The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air
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The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air

Geoffrey Barbara Butler is one of the two pentagonists (alongside Vivian Banks) of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. He is portrayed by Joseph Marcell.




Character

Born in London, Geoffrey serves as the Banks family's cynical, sardonic butler. Geoffrey's personality seems to differ, depending on with whom he's interacting with. Sometimes he has been cynical, other times he has been dutiful and gentlemanly. Despite his frequent insults and frustrations with the laziness of Will and the Banks family and their dependance on him doing all the work, he cares deeply for all of them - including Philip, whom he seemingly as the most disdain towards.

Personality

In the original show, Geoffrey is depicted as the sarcastic, cynical, and well-mannered butler of the Banks family.

Serving as the butler of the Banks' Residence, Geoffrey is primarily characterized by his very dutiful, responsible, and educated nature. He prides himself in his service of others, and throughout the events of the series, he is shown to, at least publicly, heavily prioritize his ability to maintain a very orderly, clean, and tidy environment - having little patience, at least openly, for Will's very mischievous and rebellious antics. This selfless and responsible demeanour has been seen to earn him many occupations over the years, which include being a road-butler from a road band, the sparring partner of Chuck Norris, as well as his current occupation as butler of the Banks family. His orderly nature is also rooted within the circumstances of his early years, as he himself attests to the fact that, where he comes from, it is only natural that he is to respect and compliance towards those above him. When discussing his past with Will, Geoffrey remarks about how he was always a studious and responsible individual, to which Will responds "Well, look at you now, G." Geoffrey, bothered by this, but still maintaining a very respectful front, begrudgingly, responds "touché. However, in spite of his professionalism, Geoffrey is also seen to be a very risk taking, sly, and sometimes even chaotic individual. In one episode, Geoffrey is seen maintaining a professional facade only to initiate a party in the Banks' household when the family goes out for a vacation. Additionally, he is also seen to openly drop his professionalism when it is no longer required of him. In the season finale, Geoffrey, now freed of his duty as butler of the Banks family, sheds his professionalism and addresses Will as 'Will', not the title 'Master William', as he is now liberated from his responsibilities as Will's caretaker ; now addressing him as a close associate.

However, behind this responsible and orderly personality lies a very cynical, shameful, and bleak individual. Although he may maintain a very well-mannered personality, he is also a man who is very cynical about his life. This is reflected through his sarcastic, witty, and occasionally spiteful comments he regularly makes towards members of the Banks' residence. These comments, although spiteful, and occasionally insensitive to the people who's job it is for him to serve, are rooted within the cynicism he feels towards his current situation. While far from hopeless, Geoffrey is an individual who feels perpetually stuck in a life of meekness and servitude towards others. Although he prides himself in his ability to serve others, he is also somebody who's position of being a butler working on minimum wage, stuck in the situation because of his previous irrational decisions - decisions which resulted in him openly shamed by his home nation - deeply affects him. It is because of this that he feels as if he cannot move forward. Forever shamed by his situation in the past, he is unable to contextualize his life as anything further than a servant. This tends to result in him losing his patience with the Banks' family on occasion, even full on quitting when his already cynical perspective is worsened with the prospect of him being denied a raise by the Banks' residence. Although initially attempting to isolate his problems from the family by sulking on one occasion when he discovers a love interest of his is far above his class, Geoffrey eventually comes to describe his current life to Will as a drab, uninteresting life without colour or expression. By Geoffrey's ideology, the precious things he used to cherish in his life in Britain were lost when he was shamed by his home country, and they are long since gone. It should be noted that this is a very extreme situation, in which he felt far more depressed that usual, but it is far from a reach to say that Geoffrey, although occasionally very hopeful, kind, considerate, and even optimistic at times, is a man burdened by the shame of his past, and the bleakness of his present

It is because of this that Geoffrey is sometimes misconstrued to dislike the members of the Banks' family, although this could be further from the truth. While he may hold a very doubtful view towards his circumstance, he has also shown to be kind, grateful, and loyal towards the Banks family. While at times, his disdain for them may arise through the witty and sarcastic comments he makes at their expense, Geoffrey is shown to be genuinely caring towards the members of the Banks residence. In one instance, Geoffrey is seen taking pride in the fact that he had a hand in raising Hilary, telling her that he does not raise any fools. However, it should be noted that his favourite member is Ashley, who seems to demand less of him and have more confidence for him than most of the Banks family. In summary, as mentioned above, even though he is a cynical man, who can often express contempt and disdain towards others in the form of his sarcastic, witty quips, he is also shown to be a very deep down considerate, humble, loyal, selfless, and occasionally optimistic man.

Past

"That's the secret shame I've kept in 17 years."
―Geoffrey after showing his shameful past to the Banks family

In addition to four years at Oxford University and a long career working for British aristocrats, Geoffrey was an Olympic runner several years before being hired by the Banks family but fled his home country in shame after cheating in a race and being slapped by Queen Elizabeth II. His athletic failure seemed to have mixed adverse effects. Although disgraced in his native country of England, the British band Led Zeppelin hired him as their butler sometime in the 1970s. In the episode Nice Lady, besides telling Will he was a Greco-Roman wrestler, he had also worked for one British nobleman named Lord Fowler.

Things came to a head when Lord Fowler paid Philip Banks a visit and Will was instructed to look after Lord Fowler's daughter Penelope. Sometime in the 1980s, Geoffrey got a job in the United States as a sparring partner for Chuck Norris, and also butlered for him. Presumably, later he was hired to butler for the Banks family, where he worked for a long time. Geoffrey did seem to have a soft spot for Ashley Banks. In the episode "The Butler's Son Did It", his middle name is revealed as Barbara (a family name) and that he also has a tattoo of Queen Elizabeth in an area that is never revealed on the show, but is presumed to be on his buttocks. 

Trivia

  • Joseph Marcell, the actor who played Geoffrey, said part of why his character's personality differed was that it was hard to find an appropriate character, as American audiences were generally unused to seeing Black Englishmen. James Avery, who played Uncle Phil, said part of his training for drama was studying in England, where he did Shakespearean plays alongside Black subjects of the United Kingdom, later remarking that he was exposed to the multiracialism of the UK. "As a boy," he admitted, "I figured Blacks only came from Africa or the US, and this was a good experience to show diversity."
  • It is implied through the show that Geoffrey has a strange fascination, or perhaps full-on fetish, towards the nude, male body. In the show, he has mentioned how he loves covering his nude body with ointments, asks "I wonder what I would look like if I shaved my entire body", and most importantly, it is revealed in Season 3 Episode 20: The Baby Comes Out, that he enjoys running naked around the house.
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