Downton Abbey Dish #29

Deborah Gilbert | October 6, 2014

OK kids, time to take a breather from binge-watching The Roosevelts to get back to another crazy, mixed-up family: The Crawleys. The Roosevelts series was fabulous though, wasn’t it? But I was disappointed about one thing: That Ken Burns egregiously overlooked Teddy’s torrid affair with The Dowager Countess of Grantham. I mean, all these years later, if they could talk about Lucy Mercer, they could surely have mentioned the bit about what Violet and Teddy got up to in their wild youth at Hepworth House. Ah well, maybe next time…

Dropping Another Veil: Carson feels the earth move under his feet, Edith feels the sky tumbling down (naturally), and Lady “Duckface” Anstruther feels her heart start trembling whenever Jimmy’s around. Ooh baby, this looks good! This newly released clip is full of all kinds of tantalizing hints about what’s coming in Season 5. And in just this short clip we can see what Carson means by “I feel a shaking of the ground I stand on,” which is Carsonian for “I’m a little verklempt.” Is it at the sight of Mrs. Hughes in a new dress? Could be, but there’s so much else going on here. We see Violet and Isobel talk about s-e-x, we see Thomas do something gallant, and George and Sybie appear – and then there’s Baxter’s Big Secret. Oh yeah, and there’s Lady Mary being indecisive about her feelings for a man. Hey, at least that hasn’t changed, Carson! Can. Not. Wait.

John Bardon 1939-2014: If you are an EastEnders fan, by now you may have already heard that on September 12th John Bardon died from the after effects of a stroke he suffered in 2007. John had a decades-long career in film, TV and stage (where he won an Olivier Award, the British Tony), but it was his portrayal of Jim Branning on EastEnders that took him from jobbing actor to legend. He was one of those rare actors who was as adept at comedy as drama, and he took a character who started out as bigoted and unlikeable, and grew him into one of the most beloved characters in British TV history. And it was the scene pictured here, with Jim and Dot sitting on the back stairs at the Vic, where that legend first truly began to take flight.

In New York we will remember John for his kindness as much as his brilliant performances, because of the way he supported EastEnders on WLIW21 with two trips here. During his first trip he spent an unforgettable afternoon with fans where he and his wife Enda included everyone in a big rollicking conversation, talking about his life and working on the show. One of my favorite stories was about working with June Brown (AKA Dot Cotton) and the differences in their working styles; June is a method actor and would always have everything meticulously prepared, right down to the items Dot would carry in her handbag, while John would still be learning his lines as he was rushing to the set from his dressing room, script in hand. “She drives me mad!”, he joked, eliciting a big laugh from the group, before a little nudge from Enda, who said, “but you adore her”, to which he replied, “Oh, yes. Yes I do,” giving us a little glimpse into where the Dot & Jim chemistry came from. A few months later John returned to appear on WLIW21’s EastEnders Pledge Night and was full of energy and spent his down time hanging out with the volunteers even though, with the time difference, it was 3am for him!

After, he had a stroke he did recover enough to return to EastEnders for a while, where they wrote his stroke into the story and the EastEnders production team made sure everything was accessible for him. It was quite courageous on his part. Even though he could no longer speak, he still wanted to work, and his face spoke such volumes that it didn’t matter. But, then his health took a downturn and he could no longer do it.

With John’s passing EastEnders will forevermore have a Jim Branning-shaped hole in it; and more importantly the world will have a John Bardon-shaped hole in it! But PBS viewers here are lucky though: the EastEnders episodes airing in the US are so far behind the UK broadcast of the show, we still have a few more years of John’s brilliant Jim Branning on our TV screens. You can watch two back-to-back EastEnders episodes Wednesday nights starting at 10PM on WLIW21.

Bates, Anna Bates: Joanne Froggatt may be the next Bond Girl! And how could she not be after the way she singled-handedly investigated the Vera Bates murder until her beloved Bates limped free? I’m sure that even drew the attention of Scotland Yard. But what’s a girl detective to do next when she’s about four decades too young to take on Miss Marple? She’s gotta be a Bond Girl! I haven’t seen a Bond film since I was about 13 years old, but if Joanne Froggatt is in the next one, I’m there! How about you?

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Shop till You Drop: Don’t forget The Paradise season 2 premiered this week! It’s more broken hearts, broken wallets and intrigue. In the documentary of the real life Mr. Selfridge that was on THIRTEEN earlier this year, they describe him late in life, after having lost everything, still coming every day to stand in front of his old store to just gaze up at it – and in this clip we see shades of that in Moret. But The Paradise is a fantasy, so maybe Moret’s story will end better. We’ll have to watch and see!

Day Tripper: Clothes Call: Earlier this summer I made a pilgrimage of sorts. I drove down to the Winterthur Museum in Delaware where to see the exhibit The Costumes of Downton Abbey. I thought it might be fun to see the costumes up close, but I was not expecting anything as immersive as this. This exhibit is all kinds of fabulous and I am telling you now, you MUST go see it for yourselves!

As they say, love is in the details, and the details in this brilliantly conceived and designed presentation of costumes and artifacts could only have been put together by people who love the show – and they do! Museum Director David Roselle, is a big fan and you can see evidence of that everywhere. From the costumes they chose, to the way they are grouped and presented, to the lighting design, to all the bits of ephemera – even to the colors on the walls, you can see that these curators are Downtonians down to the bone.  In researching this exhibit, they not only studied the show, but they also read all the blogs (including this one) to get a sense for what fans would want to see. Far from a staid display of clothing, this remarkable exhibit lives, breathes, and is full of all sorts of revelations; things you have never noticed no matter how many times you watched your Downton Abbey DVDs.

The Winterthur Museum was once the country home of the Dupont family, and part of this exhibit also touches on the differences between the British aristocracy and the American wealthy; which would help us understand the differences between Cora and Lord Grantham.


Maggie Lidz, one of three co-curators of this exhibit says, “We have been gratified to see how visitors have been interested in the American examples and how they differ. There are some very significant differences, for example there is the American love of technology. When Cora said to Robert, “I’m an American. I don’t share your English hatred of comfort,” that spoke to the difference in values. American houses had elevators, telephones, and this system of the call bells that we see at Downton, would never have been done in an American house in the 19-teens. By the 1890’s Americans had electric call bell systems. Winterthur had one by 1902. It’s a cultural difference.”


It was Lidz’s enviable task to travel to England to visit Cosprop, the costume shop responsible for designing and building all the costumes, to choose which garments to include in the exhibit. On the day I visited Winterthur I was lucky enough to have Maggie give me a private tour before the museum opened to the public, and her insights were fascinating. And when the doors opened to the public what you notice is the jovial atmosphere among the attendees. I was told that sometimes on weekends fans come in groups, dressed up as the characters for fun

This Winterthur exhibit is so absolutely fabulous that I couldn’t fit my entire report in this space. Read the rest of it, and get the details on how you can go see it for yourself.

That’s it for now Downtonians! Till next time, L’Shana Tova, a sweet New Year to Cora’s American relatives and all Members of the Tribe. A sweet new season to all!

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