In the past week, when the news has been relentlessly grim and lurching from horror to the next, I needed a way to de-stress after the evening news. Here’s what I did: I pulled out my Downton Abbey DVDs and started re-watching right from the very first episode (spoiler alert: the Titanic sinks again!) I don’t know why, but when the real world is spinning out of control, there is something ever so soothing about escaping into a world where Carson and Mrs. Hughes have all the answers. If you don’t have the DVD’s you can get them here, or you can watch the 5 season Downton Abbey marathon that begins on 11am December 31 on THIRTEEN, and takes us right up to the Season 6 premiere on January 3 at 9pm. So Keep Calm and Downton On…
School Days: It isn’t only grand estates that have trouble with upkeep; the grammar school in Bampton Village, the 17th century building used as an exterior location for the village hospital in Downton Abbey, has been in need of a new roof and seeking help. Earlier this year Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) stepped in to help with their fundraising (one will not comment on the irony of a financial assist from Lord Grantham), but now they’ve gotten a big boost by way of a grant. Because of its connection to Downton Abbey (many exterior locations were used there over the six season), sleepy little Bampton Village, in West Oxfordshire, has become a tourist attraction and the grammar school has a shop selling memorabilia including autographed photocopies of all of Dr. Clarkson’s misdiagnoses (OK, I made that last part up).
It Takes a Thief: Be afraid! Be very afraid! There is a Downton Abbey DVD thief on the loose in the US! In Columbus, Ohio (that’s only three states away!) there is a man who has been stealing Downton Abbey DVD box sets. Authorities have a suspect, a man who was arrested last year in another county, on a similar charge. They don’t know what is driving him to this Downton Abbey binge-thieving, but when questioned after the previous arrest, the suspect refused to answer. He just stared into space and repeatedly whispered, “Baxter….Baxter….Baxter…” According to First Assistant City Prosecutor Bill R. Hendrick, “I at least give him credit for having better taste than most thieves. We usually deal with people who steal items like powdered baby formula to cut drugs, not someone who’s trafficking episodes of Masterpiece Theater.” The prosecutor went on to say that when they catch him, they feel the appropriate punishment will be to, “hold his hand on the radiator until he stops.” Or maybe not.
Sale of the (17th) Century: What do you do if you inherit your estate from an aristocratic hoarder? You find an auction house willing to take the lot, that’s what. Hooton Pagnell Hall (that’s the name of a house, not a person) in Doncaster, Yorkshire, (the same county as the allegedly fictional Downton Abbey), has been in the same family since 1681, so not only did Mark Ward-Norbury inherit a grand house, he also inherited over 300 years-worth of clutter. A treasure trove of junk, from fine furniture, silver and valuable paintings to a dinosaur head and one of Queen Victoria’s stockings (we won’t ask how that got there), and a letter from Florence Nightingale, there’s just so much of it that some rooms are unusable, so about 2000 items are going up on the block at Bonham’s in Knightsbridge on December 1. Get your paddles ready! Another interesting factoid: In an additional similarity to Highclere Castle (and Downton), Hooton Pagnell Hall was used as a military hospital during WWI.
Doggie Paddle: On a recent TV appearance in the UK, Hugh Bonneville spoke of the cast’s behind the scenes antics that (first) got them into cold water, and then into hot water – when, after a long day of filming they jumped into a swimming pool with parts of their costumes on – and the costume department was not pleased. As to the question that everyone wants the answer too, whether that long-rumored Downton Abbey motion picture will materialize, Bonneville says he’s heard the rumor too, but as of yet has seen no script. But when asked if he would appear in the film if it ever materializes, he does say, “Oh yes, absolutely! It’s the Labrador you’ve got to negotiate with.” Arf!
Bates Speaks: Mr. Bates may be reticent to give up his secrets, but Brendan Coyle isn’t. You’ll enjoy this fun interview in Adweek.The takeaways here: He has a non-profit production company that tries to help working-class artists, his next role will be that of a mob boss…and he has flatmates!
Where’s Norm Abram When You Need Him?: Before Downton Abbey came along, bringing its filming location rental income and hordes of admission-paying tourists, Highclere Castle had trouble patching the leaky roof. Only a few years earlier they had to auction off some of the estate’s antiques to make ends meet. The problems the Crawleys faced with Downton aren’t confined to the post-war era; they continue to this day. Now, The Telegraph reports on a bleak assessment from The Historic House Association.
It says that up to 70 of these homes may be closed to the public due to escalating repair costs. If this happens, it won’t be only history that is lost; as tourist attractions, these homes pump millions of dollars into their local economies. All of this brings to mind a tantalizing idea for This Old House: Why not take a road trip, and do a season in jolly olde England repairing a stately home? Of course, you’d need an army of contactors to do it in a season, but hey, how brilliant and fun would that be to watch? Who wouldn’t LOVE to see a season of This Old House meets Downton Abbey? A Downton/Old House mashup might be a pipe dream, but this isn’t: On December 13 and 20, THIRTEEN will broadcast a 2-part special, Great Houses, hosted by Julian Fellowes. Someone text Norm and ask him to watch!