NEW YORK – Henry Higgins could have saved himself a lot of time, aggravation and random singing in making Cockney ragamuffin Eliza Doolittle a duchess.
But then the snobby professor of My Fair Lady didn't know that a proper lady's title of nobility was only a phone call, a letter or a mouse click away.
"Lots of people who have got a title don't use them," Andrew Bulpin, owner of Elite Titles, said in a telephone interview from Devon, in southwestern England. "Our clients haven't got one, but would like to use them."
Bulpin, a 38-year-old entrepreneur, runs www.elitetitles.co.uk, which sells deeds turning the average Joe or Jane Sixpack into non-hereditary lords and ladies for the price of a silver spoon — £195 (about $275).
"The service we offer is one where you can purchase a title to add to one's name, and effectively, when written down, you don't know the difference," he said.
If that's not enough, for £1,000 — $1,400 or so — you can actually buy your own demesne, just like those old aristocrats with their English country manors. Of course, your castle would have to be smaller than eight inches square.
"With the title you get a small piece of England — 20 cm by 20 cm," Bulpin said. "You will own that freehold, and it will appear on Her Majesty's land register as the property of Lord Michael Park, if you choose that to be your legal title."
Of course, the land would be a tiny patch on a plot in the middle of nowhere, he said.
"It's just unused land. You can't build on it," Bulpin said. "I've not actually seen it myself, to be honest."
Don't expect Prince Harry to save you a space on the loveseat at his next shindig. And, yes, even ex-Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson — "Fergie" to avid fans of the Weight Watchers commercials she recently taped — gets to continue snubbing you.
Unlike the lords and ladies most people think of when they hear about nobility, Duke Nicky of Queens, N.Y., and Marchioness Debbie of New Jersey aren't given their titles by a monarch. Queen Elizabeth II, in whom the authority to ennoble someone resides, usually does so as a reward for service to the United Kingdom.
Titles-by-mail, while technically legal, don't have the weight of the British crown behind them. Instead, they rely on the fact that, in the non-feudal world, you can nominally decide who you want to be.
"In the U.K., and in most countries in the world, you can be known as whatever you like, provided you have no intent to deceive for financial gain," Bulpin said. "So basically we use a legal deed that changes your title from 'Miss' or 'Mr.' to 'Lord' or 'Lady' or 'Sir.'"
About half Bulpin's clients are British, a quarter are British expatriates and the rest are a smattering of people from Japan to Canada.
"They're Anglophiles who seek to have a bit of fun," Bulpin said.
So your titles won't make your red, commoner blood run blue. They won't make you suddenly speak with the buttery enunciation of Dame Maggie Smith or Sir Anthony Hopkins, both themselves ennobled late in life.
But there are perks to having a title. Bulpin said his clients have been accepted into a society of landed gentry numbering about 2,000, half of whom hold hereditary titles. Members have an entrée to certain social events, like luncheon at the House of Lords.
He added that there's the simple fact people are impressed by someone who can say he or she is a lord or lady.
"A title shouldn't make a difference in this day and age," Bulpin said. "But it does."
Not everyone finds it so impressive. The folks at Tea and Sympathy, a little nook in New York City dedicated to all things English, were shocked by the idea.
"If you buy it, it's pathetic," manager Nick Farrow, originally from London, said. "If the Queen gives you a title depending on what you do, like a knighthood because you served the country in some way, it's a good thing."
"But if you buy something that ought to be passed down from people to people, it's all about class status," Farrow went on. "It's like saying 'I'm a rich person so I'm going to buy myself a lordship.' It's class snobbery. It's disgusting."