Ever since I was a child, Sunday night TV has seemed to be the graveyard of programming. Growing up I remember the digestion of the roast dinner hours accompanied by Open All Hours, Last of the Summer Wine, Bergerac and The Antiques Roadshow. The former was fairly amusing with the stuttering Ark ark ark Arkwright played by Ronnie Barker alongside a very young pre-Delboy David Jason. The same fondness can not be said for Last of the Summer Wine which mainly consisted of irritating pensioners getting into all sorts of trouble in the countryside with far too much lusting between toothless Compo and Nora Batty with her wrinkly tights. Nowadays, The Antiques Roadshow is still going strong on BBC1 followed by one of the 2 hour whodunnits such as Inspector George Gently where Martin Shaw drives about in his nice car, normally a Jaguar or Aston Martin, solving mysteries without breaking a sweat, very reminiscent of Bergerac. In fact if you think about it, perhaps the actor in each programme serves as a bit of eye candy for the older female viewer while the car serves as eye candy for the older male viewer. I don’t think we watched ITV on a Sunday when I was a child, with my Dad’s aversion to adverts and my Mum’s diversion with John Nettles but I’m guessing the programme on was a similar sort of Midsomers of the time, perhaps Miss Marple or Inspector Morse? Or was it Boon? I remember that being on at a weekend ‘hi ho silver, you got me road ranger’, Michael Elphick as the motorbiking fireman/private investigator.
Now Sunday night TV seems to be all about Downton Abbey. BBC1 have tried to compete with it by resurrecting Upstairs Downstairs to not much success and putting on other competitive dramas such as Mr Selfridge with the trailer showing a shop assistant unplucking a lock of her hair to show how scandalous she could be in front of Mr Selfridge, which more than encouraged me to give it a swerve. I will confess that I have become a bit of a closet Downton Abbey fan though, I say closet because I do believe that Downton Abbey is a period drama soap opera, a corset wearing 1920s Eastenders with its constant dramatic far-fetched storylines and particularly in the current series, the Eastenders Dum Dum Dum shock endings, without the actual dum dum dum’s being played that is.
You can’t fault the writing talents of Julian Fellowes and the acting cast are all very impressive, particularly Dame Maggie Smith who must have stipulated in her contract that she is given enough humorous one liners to keep her signing the dotted line. Most of the cast are well known actors but I reckon each were given special Downton acting lessons to enhance the eyebrow raising, steely gazing and constant loitering that goes on amongst the Lords and Ladies as well as the ‘staff’. This is particularly clear with the character Mrs O’Brien, the actress who is also in Benidorm and was Rita or Sue in Rita, Sue and Bob too. As O’Brien she is the maid to Countess Cora, so is in charge of the usual stuff such as getting her dressed, fetching her breakfast in bed, fixing her hair, leaving a bar of soap in the right place to trip her up and induce a miscarriage, that sort of thing. She is the biggest plotter in the house, constantly at cahoots with Thomas (the gay one but shush this is the 1920s) and is the best at loitering in the corner of rooms and not so discreetly listening in on conversations. She refolds clothes for a long period while Cora and Earl Robert discuss confidential matter, can they not see her refolding with arched eyebrows and staring eyes, why not talk about the weather until she has left the room?
And what’s with all the cousins? I have watched Downton in earnest throughout its three seasons but even I can’t work out why they all seem to call each other cousins? I obviously haven’t been paying attention (or not really caring ) as to why the Crawleys and the Granthams are related but it’s ok for Matthew and Mary to (finally) get married? My hubby warned me not to write my Downton blog as 1) not everyone watches it (I thought it was just husbands that didn’t) and might bore most people (bore!) and 2) the Downton devotees will not agree with me being mean about the drama and might deter them from ever reading my blog again (am trying not to be too harsh).
I wanted to have a bit of a whinge about Downton as I do find it compulsive viewing and look forward to watching it each week, normally on a Monday as it does clash with Homeland on a Sunday = no contest. However, I do watch it and cringe quite a bit, tut and raise my own eyebrows, very much like O’Brien, at some of the silly and implausible plotlines. My Dad who is a male fan of Downton, see they do exist, frequently gets annoyed by Downton covering every piece of history amongst their characters. From Lady Sybil and now Lady Edith getting involved with the Suffragette movement, all of the cast going to the Great War and surviving it fairly uninjured apart from Matthew but I’ll come to that, Spanish flu, the Titanic (ep1 series 1) and many more historical storylines. If it happened in the 1920s, Downton will feature it. Dr Clarkson, the village doctor, should in fact be awarded some sort of Nobel Peace Prize for inventing so many medical miracles, he recently managed to diagnose Mrs Hughes with Breast Cancer only to send off a biopsy and get the results within a few days that she didn’t have Breast Cancer but a ‘benign growth’, that is a quicker turnaround than on the NHS. In fact, in this weeks episode he offered Lady Sybil a caesarean as he suspected that she had pre-eclampsia, Earl Robert refused Clarksons ‘reckless suggestions’ and unfortunately for Lady Sybil, Dr Clarkson hadn’t yet dreamt up resuscitation and stood idly by and watched her snuff it (1920s term I believe) in a very dramatic dum dum dum ending.
Whatever you make of Downton it is a well loved show, my parents Sunday newspaper had a pull out edition of ‘The Downton Times’ recently so you could read ‘the news’ before watching the episode – jeez…. In fact, Downton hysteria isn’t just in this country, Downton is huge in America too. Me and my brother bought a sightseeing tour for my parents for Christmas, it was to visit Highclere Castle where the filming of Downton takes place. My parents enjoyed the tour as they do like the show and were interested in seeing where it was filmed, however, they were quite stunned when they were seated behind an American couple who told my parents how they were ‘die-hard fans of the show’ and as the coach made its way to the entrance of Downton the American couple were literally hyperventilating with excitement with the woman of the couple screaming ‘oh my god!’ as they drew up outside. They should have paid the O’Brien actress to loiter beside the coach asking her usual question of “‘is there anything unseemly or untoward?”. I hope Downton carries on, it is the only soap I watch and whether the plot is Matthew learning to walk again with a broken, no bruised, no broken, no bruised spine or evil footman (gay-shush) Thomas locking the Earl’s labrador in the woodshed, it is unashamedly compelling Sunday TV.