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PBS: Regency House Party

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Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith
Program Guests
Sunday, October 10, 2004; 1:00 PM

Regency House Party is a four-episode series where 10 modern-day men and women get in on the romantic action and the way of life that typified the Regency era (1811 to 1820). For nine weeks in the summer, a group of eligible "bucks and buxom ladies" takes up residence in a magnificent country estate for a house party exactly like those hosted at the height of the Regency. What will it be like for 21st-century men and women to live and love in an era of social stratification and formal courtship rituals? In the highly competitive, hot-house atmosphere of the house party, marriage, money and morals are all up for grabs. The status and fortune of each of the young men and women are keys to their eligibility and desirability.

Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith were online Wednesday, Nov. 10, at 1 p.m. ET to talk about looking for love in Regency England.

"Regency House Party" airs on PBS Wednesdays, Nov. 3-24, 2004. (Check local listings).

Lady Devonport is a Lady by marriage (her husband was a Peer Of The Realm). However they are now divorced. She has two daughters, one who is severely physically disabled. Devonport wanted to be a chaperone because she has a skill "at caring and nurturing for young people", and also a familiarity with "the manners, customs and strange social nuances of the British Upper Classes". She often works with deprived young people from the Newcastle area. She rides her horse every day, plays cards and was a model in her youth. She has run her own antiques business, reared and trained horses and pigs, had an interior design business and a Christmas decoration retail business.

Fox-Smith has dyslexia and is a science teacher. He loves science and exploring regency techniques and has a particular interest in spiders, which he has extensively researched. He now lives and teaches in Bath and has been single since New Year's Eve 2003.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Mark: It's very nice to have transported back 200 years back to 2004! It's very nice to be able to speak to people in such a modern way, it certainly beats writing with a Quill. Which is a much more lengthy process of communication.

Elizabeth: It's very nice to be talking to everybody and not be wearing a corset!

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Philadelphia, Pa.: What a wonderful production! How did you get involved in the project and what aspect of Regency life did you have the most trouble accepting?

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Elizabeth: I saw an advertisement in the Sunday papers in England and I applied online. They had something like 15,000 applicants. I think they interviewed 5,000 and chose 15. It was very fortunate to be one of the 15. Without a doubt, the lack of bathrooms was the hardest thing to accept. Everything else was great.

Mark: I heard of the program after seeing a television ad for it. there was a telephone number - and it said, if you would rather than watch documentaries, you can live the whole experience. the year before I was in a minor play in a minor part, because I am no actor, about William Herschel. He discovered Uranus, which was exactly Regency time. So when I was being interviewed. First of all there was an application, then the people phone you, and then phone for longer and longer periods of time. I was talking to them about the discovery of Uranus and my passion for science. I guess that's what interested them. My whole life was all around science really, one way or another.
The parts I found the hardest was the length of time it took to do anything. So for example, writing a letter would be a huge operation, when you consider I'd have to cut the quill, dip the quill into ink every four words, fold the paper in a particular way, put the special wax seal onto the paper....it wasn't an easy feat to write a letter, and there were a lot of friends and family to communicate with. It was a lengthy process. As well as going to the bathroom, getting dressed, eating anything. Because you had to adhere by their etiquette and manners. I would say that was what I had the biggest problem with.

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Chicago, Ill. : I understand you two fell "head over heels" for one another while filming the series -- while an older woman and a younger man is more accepted in current times, how would your 19th century counterparts have dealt with the age difference? And a personal question: Mark will you give up your desire to have a family to stay with Elizabeth?

Thanks for taking the question! Love the show!

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: E: Thanks for the interest! I believe in the Regency time there were quite a few women who had relationships with younger men. But you had to be married at the time. It was kind of acceptable at certain levels of society.

Mark: People didn't marry so much for love at that period at that class. They married more for a business arrangement. So Ladies would marry Lords. Whether they liked them or not. Once married, they produced what we would call "an heir and a spare", as in two children. They were then free to probably find someone they liked, of whatever age.

As for what we've been telling people about our personal relationship, is that we know it is finite. And because Lady Devenport has her family, I don't have one as yet, and I would like one, and so rather than people being rude to us, which nobody has been yet, could people be sympathetic? And so far people have said such nice things.

Both: We're happy!

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Hi Mark and Elizabeth! First of all, I love the show. Secondly, I found your love story to be really touching and romantic but I haven't seen the end of the series and I'm not sure how it turns out. But, give me a hint: are you still in touch regularly?

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Lady Devenport - Yes, we are still very much together.

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Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Mark: I'm a school teacher. And Ms. Devenport was very popular with the children when she came in. She is also very popular with my friends and family.

Elizabeth: As well as Mark is with mine.

Mark: So far!

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Boston, Mass.: I can't wait to watch tonight's episode. Please tell me are any of the couples still together? Thank you.

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Yes - we are.

Elizabeth: I don't think any of the others are. In fact, I'm sure they're not.

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Providence, R.I.: Hi, I have a question regarding your meals. I thought it was interesting that the heads were always displayed with the food to show the quality of the food. What was it like eating dinner with the heads staring you in the face?

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Elizabeth: I personally didn't have a problem with it, but I think there were several vegetarians among us and it was very hard for them. The food was extremely unsuitable for them and they were extremely hungry by the end of it.

Mark: I've always thought if you eat meat you should be able to kill meat and to skin the animal. And if you can't do that you shouldn't really be eating that animal. So to have its head there, as far as I'm concerned, is part of the process of eating meat. Animals are not born headless. You got very used to eat very quickly, very quickly. I was actually more sympathetic to animals after that. It didn't slow me down though.

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New York, N.Y.: Lady Devenport: Hello! You were FANTASTIC. I really appreciated seeing such a dynamic and beautiful woman on screen who wasn't twenty years old! Did you find life as restricting as your charges seemed to, or were you given more freedom because of your status and age? Thank you so much!

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Lady Devenport: THank you kind person! I did have more freedom because of my status and age, yes, and I took full advantage of it!I would say in my real life I hope I have never used my so-called status to my advantage, but I thought it was sort of excusable under those circumstances.

Mark: Do you guys realize that Liz is a genuine Lady, not Mrs. But Lady Devenport.

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Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.: I'm a huge fan of the Regency, Manor and 1900s house series. Do you agree with my impression that you guys had things MUCH easier than the others? The food looks better, you all look much prettier and they seem to be less strict in enforcing behavior rules in this show!

Thanks.

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Mark: 100 and 10 percent - Yes! There are so many reality TV programs where people endure genuine hardships. For example, like Survivor and Boot Camp that. We chose the party show! However, it wasn't completely easy. It was stressful conducting yourself correctly all of the nine weeks, and having all your normal comforts taken away from you could become very, very difficult. As you were pretty isolated from speaking to friends, family, etc.

Lady D: I think the lack of freedom was very hard. We had loads to drink and we were living with pretty clothes but we had no real freedom. It was like living in a guilded cage.

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Vineland, N.J.: Ms. Devonport,
I understand that you, in your modern life, care for a disabled child. Did you do any research into the Regency House era to find out what circumstances were like for the disabled at that time?

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Lady Devenport: What a really interesting question. I did a little, not specifically for that, but for people in difficult situations. I don't think many people realize that Jane Austen had a disabled brother. And he was sent out to live with another family. They farmed them out. I was very aware of difficulties people might have had in that direction. It was kind of a difficult thing to research.

Mark: I have a feeling that with infant fatalaties being so much higher, I think people would have been swept under the carpet.

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Chicago, Il.: Mr. Fox-Smith, why did you decide to participate in the project? Did you go in looking for love or a romantic connection?

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Mark: No, I went in to drink like Byron. And to live the hedonism of the Regency period. As well as to pursue my interest in science. I wanted to get as close to thinking about the experience of thinking that someone would have done 200 years ago.

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Bayonne, N.J.: To both:
What's the most intriguing part of the era for each of you? The one you find yourselves pondering the most when your modern day minds start to wander?

Thanks!

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Mark: These questions are simply the best!

Elizabeth: The thing that happened to me, there were a lot of instances, it re-ignited my personal interest in nature. Because we were in an incredibly beautiful place. It was totally quiet, we couldn't see lights, totally silent, no cars, totally near nature, I was able to wander in the park, and I realized how real everything must have been and how artificial everything we do now is.

Mark: I often ponder it as if it was a dream. A dream, not as if it was like "I just had a beautiful dream", but my mind was altered, brainwashed even. And I was thinking on such different levels, I wouldn't say higher levels. I still ponder about how changed I really was. It is very, very difficult to look back on such an amazing experience objectively.

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Elizabeth, N.J.: Mark-
What types of science were popularly studied during the Regency House era? Any research at the time with real foresight?

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Mark: I had very little warning I was going to enter the Regency time. I had 10 days notice. When they first started to measure. For example the thermometer. And also to see the invisible. For example ultraviolet light. Stars with telescopes that were vastly superior and could see further. It was a seriously good turning point and eruption in science. The age of the world. People thought it was ridiculously young. I think like 10,000 years old or something. During the Regency they started to discover it was not a couple of thousand years old, but a lot older. Millions. I also have a tailer of the medical procedures. FOr example, their belief in leeches. The removal of bladder stones. And the blatant disregard for experimentation.

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Oakland, Calif.: I, too, love the program. Watching the participants, I laugh to myself because the modern participants have a difficult time adjusting. I find it interesting that the participants have a difficult time living and performing their roles, which they found limiting, but in reality, I wonder if the real Regency period people ever thought of their lives as limiting? Or did they just accept their lives since they had nothing else to compare it with? Your thoughts?

Best wishes to you both.

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Elizabeth: Very good question again, I've thought about that quite a lot. In the English version there is more of me. I do say that I felt very upset about how restricted women were at that time. But I do realize that they had nothing to compare it to so I don't think they were as unhappy about it as we were.

Mark: I would say that people were quite glad to be restricted because the alternative was to be thrown out of society. Which was a fate, in those days, almost worse than, pretty much the worst fate you could have. To be excommunicated from society. Those people really struggled and never really survived once they were thrown out for whatever reason.

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New York, N.Y.: Did you find dressing in the period clothing to be difficult? How long did it take to dress in the period clothes?

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Elizabeth: I could do a really good rant about that if you like! I hated having a maid, although she was a lovely person. BUt you could not manage to get dressed or undressed without help. And I got very sympathetic to my disabled daughter, because I now realize how annoying it must be to always be dressed and undressed by me! After a while I worked out that if I put my clothes on back to front, I could do them up and go out for a walk and get changed later, and do it properly later. SO I got up, put my clothes on back to front, went out, and then did it properly later.

Mark: I would say the men had it so much easier in so many ways including dressing, than the women did. You could as a gentleman manage by yourself.

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Washington, D.C.: How did the Regency quest for a mate compare to dating in the 21st Century?

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Mark: It's completely separate. There is so little comparison that you can draw. These were arranged marriages, "suitable" marriages as they would say. I much prefer the way of dating these days, the freedom of choice, etc.

Elizabeth: I found it very difficult to try to persuade the young woman I was in charge of, who was independent, whom she should consider as a husband. She wasn't having it. She made her own decisions.

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Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Mark: If I could add to that. I couldn't even think about one of the young ladies in the house because I spent so much time with Lady Devenport. That would have been acceptable in Regency if we were subtle. In this century it would have been far too two-faced for me to have fallen deeply in love with my girl friend here and trying to secure a marriage with someone else at the same time.

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Ashland, Va.: Hi,
I'm a student of British history here at college. I missed last week's show, unfortunately. I was wondering if those who participated in the Regency House discussed or were instructed on the "glories" of the then-expanding British Empire? Was India discussed? What about race -- the program was set before the phrase "take up the White Man's burden" was coined, but was that idea in the back of participants' minds?

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Elizabeth: Good question. India was never discussed, I don't think. The issue of slavery is discussed and addressed in the program.

Mark: It's the British that were first to abolish slavery.
These things are addressed in the program.

Elizabeth: We weren't given very much historical information, it was up to us if we wanted to learn before we came in. We were not fed any.

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Falls Church, Va.: I enjoyed the episode I saw so far, particularly when there was a clash between someone playing their part and someone acting modern. How much pressure was there to "remain in character"?

Also, were the beer glasses used antiques or modern? If modern, where did you get them ... they were quite lovely.

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Elizabeth : LOL! I'm not sure exactly which episode you are referring to. We were encouraged to remain in the 19th century persona. Because that is in fact our character. You are yourself all the time. I think the glasses were replicas of what would have been. They were specially made for the program exactly as they would have been.

Mark: A lot of the furniture was genuinely antique. One of the points of the program was what would happen to somebody - for example me - what would happen to a teacher in 2004 if you put them in the Regency period. How would they cope and what would we say? We weren't actors, and we were experiencing it?

Elizabeth: If you are talking about the incident when Victoria, the girl I was supposed to be looking after, got cross with the hostess, both of them were completely in character, that's what they're like.

Mark: Some people had an easier time being Regency. For example, people of a higher status found it easier being REgency, because they had more freedom and influence. Whereas people lower down the ladder had many more challenges, for example, fifth in line for the bath water!

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Key West, Fla.: Question for Mr Fox-Smith: Did your students enjoy seeing you on TV? As a fellow teacher, I was imagining that I would be uncomfortable with my studemts knowing that much about my love life! Thanks. I really am enjoying the show.

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Mark: Interesting. The American version didn't show me naked. Whereas the British version did. Completely naked. The children adjusted very quickly. And I and the rest of the staff made a pact to say very, very little about the relationship. It did become uncomfortable but frequently by the time the show stopped, the kids had forgotten about it. I would say the worst was not being naked, but was the children seeing me crying.

On the whole, they kind of got more, it was a double edged sword. I got a celebrity status in the school! CHildren wanted to be in my class because I was on television. I become more interesting to them. But they are kids and it was not for long. They soon forgot. If any harsh questions were asked by the high school aged, easy one-liners could defuse them. For example, "well that shows that I'm human." Also, I'm a teacher in a school where children wouldn't dare ask! I'm one of those.

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Troy, Mich.: This question is for both of you:
If you had the experience to do over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Mark: I would have prepared. Had I been given more notice. WHich is no fault of anybody's. But had I had more notice I would have liked to have read about the Regency period a lot more.

Elizabeth: I would have taken it more seriously. I just found it highly entertaining and amusing and had a lovely time watching a lot of other people who were really struggling. I could not find it very stressful really. I was happy.

Mark: I can't think along those lines of what I would have changed.

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Boca Raton, Fla.: Just wondering if you've met the Bowler Family from the 1900 House or any of the Manor House people to compare notes? Seems it would be hard to share your experiences doing the show with those who are "outside" of that world.

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Elizabeth: That is a very perceptive remark. It is impossible for someone who hasn't done it to understand how it has had such a profound effect on us. One of the other chaparones, Mrs. Enrite, a friend of mine now, spoke to the sister-in-law of a man who was in the Manor House. That was the only contact that any of us had.

Mark: This is a very perceptive question. When Regency House party guests get together, we all have something, and I cannot work out what it is. And we all communicate on this very unique level. And I think lots of people who have been on the more extreme reality programs have been affected in the same way. I would like to possibly do some psychological research on just how we've all changed. All of the Regency guests I'm sure will be our friends forever. We have this very powerful bond - the experience.

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Washington, D.C.: Thank you both for your time. Did you ever find it hard to stay in character, or keep with the spirit of the project? Was it difficult with the cameras, and did any others just drop the pretenses?

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Elizabeth: It was not difficult with the cameras. You got used to it, didn't think about it. I was rather annoyed when they weren't there! I think the thing about being in character is a difficult thing to say, because we WERE all our characters, it was rather the behavior. And everybody occasionally did not behave correctly.

Mark: We weren't pretending to be anything other than ourselves. We were pretending to be in a special time, i.e. 200 years ago. You soon forgot about the cameras. You would wake up with a hangover on a lawn surrounded by a camera crew! But after the first couple of days you don't notice them. As for dropping the pretense, the pretense of living in 1811 I really became unhappy when one of my family hadn't written to me, and I felt they should have. I became concerned that they hadn't written to me and I really wanted to use the telephone. However, they wouldn't let me because it wasn't invented!

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Cranford, N.J.: Hello! For both: If you could actually travel through time and live in a different time, what time period would you choose and why? Thanks for chatting!

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Mark: Depending on what position in society I would have, I think there are a couple of saucy Roman times that sound like good fun!

Elizabeth: Could I just go back to the 1960's please, that would be really, really nice! I'm told I was there!

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Grosse Ile, Mich.: Lady Devonport,
Did any strong political feelings rise up in you regarding women's rights as you were living under the restrictions of the era? I remember in The 1900 House that Joyce Bowler became obsessed with the suffrage movement.

Thanks!

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Elizabeth: Very interesting question. It was not done for the older women to talk to the younger women about politics. BUt I believe that there were older women who were involved and concerned. But we were told that it was bad and that men wouldn't like them if we were politically interested. But mostly, it made me acutely aware of how grateful my generation and subsequent generations of women should be to the women's suffrage movement.

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Cinnaminson, N.J.: The women in the first episode seemed rather bored. Jane Austen's Regency women spent lots of time playing musical instruments, drawing, sewing, playing cards, walking, and even shopping! Will there be more of this in future episodes?

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Elizabeth: I think they were bored those girls. An afternoons entertainment could be going upstairs to the boudoir to play with the kitten. And there was a bit of sewing going on, not a lot. They did go walking. It was pretty dull for a modern woman.

mark: This was part of the experiment of course. This was what happened with women in the Regency and what was happening to people in the Regency House.

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Irvine, Calif.: What's your most memorable moment from this experience?

Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Elizabeth: There were lots. It was like living in a cult. I thought that all the time through. I rode side saddle which I had never done before. ANd I galloped across the beautiful park. I won't forget that in a hurry. I had the odd moment in the stable without the horses but with Mr. Fox-Smith that were memorable as well!

Mark: I can't think, it's absolutely impossible, my mind starts thinking about one event, and then five other overwhelming events. If I think about riding a horse with a saber, slicing melons off posts, then I'll think of the time we had the glass harmonica evening. Or Liz and I put on a special ghost story evening which proved popular. I think the whole experience was just one for me one overwhelming trip.

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Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Elizabeth: I'd like to thank everyone very much for their interest. It was a huge privilege to have been allowed to do that. I'm really grateful to have had the opportunity. It was a magic capsule of time in my life.

Mark: If I did it again, I would do it the same but moreso. If I fired a gun once, I would fire it twice. I'd try to get as much out of it as possible. For example, when we were firing the pistols, I stayed behind so I could learn how to reload them and clean them. There is nothing I don't think special about me. I just got really lucky. In several ways!

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Lady Elizabeth Devonport and Mark Fox-Smith: Mark: These are the best questions we've been asked. Sincerely. These are really people who seem to have watched and enjoyed it. I'm really glad people have enjoyed the show.

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