After I published my blog post on Downton Abbey, Jessica Fellowes and I corresponded. Seems I made some errors, and I’m happy to correct them! Here goes:
1. The concept came
about when Jessica’s uncle Julian read a book called To Marry an English Lord
by co-authors Gail McColl and Carol McD. Wallace. In the post-Civil War until
the first World War, American heiresses went to England to swap titles for
JF: Actually, the American heiresses carried on coming until about the end of the 1930s. They began
coming in the 1890s for 50 years.
2. Julian writes the entire script for each episode. In the beginning, they had
a crew of writers, as is usual for such shows, but that didn’t work.
JF: No, they have never had a crew of writers. In the first season, on two
episodes (somewhere in the middle), Julian shares the writer credit with one
3. Jessica Brown Findlay, who played Sybil, came to Julian and said she wanted
to leave the show. “Do you mean ‘leave and come back’ or ‘leave
permanently'”, he asked. She said, “Leave permanently.” And he
said, “Sounds like death in childbirth to me!”
4. Many of the characters are patterned after Fellowes family members/friends
of family/or tales told to Julian. For example, a friend came over to Julian’s
house in London and said, “I’ve been cleaning out old papers and I just
came upon the most extraordinary letters. Seems my aunt was at a house party
and a man died in someone’s bed. Well, the only way to keep it secret was for
all the women–and they were on one floor as custom demands–to help haul his
body out of that one woman’s bedroom and back down the stairs up to his own
bed! Most amazingly, the next day the men were talking about how weak women are!”
As Jessica said, “A problem shared is a problem dumped on other
JCS: Just so all of you know, this did NOT happen at Highclere.
JF: Two things, however – the story was read in old diaries, not
letters. Also, I only conjecture that the men might have talked about the women
being shocked at the sudden death (they would almost certainly have all looked
rather tired and shaken the next day) but not knowing they had hauled the body
down corridors. Somehow, just the idea of that made me laugh.
5. The three Crawley sisters represent the three types of women of that era:
Mary wants power and will get it the old fashioned way by marrying it; Sybil
wants power and was willing to be involved in the political system; and Edith
wants anything she can get! (Poor Edith.)
6. Mary is patterned after Julian’s mother, and Cora’s remarks to her daughter
on her wedding night is the same as Julian’s grandmother’s to his own mother:
(Paraphrasing here) “You realize there are things an English wife must do.
But no one tells you…it’s the most horrific fun!”
JF: Any wife, not an English wife. And terrific fun not horrific!!!
JCS: Obviously, I misheard this–and I must say that I wondered if “horrific” was a Briticism that I hadn’t heard!
7. The dining room scenes can take 10-12 hours to film because they are filmed
in Highclere Castle’s very small dining room. British heartthrob Dan Stevens
(Matthew Crawley) has said that he’s learned the hard way not to start a scene
with a bit of chicken in his mouth because after ten hours of chewing chicken
for continuity’s sake it’s pretty disgusting.
JF: The dining room is large, it’s the table that is surprisingly small.
8. The producers and Julian have purposefully held back from putting any
realistic new products in the house and the scenes because even if they were
appropriate for the times, because WHEN they are new, they are jarring to the
JF: The art department – not the producers and Julian.
9. In the UK, Downton Abbey is interrupted by commercials. Julian much prefers
that it be viewed the way we see it here in the US.
JF: I don’t know that I should say that Julian specifically much prefers it. More
that one gets a pure Downton experience on PBS. (Some things are OK said out
loud to a crowd, not so much written down).
10. O’Brian will not be coming back. She’s a copy of a real ladies maid who ran
off an entire family, one by one, so that her mistress died alone and thinking
she’d been deserted by her loved ones.
11. Julian’s wife helps him with ideas. She’s the one who suggested that Bates
have a limp and be injured. (Wasn’t that brilliant?) Just love the relationship
between him and Anna!
JF: She is now the credited Story Editor, in fact.