The Last Butler

They are an endangered species – classic English butlers who have tended for centuries to the needs of the aristocracy with discrete authority and razor-sharp etiquette. Rick Fink is one of the last men standing. Through his private butler school, he insists passes on the profession’s classic virtues to new generations. Provenue met with the gentlemen’s gentleman.

It can take hours to polish a single pair of shoes. But once finished, they are so shiny they reflect light from the chandelier. Silverware must be polished with bare fingers – the only way to get into the deepest corners of cups, bowls and candelabras. Trained hands can even tell whether the silverware is English or German. At the end of the day the polisher’s fingers are coal-black and most of his nails are broken. But the silverware shines.

Shortcuts are not Rick Fink’s style. To him, the butler profession is synonymous with hard work, beginning at dawn when tea is served at the boss’s bedside and ending late in the eve¬ning – or night – when the front door closes behind the last guest at the party. During the day the butler’s job is to scrub and polish. You may be able to squeeze in a couple hours of free time, but there are no guarantees.

That’s basically the story of Rick’s daily life during the years he was employed by various families. Later he became freelance butler – he still is from time to time. And in 2002, he founded a butler school, where he trains butlers for jobs in private households and on yachts.

Still going At the age of 71 Rick could easily retire to a more relaxed lifestyle. But his passion for the butler profession keeps him going, along with a concern that mediocre hotel butlers will defile the profession. Rick started his butler school with the objective of passing on the uncompromising standards he sees as the trademark of “the true English butler”.

A good butler makes sure that things run correctly and smoothly. He is always at the forefront of events and constantly able to answer the next question his boss will ask. He also has an eye for detail. As an example, I always tell my students never to put salt and pepper on the table unless they have checked that the shakers actually contain something.
— Mr Rick Fink

Provenue met with Rick near Oxford, England. He invites us inside for a guided tour in the elegant 300-year old mansion where he worked as a butler for many years, and which he can still use for the training of his students. It’s a place loaded with history. During World War II Winston Churchill sometimes stayed here during full moons because he was more pro¬tected from the German bombers than in his official residence Chequers.

In Rick’s years of service presidents, ministers, movie stars and royalty have visited the man¬sion. He reels off some of the names along with a few anecdotes – but nothing too revealing. Discretion is a butler’s most important qualification.

Discretion, a matter of honour “The butler is the only staff person who almost constantly stays in the room with the host and his guests. Even during private speeches. You may wonder why, because that would be none of my business. But if a guest suddenly feels unwell, for example, who is then to intervene? That’s the butler’s job,” says Rick.

Originally Published in Provenue, December 2006