How to Get Ahead: At Versailles

How to Get Ahead: At Versailles

Series 1



A gaudy explosion of absolute power and outrageous hubris, King Louis XIV was the pampered despot to end them all. As BBC Arts Correspondent Stephen Smith dryly puts it, the omnipotent Sun King enjoyed a reign “combining the showmanship of Liberace with Stalin's grip on power".

His lavish palace at Versailles was basically the most exclusive nightclub in history: it made Studio 54 look like a church bring-and-buy sale. Desperate to ingratiate themselves into his vast coterie of boot-licking sycophants, French aristocrats would willingly endure an endless waiting list just to secure a place at court. Most of them ended up languishing in obscurity, so near yet so far from his magnificence.

Even if you could get close to the hem of his garment, your life was far from comfortable. Courtiers weren't even allowed to nip to the bathroom in his presence, hence the familiar sight at Versailles of France's elite covertly relieving themselves behind ornate pillars.

With his trademark blend of wry enthusiasm, Smith is the ideal guide to this wild world of extravagant insanity. He's equally at home trying on a giant aristocratic wig as he is rhapsodising over baroque art and classical statues.


Writer and broadcaster Stephen Smith explores the flamboyant court of French monarch Louis XIV at the Palace of Versailles, where he surrounded himself with aristocrats, artists, interior designers, gardeners, wig-makers, chefs and musicians. Ambitious courtiers scrambled to get closer to the king, but the bedchamber seemed to provide a more unseemly path to power. Last in the series.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Stephen Smith
Director Ian Leese
Executive Producer Basil Comely
Producer Ian Leese