Downton Abbey Dish #4

Deborah Gilbert | October 6, 2012

As the temperatures in the Baked Apple near 100 degrees and my air conditioner is broken, I ponder how the residents of Downton Abbey might have handled this heat. They didn’t have air conditioners. (Imagine what the Dowager would have made of that modern contraption; one that shoots out cold air. I dare say she would not have crossed the room in front of it.) And while I’m guessing that big, old house didn’t get as hot as my studio apartment, I don’t have to wear corsetry and layers of fabric. So how did they do it? I know how I would handle it: With a staff of hot, young footman to fan me with palm fronds while peeling my precisely chilled grapes. Ah, what a life one leads! Hopefully your footmen are as attentive to you as you read this jumble sale of Downton Abbey goodies.

Last fall when the Downton Abbey cast made a pre-Season 2 appearance here at the Times Center in New York, someone in the audience asked them what they thought of a recent parody sketch of the show that had been on the telly in the UK. They all said they loved it. Of course, as the saying goes, you’re nobody ‘til somebody parodies you, and Downton Abbey is a show that is ripe for parody – there’s just so much for a comedy writer to chew on. One of the more brilliant parodies (actually it’s almost its own series now) is from the folks at the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon who have introduced a family whose fate is similar to that of the Crawley family: Their heir apparent, Carson Daly has been killed in a hot air balloon accident and they are left to find their own Matthew. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Downton Sixbey.

Recently, when Julian Fellowes was asked about all the Downton Abbey parodies, he mentioned this one is his favorite, saying he especially loves their version of Lady Edith, and that it demonstrates a real understanding and love of the show and its characters. He also said that if there were one of these by the motorway, he would like to eat there. If only all fast food franchises were like Downton Arby’s.

Elsewhere, sharp-eyed Downtonians who watched the recent broadcast of The Diary of Anne Frank on WLIW, may have spotted Sir Rupert (Iain Glen) in a very unRupert-like role: Otto Frank. With a completely different voice and cadence (not to mention drastically different hairline), it took a few moments of thinking, where do I know him from? And he never threatened Miep with ruin even once.

The Shirley MacLaine buzz continues: When she was first announced as a cast member for Season 3, and her character name was given as Levinson, I know there were a lot of people out there, like me, who thought, ‘Levinson? Wait, is Cora a Member of the Tribe?’ I mean, who saw that one coming? Well, it turns out to be not so far-fetched after all. In fact, it is based on the real history of Highclere Castle, the house we now know as (the allegedly fictional) Downton Abbey. As we know from Laura Linney’s narration during Season 1, many of these estates were saved when their titled but penniless heirs went fortune hunting and married heiresses who had money but no title. This was true for Highclere as well, whose fortunes were saved when the 5th Earl of Carnarvon married the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild (of those Rothchilds) who, even though she was illegitimate, had a ‘stupendous dowry.’ Why couldn’t I have been born an illegitimate Rothschild? Sigh.

And speaking of saving the estate, thanks to the popularity of Downton Abbey, the owners of Highclere Castle are opening their stately home to the hoi polloi for the first time this summer. Yes, now you can visit the spot where Matthew proposed to Mary, maybe even take a few bits of the gravel Bates face-planted on, or leave a dead body in the guest room. If any of you Downtonians go over for this, please report back and let us know if the staff is lined up out front when you arrive – or will they make us commoners go around the back to get in? Get all the details at Highclere Castle’s website. And by the way, Highclere Castle is currently seeking an assistant butler, if you know anyone who’s interested. No, not you Thomas!

If you are suffering from Jubilee withdrawal, I’m sure you’re happy with two of the most recent docu-series that are running on THIRTEEN and WLIW. Monarchy is just as much fun to watch this time as it was the first time around. Where else could you see the delicious moment of Her Majesty, exasperated at a broken elevator, exclaiming, “what a life one leads!” We also get to see her Ladies in Waiting at work handling her correspondence. They say that every letter gets a response (even letters from dumb Americans), and if you wonder if that’s true, check out this letter I received after I wrote to the Queen almost twenty years ago. It was just after that big fire at Windsor Castle. I had recently watched another program on PBS that showed quite a lot of Madge’s weekend home, including the amazing collections it contains. Her library includes such treasures as Leonardo DaVinci’s sketchbooks and the original manuscript for J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, and after watching all the reports about the fire I was wondering if they survived. So I wrote to her to ask, and this is the response I got. Note that they address me as “Miss,” which I don’t think anyone has done since I was about 12 years old, but I saw in another of these series that Madge doesn’t go for ‘Ms,’ so for us untitled commoners, it’s Miss or Mrs. I love the way it starts out with, “I am commanded by the Queen to write…” Makes one wonder how many Ladies in Waiting have been beheaded for poor punctuation or sloppy penmanship. Queen & Country airs on THIRTEEN Sundays at 8 p.m. though July 22 and WLIW Saturdays at 8 p.m. through July 28th Monarchy continues on WLIW Saturdays at 9 p.m. through July 28.

If you’re like me and you grew up in a post-WWII tract house development, the historical adventures of places that are older hold a special fascination. When I was a kid, inspired in no small part by old Disney TV shows and Trixie Belden mysteries, I always dreamed of being able to go exploring up in the attic and find hidden, long forgotten treasures, like maybe a diary from the Revolutionary War or love letters from Henry VIII, or something like that. But alas, that could never happen because my house was built in 1957, there was no attic, and my parents were the first owners. Imagine living in a town that is 2000 years old. Oh the things you could discover by just digging up your garden. And it makes the upcoming docu-series Michael Wood’s Story of England sound like something right up my…  cul-de-sac. It follows the history of one small British village, Kibworth, Leicestershire, through the whole of British history and tells how its local history is intertwined with the nation’s history through time. It’s a bit like Downton Abbey in the sense that, in Downton, we see how every major news story of the day (WWI, the Spanish Flu, etc.) affects the inhabitants of that one British country house. In this true story, we’ll see the same thing, but with this little village playing the part of our favorite stately manor. If you want to explore Michael Wood’s Story of England, it continues on THIRTEEN Tuesdays at 8 p.m. through July 17, or watch online.

Finally, I wanted to alert you to a real treat that’s coming up for EastEnders fans (and if you don’t watch EastEnders, why ever not?) Anyhoo Easties, any week now, you’ll be seeing a fantastic two-hander between Dot and Den. For the uninitiated, a two-hander is an episode that features just two actors, and EastEnders’ two-handers have been some of its most memorable episodes ever. The first of these two-handers was back in the early days of the show when, as Dot and Ethel sat babysitting Vicki, they reminisced about living through the Blitz in the East End. This episode was so powerful that even though it was broadcast over 25 years ago, fans still remember it as a classic. I know I never thought of the Blitz in the same way since. In this upcoming two-hander, Dot is locked in the Launderette with Den as each is trying to save the other from themselves. Written by the brilliant Tony Jordan, it explores the psyches of two of Britain’s most iconic TV characters: Den trying to convince Dot to seek medical treatment, and Dot trying to get Den to curb his self-destructive ways – it is truly a clash of two titans. Longtime fans know that the Den who returned from Spain isn’t the same lovable bad boy whose fear of daffodils threw him into the canal. But in this episode, he shows some of the humanity of old. There is a mensch buried under there! Watch EastEnders Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on WLIW. This Queen commands it!