by Andrew Fay
Recently, one of the digital over-the-airwaves stations in the Twin Cities has been showing reruns of Mr. Belvedere in the interim between the time my wife goes to bed and the time that I join her. And for several nights in a row—out of equal parts boredom and nostalgia—I find myself watching a few episodes.
The show, which originally ran from 1985 to 1990, was about a displaced English housekeeper working for an upper-middle class Pittsburgh family. Two facts become clear: Mr. Belvedere is formerly of the employ of the British Royal Family, and he arrives in Pittsburgh desperate for work. The family is merely looking for help around the house—maybe a college student to help tidy up, prepare some meals, and tend to their youngest child, Wesley, after school. But Mr. Belvedere shows up and practically begs for the job. He complains about being underpaid, but in five years Mr. Belvedere doesn’t leave. And it’s quite clear that Belvedere is a world-class servant. If he must come to America, isn’t there an old family in Boston or Philadelphia that would be a better fit? This all leads to the dark, unspoken mystery of Mr. Belvedere: what led him to dire straits?
I am preoccupied with Mr. Belvedere’s past. How did Mr. Belvedere get to Pittsburgh without a decent recommendation from the Queen? What did he do? Lying awake at night, in the absence of facts, I am forced to speculate. This leads me to the ultimate conclusion that whatever it was, it was bad.
The still photos shuffled in the opening titles only fuel the fire. He is seen serving tea to Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin at Yalta. He dines with Mahatma Gandhi, and meets with Sir Edmund Hillary. Then suddenly he is holding a shabby cardboard sign, hitchhiking for Pittsburgh? Why Pittsburgh? The American pronunciation alone must be enough to infuriate Mr. Belvedere, who would want it to rhyme with Edinburgh or Yarburgh.
So it’s 3:00 AM, and I know that Pittsburgh is the last place Mr. Belvedere would want to go, and yet it’s the specific place he’d been trying to get to. Then I wonder how Mr. Belvedere got to Pittsburgh, and how I got to Minneapolis, and how Tom T. Hall got to Memphis while I’m at it. I look out the window over my still, slumbering city, just a few taxis idling on a downtown street in the time between the evening and the morning. Because I watch Mr. Belvedere, I can’t sleep. And because I can’t sleep, I watch Mr. Belvedere.