Monday, 8 November 2010

And so we wave bye bye to Downton Abbey, ITV's blockbuster Sunday night costume drama. I have to admit, I was one of the eleven million (at its peak). As a reboot of the old LWT hit Upstairs Downstairs, it recreated a time when life was 'them and us', toffs and the servants, the upper and lower class. A hundred years ago you knew where your place was, none of this social climbing, I'm gonna be a celebrity nonsense. If the boot was on the back of your neck that's where it stayed.
My Grandmother was in service, a cook, though not at quite such a grand house as Downton. Her employer once admonished her for using too much fuel on the range. She replied, "Man nor fool can heat without fuel and I can't cook without coal" - I bet Julian Fellowes wishes he could come up with something as poetic as that. Fellowes script for Gosforth Park won him an Oscar, well done says I, but I've often wondered how much of Gosforth Park was there in the script and how much was created by Robert Altman. For me Gosforth Park shows a more realistic relationship between servants and toffs than Downtown Abbey.
Much has been made of the 'gaffes'; everything from a servant walking up to a Lady at a fair and asking 'how's your mother?' to landed gentry walking their dog across the estate on a leash - it would never happen. During a hunting scene a rider was on a coloured cob, which would only have been ridden by gipsies at that time. Last night the chauffeur ran up to Lady Sybil and patted her shoulder to get her attention. So often I found myself muttering, "that would never have happened" and yet enough of us have stayed tuned in to ensure the commission of the second series half way through the first.
I've heard it said that the simplicity of the storylines is the secret to it's success and you'd have to agree that the stories are pretty undemanding. Sometimes it's been like a connect the dots picture with four dots. But that can also be said of the 'comedy' drama The Darling Buds of May which occupied a similar place in the schedule in 1991. The UK was then going through hard times and Downing Street was so intrigued to know why the nation was so enamoured with The DBOM they asked Yorkshire TV for a set of tapes. Perhaps in times of austerity we need our stories to be black and white, goodies and baddies, the evil doers get their just deserts and the good guys come out on top.

Plus Sunshine.

If memory serves it never rained on Pop Larkin and I can't recall it ever raining on Downton Abbey. The time for stark realism is over - for now - what we need is more escapism, in posh frocks, under glorious blue skies.
That and zombies taking over America but more of The Walking Dead another time.

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