or how to titivate your ‘Telegraph’
When I was a boy I used to deliver newspapers to an aristocratic lady who was a cousin of the Queen Mother. She lived in a large Jacobean house in the middle of a country estate and had assorted staff, including a chauffeur and a butler … but it was the butler what did it!
Every morning, instead of sticking her newspapers, the ‘Times’, the ‘Telegraph’ and the ‘Sporting Life’, through the Jacobean letter box I took them directly to the butler’s pantry where he would prepare them for the lady and her guests. On occasions these would include the Queen Mother. The butler referred to his early morning ritual as ‘Dressing the Press’, which he considered an essential start to the day…
DRESSING THE PRESS – THE METHOD.
- A kitchen table covered with thick green baize.
- A good supply of brown paper.
- An iron, electric or oven heated.
- A wooden yardrule or straight edge
- An Aga with warming oven or an airing cupboard
- A large serving plate with cover – silver if possible.
- A butler.
- Spread a sheet of brown paper on the baize covered table and lay a single sheet of the newspaper on top of it.
- Place another sheet of brown paper over the newspaper.
- Run a warm iron over this paper sandwich. The iron must be hot enough for the brown paper to crackle but not hot enough to burn it.
- When every sheet of newspaper is ironed reinstate their original centre fold using the straight edge and then reassemble the journal. Loosely fold the newspaper once again.
- Place the folded newspaper into an Aga warming oven or airing cupboard until the other newspapers have been ironed.
- Finally place all the newspapers on a large serving plate, cover and then take as quickly as possible to their recipient….either in the breakfast room or bedroom. Ideally the newspapers should still be warm when they arrive.
A proficient butler will know that in the country the breakfast hour varies, from 9.00 to 10.30am, and in some country houses it is an understood thing that the guests are at liberty to come down to breakfast at any time between these two hours.
N.B The breakfast gong is a signal for assembling in the breakfast room, but it is not the custom to wait for anyone beyond five or ten minutes.
MANNER AND RULES OF GOOD SOCIETY (or solecisms to be avoided) 1898
The effect of the warm iron and the brown paper is remarkable. As well as soaking up any excess ink – the last thing that any member of ‘the quality’ wants over their fingers – it gives the newspaper a pleasing crispness and sheen. The method works equally well on broadsheets like the ‘Times’ or ‘Telegraph’, tabloids like the ‘Mirror’ or ‘Sun’ and even comics like the ‘Dandy’ and ‘Beano’. Although one should not insist upon having their press ‘dressed’ every day, it is a highly recommended treat for birthdays, anniversaries or other family events.
On one particular occasion both the Queen and the Queen Mother spent a weekend at the Jacobean house. Because of formal protocol I had to deliver two copies of every national and regional newspaper along with the regular copy of the ‘Sporting Life’ …a particular favourite of the Queen Mother I was told. The ironing, folding and warming in the butler’s pantry went on forever even with the assistance of additional staff. My efforts in dragging half of Fleet Street up the long drive on my bike were not forgotten. That Christmas, instead of the usual ‘thank-you’ card and 5/- tip, the lady of the manor gave me a brace of pheasants, a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of port. Unfortunately I could enjoy none of it. I didn’t like the pheasant – too gamey and too much lead shot and I couldn’t drink the drink either. My Mum said I too young.
— from Martyn Day