This volume is the classic guide to correctly addressing officials in the UK and the Commonwealth in both speech and writing. While this is perhaps not such an issue in the US and in other parts of the world, forms of address are still an important part of British culture. It is recognized, if not always correctly executed, that individuals who fulfil a particular role or occupy a particular office are entitled to a style appropriate to the responsibility they undertake and the dignity they uphold.
The book begins with 'General Instructions', explaining the routine of beginning and ending letters, and how a person's name and title should be written in such diverse occasions as 'Share Certificates', 'Passports', and 'Memorials, Inscriptions and Plaques'.
Part I deals with the etiquette-laden business of writing and speaking to the Queen and to other members of the Royal Family. After a couple of pages the reader will be able to avoid one common faux pas
, namely that unless one is a personal friend of the royal in question, letters should always be addressed to their private secretary. This section also prescribes what to do upon 'Introduction to a Member of the Royal Family', beginning and ending with a bow or curtsey ('the head only, not
from the waist'), before proceeding to conversation.
Part II covers the peerage, from dukes to barons, life peers to Scottish titles. Many people get in a muddle in trying to correctly address a lord or a member of his family. The author himself points out that the greatest complications are discovered when trying to correctly address members of the nobility. Apart from the different grades of peer - there are five viz
. duke, marquess, earl, viscount and baron - he allows for eight other categories of relatives which need to be considered; these include the wives (whether widowed or not), eldest sons (before and after succeeding their father), and the other children of peers.
Part III, 'Other Styles and Titles', addresses questions related to baronets, knights, privy councillors, and other holders of official honours. This section also examines the awkward point of the order of post-nominals (letters placed after a person's name), reflecting awards, university degrees, and other institutional affiliations. This part ends with a discussion of some peculiarities, such as the Aga Khan being entitled to the title of His Highness by the gift of the Queen in 1957, and the one French noble title recognized by the British Crown. This is the Baron de Longueuil, a Canadian title created in 1700 but still acknowledged in Britain; incidentally, the current holder is Michael Grant, 12th Baron de Longueuil, who succeeded in 2004 and lives near Nottingham.
The next section - Part IV - is by far the largest, comprising more than 150 pages, and settles questions about 'Styles by Office'. This concerns how individuals who fulfil a particular role in society should be styled: these include the church, armed forces, politicians, civil servants, lawyers, doctors, police and seamen.
'Official and Social Occasions' comes next (Part V), and for many readers this will be the most useful section. It covers the correct manner in which to invite officials to parties or functions, how to place individuals in order of precedence, and how to draw up table plans and guest lists.
Part VI, 'American Usage', may have more visibly dated than other sections of the book. It commences with the caveat 'within the United States British custom is usually followed, but there are several important differences'. Having announced that there has never been an official order of precedence in the US, the author then produces an unofficial list from the President of the United States and the Vice-President, down to Brigadier Generals and Commodores and Assistant Chiefs of Protocol.
Part VII is short and covers usage in foreign countries, mainly respecting the royal families and nobilities of European nations.
Lastly, there is an appendix which includes a pronunciation guide to some peculiarities found in some English surnames and placenames. For instance, Beauchamp is pronounced Beecham; Cholmondeley is Chumley.
Whether Debrett's Correct Form
is now considered of practical use or not, it is an excellent snapshot of how the British Establishment viewed itself and the world in the last quarter of the 20th century.