Whether we grew up with Miss Fine or we recently caught on to her charms during the ’90s revival that’s going on all around us, there are few among us who don’t love The Nanny. Although Fran Drescher, with her perfectly nasal voice, is the star of the show, there is another character that captured just as many fans’ hearts: Niles the Butler.
Part of what makes Niles such a charming and memorable character is his perfect British accent which, in juxtaposition with his cruel and catty remarks toward his arch-nemesis C.C. Babcock, makes Niles one of the funniest characters on the show. But could this defining characteristic have been just an act put on by the actor who played him?
Who is Niles the Butler?
After the protagonist, Fran Fine, Niles the Butler was arguably the most popular character on the ’90s sitcom, The Nanny. Niles was long-employed by Maxwell Sheffield, the wealthy widower before Fran the nanny came into the picture. Niles dreamed of being much more than a butler, however, and some of the funniest moments on the show come during his snide remarks about how privileged Maxwell is. Niles becomes a dear friend to Fran, openly encouraging her to begin a romance with Maxwell.
Niles also has a hilarious feud going on with Maxwell’s business partner, C.C.; some of the pranks he pulls on her are evil, but we can’t stop laughing at them. Part of what makes his snide remarks and attitude so funny is because he speaks with a very proper English accent, something that defines Niles as a character.
Actor Daniel Davis played Niles the Butler
Actor Daniel Davis did a fabulous job playing this character, with impeccable comedic timing and the perfect balance of attitude and sincerity. Davis has commented before on how much he loved his time on The Nanny. “The writers watched me carefully in the early days of the show,” he once told news.com.au. He continued: “They started to write in my voice. And because I have a wicked side to my humor, they picked up on it.” Sounds like we have Davis himself to thank for the hilarious antics that Niles got up to.
Davis wasn’t happy, however, with how Niles’ story ended: by getting married to his arch-nemesis C.C. He’s expressed in the past that he’s never thought it was realistic that Niles and C.C. would end up together after hating each other for so long but had to go along with the writers’ decisions at the time.
Davis’ British accent is fake
Long-time The Nanny fans might be shocked to learn that, according to Mental Floss, Davis faked his British accent to play Niles the Butler – he’s from the state of Arkansas originally! Niles’ accent sounds so authentic and smooth, though, that he tricked fans into believing that he was actually from the U.K. In fact, Davis has shared that a fan actually wrote him a letter suggesting that he give tips to Charles Shaughnessy, the actor who plays Maxwell Sheffield.
The hilarious thing is that Shaughnessy actually does have an authentic British accent – he is from London originally. Davis definitely had us fooled; not a lot of actors could pull off such a perfectly polished English accent. One thing’s for sure: Niles the Butler just wouldn’t be the same with an accent from Arkansas. Davis has starred in several Broadway and theater productions since his run on The Nanny; it seems like Niles the Butler’s dreams of being a Broadway star came true!