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Three Complete TV Series I Could Watch Again and Again

May 30, 2011

I spent much of yesterday watching a Firefly marathon on the Science channel.  Some shows have the power to hold your love and attention like no others.  These wonderful TV sagas are long gone, but not forgotten…

1.) Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009)

Ron Moore, an active scriptwriter during Star Trek: The Next Generation’s final seasons, took a cheesy 70s clunker of a show and managed to turn it  into a brilliant parable of  mankind’s search for a place to call home.  Telling the tale of humankind’s defeat by their own machine creations, BSG followed the last group of survivors as they battled internal and external demons to find a mythical place called Earth.  From the opening sequence of the mini-series it was a visual and emotional masterpiece.  BSG managed to tackle moral dilemmas while also delivering breathtaking action sequences that changed the face of television. Lasting a mere four seasons on Sci-Fi, BSG managed to be one of the most critically lauded television shows of all time – deservedly so.

2.) Twin Peaks (1990-1991)

David Lynch’s surreal and mystical town of hip cats and cherry pie-loving FBI agents was the forerunner of many similar shows currently in orbit on your Tivo.   The premise was loosely based on the investigation of the murder of  prom queen (and double-life-leading) Laura Palmer, but that was just a red herring to suck viewers in to the broader mythos and mood of this fascinating series.  Season one was a cornucopia of characters, plot twists and lust-filled glances, all set to the sensual music of Julee Cruise and Angelo Badalamenti.  Alas, ABC demanded that Agent Dale Cooper and Co. wrap up the mystery at the end of season one, leading to an all-too-brief second season that never got a chance to go anywhere.  Still – Lynch’s original vision is remarkably re-watchable, never dated and always beckoning you to take a trip back to the spooky wilds of the Pacific Northwest.

3.) Firefly (2002)

This beloved cult classic was so mistreated by Fox that creator Joss Whedon swore he’d never work with the network again.  He later re-canted by giving them Dollhouse, which met a similar, if more prolonged fate.  The saga of Captain Mal Reynolds and his crew of misfits takes place in a post-WWIII future where the dominant cultural influences are Asian and…Cowboy.  Somehow, it works.  Between the wonderful acting by all the leads and the masterful scripts, each episode was a fantastic blend of sci-fi, comedy and classic western.  Although the series was canceled mid-run, all the produced episodes are currently available on DVD, and the movie Serenity manages to wrap up most of the loose ends.  Many current series (Fringe, LOST, BSG) owe much of their success to Whedon’s series that never really got off of the ground.


U.K. Travel Diary: Day 6

May 24, 2011

Today was sightseeing in Edinburgh.  We went to the “New Town” first, which is the Georgian section of town and was home to many inventors, poets and authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott.  Edinburgh is a proud city, and rightfully so; the people here are jovial, friendly, cheeky and creative.

Home of Robert Louis Stevenson

Edinburgh is a UNESCO Literary Heritage site, and its love of the written and spoken word is palpable and inspiring.

Our first walking stop on the tour was the Palace of Holyrood, which was by far one of my favorite sites we visited.  It is widely known for its association with Mary, Queen of Scots during Tudor times.  Our tour guide knew her story well, although she is not very beloved today.  Her life is a tale of queenship, vanity, destroyed love, misplaced patriotism and ultimate despair.

The palace itself (much like Hampton Court) houses two distinct styles of architecture – Tudor and Restoration.  Charles II rebuilt and altered the house greatly in the 1600s.  Today, they were setting up inside for a visit by the Duke of Kent (the queen’s cousin).

The star of the visit was a trip up to Mary, Queen of Scots’s original rooms, where she was forced by her brute of a husband, Lord Darnley, to witness the murder of her friend and secretary David Rizzio by her own Scottish lords.  The supposed “true bed and furniture” of Mary is a bit of a misnomer.  None of the furnishings currently on display would have been the “original” ones, and much of it is from a later period ,but most tourists wouldn’t blink an eye at that, I’m sure.  The “blood stain” on the floor is also a fake, a remnant of Victorian times when they wanted to “sell” the murder to drive tickets, no doubt.

inner court at Holyrood Palace

The murder itself, however, was quite real, and would end up changing the course of Brit politics in a roundabout way.   There is a miniature of Mary on display in her apartments.  It is the only surviving portrait of her painted while she was alive.

Alas, the tour guides don’t tell the end of the story to the tourists.  Poor Mary would get her revenge on her useless philandering husband (who was also pock-marked and syphillitic, to boot) by attempting to blow up the building he was convalescing in while he was inside.  When this failed (he wandered out), her minions were forced to brutally murder him and attempt to explain his death on the fire (not very convincing when his strangulation wounds were obvious).

Eventually, the Scots people had enough of this French-educated tart of a queen and promptly chased her out of the country, right into the arms of her cousin Liz I across the border.  Mary then tried to have a “Who’s the Most Awesome Queen in the Isles” contest with Elizabeth, who arched her skinny plucked eyebrows and promptly declared, “Hell to the No, Wench” and locked Mary up in various rotting castles for over 19 years before finally executing her for treason.  Well played, Liz, well played.

ruins of Holyrood Abbey

Back to the tour..

On the way out of Holyrood, you pass through the ruins of the medieval Holyrood Abbey, which we saw in some rather picturesque rain, only adding to the creepy gothic aura.

Next, it was off to Edinburgh Castle, which has been a palace, a barracks and also Scotland’s primary garrison for centuries.  The castle has a bloody but interesting history in the war versus England.  We saw the Scottish Crown Jewels, the chamber where James I of England was unceremoniously born (his mother being the aforementioned Mary Queen of Scots), and admired the best views in the city from the cannongate.

The whole castle is built on volcanic black rock, and lit up at night it is a marvel to see.

in front of Edinburgh castle

That evening, we took a trip to the harbor at Leith to tour the Royal Yacht Britannia, which was QE II’s yacht that was decomissioned in 1997 because, as our guide stated, it was “a floating gin palace”.  Basically, the common folk didn’t like their taxpayer money being pumped into such a waste of cash.

The yacht served as the Queen’s home away from home for over 50 years.  The royal apartments are surprisingly sparse – not much more impressive than our London hotel room.  Then you look around and notice that it took over 200 people to run this little “boat” (including naval officers, a royal band on call 24-7 and two doctors).

Queen's sitting room on the Britannia

The State Dining Room is impressive and everything is styled as if it were an event that very evening, right down to the polished plate and fresh flowers.  I can imagine the Brits tax payers ire at the costs demanded to run this floating mini-kingdom.  Today, however, the revenue from tours goes to the British Heritage Fund, helping to preserve historic sites across the U.K.  Hail, Britannia!

TV Testimony: Why Parks and Recreation May Be the Best Comedy on TV

May 18, 2011

Yes, Modern Family is hilarious.   The Office still has its moments.  30 Rock still entertains.  Cable TV  has its share of cult hidden gems.  But, can we take a moment to honor the underdog of comedy genius that is Parks and Recreation?

Parks and Rec got off to a slow start.  The show misfired at first by trying to duplicate The Office’s mockumentary format without its originality, and tried to make lead character Leslie Knope a female clone of Michael Scott (complete with bumbling, cringe-worthy escapades).  It didn’t work.  The first season’s “pit that needs to be a park” plot got mired in too many instances of physical humor versus genuine wit (most of the pratfalls involved – no pun intended-  Chris Pratt’s Andy).

Ron Swanson

By the second season, however, the show had found its niche, turning Leslie Knope into a smart cookie with a fatal flaw (she genuinely cares so much about her job and her co-workers that she’s willing to go WAY to far to succeed) and giving the talented ensemble cast storylines and character arcs that turned them into more than one-note background  props.

Now in its third season, the show has hit its stride, and there isn’t a waste of a character to be found.  From the anti-social but deadpan April (Aubrey Plaza) and her cuddly but clueless wannabe rock star hubby Andy (Chris Pratt), to the smooth stylings of entrepreneur Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari – whose bar Snakehole Lounge has a hilarious website that should not be missed:, to my personal favorite Libertarian Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), we finally have characters we care about that don’t make us uncomfortable to laugh with or at them.

This season’s two episode event last week was a perfect illustration of how the magic happens.  Take all the characters, put them in the Snakehole Lounge under the influence of Tom’s dubiously named “Snake Juice” (as stated in Tom’s script for Ron: “I want this night to get krazy. Get me a shot of snake juice. I hear it has a dope aftertaste”) and then enjoy the chaos.  We found out that April and Andy like to role play (as the world’s worst FBI agent and a widow with a ridiculous secret past and even more ridiculous accent), Leslie and Ann like to revert to high school behavior ( Leslie: “No offense, but I don’t remember you having a nursing degree in feelings!”  Ann: “Offense! That’s rude!”), and Ron likes to get his groove on.

April and Andy tie the knot

I haven’t laughed out loud so consistently during a half hour of television since, well, the first and second seasons of The Office (may they RIP).

What I appreciate about Parks and Rec that The Office is currently lacking is the feeling that all of these characters really could work together.  They have realistic quibbles, work problems and personal hang ups.  Still, there’s a charming sense that they all genuinely LIKE each other.  The friendship between Leslie and Ann is a prime example.  Another is example is the relationship between flighty April and her well-meaning but irresponsible hubby Andy.  Gosh darn it if they didn’t turn what could have been a jump-the-shark relationship into a sweet and realistic one.  The episode where Ben moves in and tries to make them shop responsibly at Bed Bath and Beyond (despite the Siren Song of the “As Seen on TV” section) was one of my favorite TV moments ever.

I loved the Jim and Pam arc on The Office, but Ben and Leslie on Parks and Rec are giving them a run for their money in terms of being a couple you love to root for.  Ben loves Leslie’s geeky goody-two-shoes charm, and she’s a sucker for his artfully disheveled hair and nice guy smile.

Ben and Leslie

Plus, it is reason in itself to tune in just to see Tom give food ridiculously awesome alternate names (inspiring the nickname “Tom Haverfoods” : ) or to hear Ron spout his political beliefs and feelings about steak.

All in all, I’m grateful that NBC gave Parks and Recreation a chance to grow into itself.  It was worth the wait.  All hail Pawnee, Indiana and its eclectic residents.

The quotes below are just several reasons why I adore this show:

Ron:” Leslie has a lot of qualities I find horrifying. But the worst one by far is how thoughtful she can be.”
Leslie:  “Public Art Commission. Filled with hippies who love public art and sometimes weed. Jackpot.”

Ann:” Describe your ideal man.”
Leslie: “He’s dark and mysterious, and he can sing. And he plays the organ.”
Ann:” I think you just described the Phantom of the Opera.”

Ben:” I move around a lot, so the friends I make in these cities, they’re like Facebook friends, you know? “Hey, Doug from Bloomington is thinking about buying a shirt.” Come on, Doug, who cares?”

Tom: “Everyone steals. My favorite movie is Love Don’t Cost a Thing with Nick Cannon. Which is based on Can’t Buy Me Love, which is based on Kramer vs. Kramer, or something, which I think was Shakespeare…”

For more Parks and Recreation fun to tide you over until next season, be sure and check out:

Rapid Review: Thor

May 15, 2011

All hail the mighty Thor, who has been immortalized in my mind since the 1987 classic Adventures in Babysitting, when his alter ego was a cranky auto mechanic.  The guy has come a long way.  Even the elusive Shakespearean actor/director Kenneth Branagh has come out of the shadows to direct the origin tale of this hammer-wielding superhero.

Branagh is perhaps more known for shaping the tragic story of Shakespeare’s  Hamlet than a comic book titan, but in many ways the directing of Thor  is a natural fit.  Thor, god of thunder in Norse mythology, has a back story and family tree just as tempestuous as the melancholy Dane of yore.  The body count may not be as high, but Thor injects an equal amount of mystery, awe-factor and humor to satisfy even the most hard-core Marvel fan.

Chris Hemsworth as the hammer-wielding title character

Thor (played by relative newcomer Chris Hemsworth) has been banished from his wintry domain of Asgard by his towering father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) because, let’s face it, a proper son and heir must be able to do more than smash frost giants and terrify the minions.  He must also be a worthy and noble leader.  When Thor begins a bloody and unnecessary was due to his own hubris, it is the last straw.  Basically, Thor lacks humility and pathos and dear old dad wants to teach him a lesson.

Thor is subsequently banished to the most despicable and lowly place imaginable:  Earth.  Gee, thanks.   He lands (happily) amongst a group of scientists led by Oscar-winner Natalie Portman, who manages to make the usual love interest role a step above damsel-in-distress, if still a step below Mystique or Black Widow status.  To give the screenwriters credit, they manage to make the scenes on dreary old Earth just as interesting as the Asgard ones, which is no small feat.

Thor has been stripped of his powers, but not of his chiseled and brash physique or healthy arrogant attitude.  He must learn to survive as an average human, while also fighting evil (duh) and locating his missing hammer.  I HATE it when I lose my mystical magic hammer.

Of course, there is more to the rumblings going on in Asgard than is apparent on the surface.  Those familar with Norse mythology know that Loki is the trickster god for a reason.  This family dynamic has few kinks to work out.

Thus, Thor is in many ways, a story that I wouldn’t have been surprised if the bard himself had penned.  It has all the elements of a classic coming-of-age story, wrapped in a war story, cloaked in a study of  decption and human nature.   Chris Hemsworth as the title character is buff but approachable, even if his Shakspearean-Lite accent tends to falter quite a bit in less action-packed scenes.   Portman is tough but also believable as scientist Jane, who manages to be likeable and unruffled by the fantastical happenings around her.  The rest of the cast is rounded out by successful and admirable character actors such as Stellan Skarsgard, Colm Feore and Clark Gregg (who has been a presence in both Ironmans as well).  Still, much of the scene stealing credit should go to Kat Dennings as the scientists’ intern, Darcy, who gets many of the movie’s best comedic lines.  Tom Hiddleston as Loki is also one to watch, with his intense eyes and even more intense talent.

Hopkins chews some Asgard scenery (with an eye patch!)

The movie was filmed in 3D and the effects   are used well in highlighting the whiz and bang moments that drive the story to its inevitable but hard-won conclusion.  The opening and closing sequences on Asgard are the most picturesque – it’s perhaps easier to create a new world than make the current one come alive in equal measure.

Overall, Thor  is a flashy film, but with equal amounts of substance.  It ranks up with Ironman as being one of the better Marvel films, if only because the filmmakers obviously took the time and care to flesh out both the story and the visual effects in equal measure.  The script by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne is conscious of the need to create thrills and chills, while also giving a nod to the time-honored task of creating an interesting and heroic epic that engages a modern audience.  It’s also downright intelligently funny (mostly in its first half), and refreshingly “wink, wink” at the Nordic cheese factor of the Asgard residents.

There’s really not much in the realm of deep and meaningful to be found in Thor, but that’s not a bad thing for the movie kicking off the summer action season.

There are some genuinely funny moments, as well as some shockers (no pun intended).  It’s a sharp and visually appetizing way to start off the summer movie season. 

P.S. – stick around after the credits for an important scene ( I didn’t and had to learn it from the geek squad online)…

Overall Grade: A –

TV Testimony: Top 5 Favorite Game of Thrones Characters

May 11, 2011

GOT to have GOT on HBO.  That’s right, after a year and a half of gleefully racing through the Song of Ice and Fire series of novels by George RR Martin, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the premiere episode of the adaptation on HBO.  So far, I’ve been impressed with the production values, scripting and overall feel of the show.  The most impressive to me, however, is how well the casting was done.  Here, so far, are my favorite characters in the HBO adaptation, from least to most fabulous.

5.) Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish

Played by Irish actor Aiden Gillen, who is an HBO veteran (he was also on The Wire), Petyr is the typical smarmy genius.  He’s the man with the brains (but not the looks) to rise to the top, and he’s making the most of the “game” of the title by backstabbing everyone in sight.  Harboring a crush for long-lost love Cat Stark (from when she was Cat Tully), he butts heads with Ned for more than one reason.  Littlefinger is a font of information with a seemingly endless network of spies, but whose side is he really on, anyway?   In the books, Petyr’s course of action makes him one of the most interesting characters to follow.  He’s a mastermind of cruel manipulation, but seductively intelligent.

4.) Ned Stark

Sean Bean was the perfect actor to fit the role of the morally stalwart, but fatally flawed Lord of Winterfell.  Ned is much more of a pawn than a player, but his sense of nobility makes him tough to dislike, even when you fear for him.   Disdaining the “game” of the title makes him a poor fit for his current job as the Hand of the King, who must navigate the dangerous corridors of King’s Landing with the likes of  Varys and Cersei.    First and foremost, he is also a loving husband and parent, which has been shown this first season in his masterful scenes with daughter Arya, who is more of a true heir to his values and talents than any of his other children.

3.) Jamie Lannister

Hear me out, naysayers!  To be fair, having read the books, I know much more about his character arc than will be revealed in this first season.  The golden and seemingly impervious Lannister knight is an enigma on many levels. He is a murderer who commits incest, but in Martin’s well-crafted world, all is often not what it seems.  Known as the “Kingslayer” for his butchering of the mad king Aerys Targaryen (father of one of our other main characters, Daenerys, who has troubles of her own), he is willing to kill to protect his sister Cersei and their band of creepy blond clones, I mean, children, but he is also serving a king and a kingdom that may not be worthy of loyalty in the first place.  We are getting a glimpse of  the many layers of this faceted character thanks to the canny acting of  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, whose smirky delivery hides a tormented but sharp mind.  He will be one to watch in the coming seasons.

2.) Tyrion Lannister

Who else could play the imp like Peter Dinklage?  He has such soulful eyes.  The sad forgotten coda of the Lannister line, Tyrion combats the short-sightedness of others with a combination of wit, wine and women galore.   Dinklage shines in his scenes, especially those where he plays the hapless advisor to Jon Snow.  There’s something about Jon that Tyrion feels empathy for within himself, no doubt due to their similarities in upbringing.  Both are rejected by their parents, both are struggling to find a way to live in a world that doesn’t seem to accept their contributions to it.   Tyrion is  the most intelligent and compassionate of the trio of  Lannister siblings, and for that reason, he is the most interesting.

1.) Arya Stark

Little Maisie Williams, you stole my heart from the first episode.  From her slightly unwashed, unkempt hair to her plucky and proud attitude, this little actress has Arya down pat from the get go.  In Arya is everything Ned Stark could want in a potential heir: a penchant for military might, a strong sense of justice, and more than a little dose of courage and wit.  Alas, as a girl in a noble house, her dreams of battle and leadership seem lost to the realm of imagination.  From the moment she steps in to stop the horrible  Prince Joffrey from harming her friend, she sets in motion a chain of events that will catapult her to the top of any fan’s list.  You can’t help but root for her because her judgment of character is so right on – every single time.  She’s a whirlwind of pluck and power.

Honorable Mention:  Jon Snow

Jon is one of the most interesting and vital characters in the books, and I’m looking forward to his story moving forward at a faster pace.  The actor who plays him,  Kit Harington, is right on the mark, but there just isn’t much for him to do right now in terms of moving the action forward.  At times, this plot arc is even overshadowed by the awesome digital effects of The Wall itself.  I admit, though, I was impressed with his scenes with Samwell in the last episode.  Samwell is another Point-of-View character in the books, and I enjoy how Martin lets us see events through the eyes of more than just our standard heroes and heroines.  Give it a few seasons and Jon will  no doubt be at the top of the list.

U.K. Travel Diary – Day 5

May 8, 2011

under Victoria's Clock Tower in Chester, England

Stopped by to have a look around the walled town of Chester, England, which is where we stayed the night after hopping back across the border.  It was originally a Norman city built on top of an earlier Roman settlement. 

City center in Chester

The remains of a Roman garde and a small ampitheatre have been excavated inside the city, and amidst the timbered black and white buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries you can see relics of this lost settlement.  The cathedral the town is known for is Norman, dating from earlier times than Salisbury, with a square bell tower instead of a spire. 

You can climb on top of the old city walls and walk over the bustling streets below.  We stopped under the famous clock tower, which was built and dedicated to Queen Victoria in 1897 to celebrate her Jubilee.  On the whole, Chester is a pretty and charming town with kind and generous locals.

We next traveled the motorway up the western coast to the Lake District, which is simply breathtaking.  It is no wonder so many great authors and poets called this area home.  There are hills with wooly sheep and plenty of adorable lambs.

Grasmere, outside the churchyard where Wordsworth is buried

  The hedgerows and stone walls amble impossibly up the highest hills I’ve ever seen.  I can’t imagine why they were built as they wouldn’t keep in livestock and serve no real purpose. 

As you wind your way through stone-walled roadways and narrow bridges, you reach the town of Grasmere, which the great Romantic-era poet William Wordsworth called home.  We ate lunch at the Cumbria Cafe, then wandered (not lonely as a cloud, but happy as clams) to Wordsworth’s grave in the local parish church.  The Lake District was also home to Beatrix Potter, who retired to neighboring Hill Top Farm with her husband.

The Olde Blacksmith's Shop - Gretna Green, Scotland

Next, off to the border and to Gretna Green, where in the late 18th and very early 19th centuries, young couples would come to elope (until Scottish laws changed this practice).  They would be married by the local blacksmith on the town green.  Gretna Green today is a bustling tourist trap complete with overpriced shops, coffee, and your choice of tacky regalia including a Princess Di inspired pink tartan). 

Close your eyes, though, and you can imagine it as the long-ago setting of a cheesy romance novel where the dastardly Lord Smelly Stilton of Whinington abducted the poor Lady Matilda of Milksop for her family’s fortune.

It is still a popular site for weddings.  On our short stop, a couple was renewing their vows in front of the Olde Blacksmith’s Shoppe, which has stood on the same site since the 1700s.

We next traveled across the gorgeous Scottish hills of the Lowlands up to Edinburgh.  I don’t

view of Edinburgh from our hotel window

think I spoke a word the entire time because the scenery was so entrancing.  I wish we had been there later in the spring, when purple heather covers everything in sight. 

When we pulled into Edinburgh just before nightfall, the city was enveloped in a fog so thick you couldn’t see the car in front of you.  Because of its proximity to the North Sea, Edinburgh has many such nights and mornings. 

Our hotel was right off Prince’s Street, the gateway into the “New Town”, which was built to ease the pollution and population woes of the “Old Town”.  We had the most incredible view from our room of Edinburgh Castle, all lit up on top of the volcanic rock.  The city itself is just gorgeous.  It by far trumps London as far as aesthetic beauty is concerned.  It is a city devoted to language, art and literature, which made me feel right at home.  Directly below our window was the Sir Walter Scott monument, the panoramic spire dedicated to Scotland’s greatest writer of historical fiction.

How to Be a British Peer (or at least talk to one)

May 3, 2011

With the Royal Wedding behind us, I noticed on the blogosphere and from talking to my own family and friends that there was some confusion as to how all this royalty and title business works across the pond.  It’s understandable that it would be difficult for some Americans to grasp this outdated social class, but as an avid Anglophile and reader of all things classic lit, here’s a little quick guide to help those folks out who need to know why a being Duke is better than being a Baron…


There are two types of peerages: life and hereditary.  A life peerage expires with, you guessed it, its owner’s life.  It is a one-time only deal.  A hereditary peerage passes down through the family, usually through the male line.   

Unless you are one already, or are related to one that dies without an heir apparent and you are next on the list, the only way to get a British title is to marry someone who has one, or to have the Queen bestow one upon you.  Since this RARELY happens to anyone outside the royal family, good luck with that.  There are always exceptions, however.  For example, Margaret Thatcher, for her service as Prime Minister was created Baroness Thatcher.  Still, her title is not hereditary,but for life, meaning it dies with her and cannot be inherited.

Men are always known by their title of the highest rank (for example, if a guy is the Duke of Blah and the Baron of Duh, he would be known as the Duke of Blah first and foremost and addressed as such –  “His Grace, the Duke of Blah”).

Women are traditionally known by their husband or father’s highest rank, which is why the queen will occasionally grant a former commoner a title so that a relative of the queen can have a husband who is also a peer.  For example, when Queen Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret married the photographer Anthony Armstrong Jones, he was created Earl of Snowdon, making Margaret still HRH,  and a princess, but also Countess Snowdon.

If you aren’t a royal, and are the daughter of, say the Duke of Blah, you are addressed with the courtesy title (for life) of “Lady Blah”.  You don’t lose your courtesy of  “Lady” if you marry out of the peerage, since you are acknowledged as a Duke’s daughter.  So, if “Lady Blah” marries plain old Mr. Smith, she keeps the “Lady” courtesy title, but is now not considered a “Blah”.  She  is now “Lady Smith”, but her children do NOT inherit her title or form of address.  They would just be Bob and Carol Smith.  Her husband would also simply be Mr. Smith.

If she marries Baron Blech, however, she would become “Lady Blech”, Baroness of Blech, and no longer be known as “Lady Blah”.



This is the reigning sovereign.  Today that is Queen Elizabeth II, but ONLY because she had no elder brothers.  The order of succession still legally goes through the male line.  Her husband is Prince Phillip (who is the consort and NOT a King in his own right), who is more commonly known as the Duke of Edinburgh.

How to address the queen:  Gents bow, ladies curtsy, but it is becoming acceptable to shake hands instead.  The first time you speak to her (but she ALWAYS speaks first!), you say “Your Majesty”.  After that, you address her as “ma’am” –  but NOT “Mum”!

Prince/Princess (in order of succession):

Usually, these are the sons, daughters and grandchildren of the reigning monarch, but there are exceptions.  Several cousins of the queen, as grandchildren of a FORMER reigning monarch, are also princes and princesses.

HRH Princess Beatrice, daughter of the Duke of York

For example:

HRH (His Royal Highness) Prince Charles, Prince of Wales

HRH Princes William and Harry (sons of Charles)

HRH Prince Andrew, who is also Duke of York

HRH Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie (daughters of Andrew and Sarah Ferguson)

HRH Prince Edward,  who is also Earl of Wessex

HRH (Her Royal Highness) Princess Anne (only daughter of Elizabeth II), who is also “Princess Royal” (which basically is a courtesy title)

HRH  Prince Richard, The 2nd Duke of Gloucester (cousin of Queen Elizabeth and has the title as a grandchild of a former reigning sovereign, George V)

HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (another cousin of the queen, another grandson of George V)

HRH Prince and Princess Michael of Kent (cousin of the queen and his wife, but excluded from the succession because he…drumroll please…married a Catholic)

HRH Princess Alexandra, the Honourable Lady Ogilvy (another cousin of the queen, but when she married, went by her husband’s title – Lady Ogilvy.  Her husband is now deceased).

NOTE:  Kate Windsor (formerly Kate Middleton) is NOT a princess until her husband becomes Prince of Wales, which could be when Charles kicks off…

How to address a prince/princess:  Simply address them as “Your Royal Highness” the first time, then sir or ma’am.


The highest title a “non-royal” can hope to achieve (unless you marry your way in).   All those holding titles below King/Queen and prince/princess are considered to be part of the “peerage”.  These are the gents who hold seats in the House of Lords.  There are only 11 Dukes in England who are not also members of the royal family.

Many members of the royal family have lesser titles (Prince Charles is also Duke of Rothesay, for example) and are Dukes and Duchesses.

Dukes and Duchesses include:

The Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla, Charles’ wife), who although she is an HRH and technically Princess of Wales, chooses to be known by the lesser title of Duchess in order to honor the memory of the late Princess Diana (and not to be confused with her title).

The Duke of York (Prince Andrew)

The Dukes of Kent, Gloucester

HRH Phillip, The Duke of Edinburgh (Queen Elizabeth’s husband

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (HRH Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge)

Addressing a Duke/Duchess:  “Your Grace” for commoners or “Duke” or “Duchess” for peers and social equals

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

Marquis and Marchioness:

The wife of a Marquis is a marchioness.   The British pronunciation is ” MAR KWISS”, rather than the French “MAR KEE”.   There is only one active Marquis in England:

The Marquis of Winchester

Addressing a Marquis:  “Lord”  or “Lady” followed by his/her title.  In this case, “Lord Winchester”.


There are quite a few Earls in the British peerage (over 20), and not enough room to list them all.  

In the Royal Family, the most notable Earls/Countesses are:

HRH Edward and Sophie,  Earl and Countess of Wessex (Elizabeth II’s youngest son and his wife)

Anthony Armstrong Jones, Earl of Snowdon (former husband of Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister)

Addressing an Earl/Countess:  “Lord” or “Lady” and then his/her title.  After that, “my lord” or “my lady”.  Social equals call them by their title, for example:  “Snowdon”.

Earl and Countess of Snowdon


There are only three Viscounts in the English peerage that are not members of the royal family.  The current Viscounts in the royal family are:

James, Viscount Severn (son of Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex)

David Armstrong Jones, Viscount Linley (son of  the queen’s sister Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong Jones, Earl of Snowdon)

Addressing a Viscount:  “Lord” and then their title.  After that, “my lord”.  Social equals address them by their title, for example: “Linley”.

Viscount Linley


Barons are the most common peerage in England.  There are over 30 of them.  Several members of the royal family have a minor title that is a barony.  

For example:

HRH Prince William,  Baron Carrickfergus 

Addressing a Baron:  Simply say “Lord” then his/her title.  For example, “Lord Byron”.  After that, “my lord”.  Social equals say, “Byron”.

Knights and Baronets:

Knights and Baronets are not considered to be part of the peerage, although they are members of the aristocracy.  Both can be hereditary titles, but are more commonly bestowed today for service to the Crown and are life honors.  You must be a British citizen to be knighted, but foreigners can have an ‘honorary’ knighthood, or OBE (Order of the British Empire) (for example, Bob Geldof and Bono are both Honorary Knights).  

Addressing a Knight: You address a Knight as “Sir” and then his/her first name, or their whole name.  For example,  “Sir Patrick Stewart”, or “Sir Patrick”.  Female Knights are addressed as “Dame”.  For example, “Dame Helen Mirren”.

Dame Helen Mirren

 ORDER OF SUCCESSION (who gets the crown?):

Here is the current order of British Succession – i.e., who is first and so on in line for the throne (the list goes on, but I’ve given the top 20):

1. HRH Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales (b. 1948)
2. HRH Prince William of Wales (b. 1982)
3. HRH Prince Henry of Wales (b. 1984)
4. HRH Prince Andrew, The Duke of York (b. 1960)
5. HRH Princess Beatrice of York (b. 1988)
6. HRH Princess Eugenie of York (b. 1990)
7. HRH Prince Edward (b. 1964)
8. James, Viscount Severn (b. 2007)
9. Lady Louise Windsor (b. 2003)
10. HRH Princess Anne, Princess Royal (b. 1950)
11. Peter Phillips (b. 1977)
12. Daughter of Peter and Autumn Phillips (b. 29 Dec 2010)
13. Zara Phillips (b. 1981)
14. David Armstrong-Jones, Viscount Linley (b. 1961)
15. Hon. Charles Armstrong Jones (b. 1999)
16. Margarita Armstrong-Jones (b. 2002)
17. Lady Sarah Chatto (b. 1964)
18. Samuel Chatto (b. 1996)
19. Arthur David Nathaniel Chatto (b. 1999)
20. HRH Prince Richard, The 2nd Duke of Gloucester (b. 1944)

If The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate) have sons, those children will jump ahead of Harry in the succession, and be 3rd, 4th, so on down the line (as long as they are male).


It’s no wonder this can all be confusing.  Let’s take the two sisters in BBC miniseries adaptation of The Buccaneers, by Edith Wharton.  They are both Americans marrying into the British peerage, but into very different situations.  The American sisters have the cash, but the boys from across the pond have the flashy titles.  So, Nan and Virginia St. George must learn the ways of the British peerage and navigate who is who and how to address them.  The titles and peerages in The Buccaneers, by the way, are fictional, but based on real-life counterparts.

Sister #1:  Virginia St. George

Virginia marries Lord Seadown (pronounced “SEA-DUN”), who is the eldest son of the Marquis of Brightlingsea (pronounced “BRITTLE SEE”).   Seadown (as he is called by his social equals and friends)  uses his father’s next most important title until he inherits.   For most of the book, Virginia is Lady Seadown.   Her mother-in-law, Lady Brightlingsea, is in charge of the household.

In the final chapters, the Marquis of Brightlingsea dies, and Seadown inherits, becoming the Marquis of Brightlingsea.   From that point on, Virginia becomes the Marchioness of Brightlingsea.

So, Virginia goes from being “Miss St. George” to “Lady Seadown” and finally, “Lady Brightlingsea”.  She is addressed as “My lady” by servants/commoners and as “Lady Brightlingsea” by social equals (but probably Virginia by close friends and family).

Sister #2: Nan St. George

Nan trumps her sister by marrying a Duke, the highest peerage title you can get without being royalty.  She marries Julius Folyat, the Duke of Trevenick (Duke of Tintagel in the novel).   Julius’s father is dead, therefore, Nan’s position is different from her sister’s.  When she marries Julius, she becomes the head of the family’s wife, displacing Julius’s mother, who then becomes the Dowager Duchess (widow of the former Duke).   Nan then becomes “Her Grace, the Duchess of Trevenick”

So, Nan goes from being “Miss St. George” to “Her Grace, the Duchess of Trevenick”.  She is addressed as “Your Grace” by servants and commoners, and “Duchess”  or “Duchess Trevenick” by her social equals (Nan in private).  

She eventually leaves the Duke to run away with Guy Thwaite (Thwarte in the book), her true love,  who is the son of a baronet, Sir Helmsley Thwaite.   A baronet is not a member of the peerage, although they are usually landed gentry and members of the aristocracy.  It is assumed at the end of the novel that Nan divorces the Duke and marries Guy Thwaite.    Her right to be a duchess ends with her divorce, so she would be simply Mrs. Thwaite.  When the baronet dies and if his title is hereditary (which isn’t clear in the novel), Guy would become a baronet and would be addressed as Sir Guy.  Nan would then be “Lady Thwaite”.  But, considering all they go through in the novel, it is assumed that both run off to other parts of the world to live away from the stuffy Brits (and the resulting scandal of their affair) altogether.  

There you have it.  And yes, I know it is crazy complicated and I am quite glad I don’t have to worry about how to talk to Duke What’s His Pants or Lady Blech and Blah or who should go first into the dining room.   Those crazy aristocratic Brits can deal with all of that just fine, thank you!