right soil transported from all the way over there. Points to a place about three yards away. Got assorted locals to help ... whole village turned out ... stood them all cider and badger cakes afterwards, that sort of thing. But I tell you ... that sort of vision, you know? If I tried to do that sort of thing now they'd say I was crackers, have me locked up and sewing potatoes soon as look at me, I expect.

Cut to Hugh in another part of the garden. There is a gardener.

Hugh (to interviewer) The summer can be pretty ghastly. Open days and lots of coaches filing in and gawping and peering and so on with their muddy tyres everywhere. (To gardener.) I don't like the look of those aphids at all, Godfrey.

Gardener I could spray them tomorrow, your Grace.

Hugh (tartly) No, thank you. I shan't want them sprayed tomorrow, I don't think. I've never been much of a one for having things sprayed tomorrow. (Back to interviewer.) Actually people can be rather fun. I remember one enormous lady in pink who was staring at this rather ugly and impossible lacquered cabinet in the Chinese room and she turned to her husband, who was a very funny little man in tight trousers, you know the sort of thing, and she said, "'Ere, Bert ... we could do with one of them in our front lounge parlour." Rather priceless. Great fun.

The gardener has been considering.

Gardener I could spray them this afternoon.

Hugh I don't think so. I rather hate things being sprayed in the afternoon. (Walking away.) No. Not that, thank you.

Stephen is in his study.

Stephen A certain amount of pressure is brought to bear, obviously, in the matter of children. Got to provide an heir to take over this when I'm dead and gone and buried and no longer alive. Mary does most of the work there. It's something of a tradition in our family that the wife actually carries the child in her stomach before it's born. I let her look after all that side of things. Absolutely wonderful at it too. Can't stand most of the children, great ugly things, take up a huge amount of room and the devil to keep them heated and free of damp. But you know, that's all part of the job.

Cut to wonderful dining-room. Hugh is sitting reading the Telegraph. Four hundred dogs are scampering about. A servant is pouring coffee. Over this Stephen comes down.

I call it the "job", you know. Most people probably imagine being a Duke is just one long round of parties and fete openings and so on. To me it's a job, like any other. Like everyone else, I have to get up at ten, I have to put my own clothes on as they've been lain out ... I come down to breakfast, just like any person would. And then I might talk to the estate manager about the farms, discuss the state of the coverts with my gamekeepers and Mary and I will run over the events of the day ... who's coming to dinner, what menus we should arrange with the kitchens. It's really no different from being a coal-welder or floor walker at your local Asda.

Sound of Hugh and Stephen discussing the day.

Hugh And we absolutely must decide on the May Day Claimings.

Hugh and Stephen begin to discuss names of villagers. They talk about Martha, young Lucy, Tabetha and so on.

Stephen (over) One rather charming local custom around here in the local neighbourhood that surrounds the immediate environs of the nearby area locally is the May Day Claimings, so called. Mary and I feel a great responsibility to keep up with those things. Otherwise one can lose touch.

Hugh (over) When I married Charles he warned me that what he calls his "job" does entail a lot of public responsibility and duty and I'm very keen to share that where possible.

Stephen The point of the Claimings is that I have to choose a young girl to lead the May Day procession in the village. She must be no older than sixteen and no younger than fourteen. She is queen of the May for the day and I have to crown her and, after the maypole dancing and all that sort of palaver, I take her to the dungeons in the old part of the castle and privately violate her.

Hugh We always have great fun choosing the girls. It's one of those very silly English customs whose point is lost in the mists of which there are plenty around here. But it would be such a pity to lost the connection with history.

Stephen It derives, I think, from some time in the seventies when my father thought that violating a village maiden would be rather a good idea. I think that's the origin, though some people claim it goes back as far as 1968. Great fun, though. I always throw myself completely into the spirit of the thing and enjoy it thoroughly.

Vox Pop

Hugh I found this absolutely hilarious misprint in last week's edition of the Peterborough Echo. It says ... listen to this: "The Prime Minister, Mr John Major is a dignified and impressive leader." Isn't that priceless?

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