Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora is written for THIRTEEN by Deborah Gilbert, a British television maven and editor of the E20 Chronicles, a free, weekly EastEnders e-newsletter, and an EastEnders column in the Union Jack Newspaper. Check back for updates.
As the winter of our discontent moves towards a glorious summer, I’m guessing that many of you Downtonians have been aided in your Downton Abbey withdrawal by the fabulous Sunday night schedule on THIRTEEN. The next time an actress asks, “Where are the roles for women?”, someone should answer, “Right here!” Between Call the Midwife, Mr. Selfridge and The Bletchley Circle (which had me on the edge of my seat!), it seems like all the great roles for smart women are on PBS on Sunday nights! And if you have missed any of the episodes of these programs, you can watch them online here. But despite all this, as the great philosophers Ashford and Simpson once said, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.” To that end, if you need a Downton Abbey Off-Season Survival Guide, you need look no further than THIRTEEN’s Facebook page where they have been posting helpful hints to assist even the most forlorn Downtonian navigate the off-season blues.
Lights Out: And speaking of Mr. Selfridge, it is interesting to note that one of the actresses on Mr. Selfridge caused major drama in a former role, in an unexpected way. Lauren Crace, a jobbing actress who plays one of the Mean Girls, blonde shop assistant Doris, used to be on EastEnders. She played a character quite the opposite of Doris; she was Danielle, a very sweet girl (very much like Selfridge’s Agnes, the one you root for). PBS viewers haven’t met Danielle on EastEnders yet so I won’t give away any spoilers. I’ll just say she’s a long-lost member of one of Walford’s established families. She was on EastEnders for about a year and involved in one of the show’s most controversial storylines ever. When she left the show, in a special one-hour episode that was the climax of that story, the ratings were so high it caused a surge in Britain’s national power grid! Fans were so upset that she left without the happy ending they wanted for her that her exit caused outrage at a Matthew-goes-Splat level, and there were online petitions to bring her back. We’ll have to stay tuned to see if the character of shopgirl Doris gets fleshed out in a way that makes fans care as much about her as they did about Danielle. In the meantime, make sure you have batteries in all your flashlights.
Guess Who’s Coming to Downton?: It was announced last week that Downton Abbey has cast its first recurring black character. So far, the only thing we know about the character is that his name is Jack Ross and he is a jazz singer. And he is hot. And with a British accent to boot? That does it for me! And for who else? Maybe…Edith? I haven’t read anything about what his story will be, so none of this is spoiler territory – it’s all speculation on my part. (And isn’t speculating half the fun?) We don’t know if he will be brought into the story upstairs or downstairs. The obvious entre into Downton is via bratty Cousin Oliver Rose who, we know, frequents jazz clubs thereby making her the most likely to meet a musician. But that’s too easy. Might he actually enter, stage right, with Thomas? Last season Thomas took a trip to London (and we never found out what for), so could it be it was to visit Jack?
Maybe Edith gets tired of waiting for her married editor and decides to jazz up her life with a new romance.
That would be my favorite scenario because it’s about time middle sister got her groove on (she’s got to be about 30 years old by now), and besides, what is a Downton Abbey season without a Crawley girl shocking dear old dad? Like I said way back in Season 2, Downton Abbey IS Fiddler on the Roof, except that the domineering woman is his mother instead of his wife, and his Anatevka was saved. Bankers are so much more polite than Cossacks. Other than those minor details, if he wasn’t a rich man, Lord Grantham would be Tevya, who just wants to maintain his traditions in the face of a society in tumult and his independent-thinking daughters. And Edith has slowly become the most independent thinker. Even though her feminist awakening really only grew out of a reluctant pragmatism sewn from the scraps of the dreamed-of life with which she was left, still she got there and that’s something. But is she independent enough to embark on an interracial romance in the 1920’s? Or is she still too much society’s child? What do you think Downtonians? What do you think his story will be?
Survey says!: One reason I’m glad the strict class system hierarchy is a thing of the past is that I know I’d be relegated to downstairs, not up. And I wouldn’t be all Anna about it either — I’d be resentful like O’Brien. Last year PBS had a ‘which character are you?’ survey, and as much as I was hoping to be Mary or Sybil, or at least Anna, I wasn’t: I was Isobel. Harumpf! In fact, even though I have this upstairs dream and downstairs resignation, every time I’ve taken a Downton Abbey anthropology survey, it says I’m middle class (I guess there’s no escaping that suburban upbringing). Are you a scrubber or were you to the tiara born? Or like me, somewhere in-between? If you are curious where you fall on the British class scale, take this quiz from the BBC.
It’s a Small World Afterall: How can a lowly little desk (OK, well maybe not so lowly) have connections to both Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs? It can if it was once owned by the Earls of Carnarvon of Highclere Castle, and ended up in a home on Eaton Place. Just such an 18th-century desk was auctioned off by Christie’s last week in a sale of two private collections, one Christie’s described as being ‘from the home of an anonymous collector in Eaton Square’ (hmmm…could that be 165 Eaton Place??) It doesn’t say how the Eaton Place collector came to own it, but one can surmise that maybe before the Downton Abbey cash came along, Lord and Lady Carnarvon had to occasionally auction off a little something to keep the lights on (Violet always said that electricity was trouble!) Seeing this made me wonder if any of the furniture we see at Highclere are actually reproductions, while the originals went off to market. Christie’s pre-auction estimate was that the desk could be worth as much as £100,000. In the end it sold for £97,875 (such a deal!) That’s about £97,775 more than my desk from IKEA, but then it probably came assembled.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat: Is it really a spoiler to say that in Season 4 Daisy finally gets to wash her hair? If you’ve read about what life was really like for the downstairs staff in great houses like Downton Abbey a hundred years ago, you know they were relegated to lives of almost endless toil and poor hygiene. That’s one reason why they had their own back stairs and were to stay out of view of the family they served: It wasn’t just to keep their masters from being offended at the sight of them, but also at the smell of them. What we didn’t know was that to give Daisy that unwashed look, the make-up artists put wax in her hair! In this interview on ITV’s This Morning show, Sophie McShera talks about that, as well as a project she did during her Downton hiatus – a sitcom! It’s fun to see her in it (she’s very funny!) and out of character. See the interview here. And don’t worry: No spoilers here.
Jam Up and Jelly Tight: I’m still enjoying the goodies I brought home from my London adventure, and one of those goodies is the jar of plum jam I bought in the Highclere Castle gift shop. So good with toast and butter! I’m curious if it is the family cook’s recipe. I also bought a jar of yummy strawberry jam but I’m saving that to make a Victoria Sponge next weekend. It will be my first attempt at baking a gluten free cake from scratch, as well as my first attempt at a Victoria Sponge, (I can’t stop thinking about the ones I got at Selfridge’s) so wish me luck! Whether it turns out to be a beauty or as a lop-sided mess, it will be fun to have a bit of Downton in every bite of it!
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