Christmas 2011
What are we to make of Julian Fellows? He has certainly managed to make a life for himself so in some way he can claim to live 'in the real world' even if the world in which he lives vicariously (never thought I would need to use that word but this seems to need it) is sometimes far from real.

It is hard to tell if he is pulling our leg sometimes when P G Wodehouse's most outrageous exaggerations are in comparison obviously funny yet nearer the truth. I have never seen a pseudo-historical series with fewer intended laughs than this one. On other occasions (increasingly rare) the understated but well acted moments give hints of real insight. There were parts of the first series of Downton Abbey which caught my attention, with drama, atmosphere and realism. But Fellows has apparently no idea of how life was really lived in stately homes that were part of the rural establishment of Britain or elswhere in Europe in the first half of the 20th century.

They were, if they survived, run as any business is run. The 'upstairs-downstairs' environment portrayed by Fellows with its exaggerated class-conscious basis may have existed somewhere, but nowhere I ever came across. Family estates and their staff were in fact closer-knit as a team than the commercial equivalents. There was indeed a control and command structure just as there is in business or the military. It is true that they were 'family businesses' to high degree as indeed were many commercial enterprises throughout the industrial and before that the pre-industrial world. It was true that the valet could not expect to rise to the position of managing director or even above the status on which he joined; but then this voided the problem of the Peter Principle kicking in and promotion based on talent and growing experience was not ruled out. However the level of awkwardness and potential misunderstanding which Fellows relies on continually to generate any interest at all from the otherwise turgid characters with which he populates Downton Abbey is ridiculous, as is the snobbery, inverted or conventional, exhibited by some of them.

I do not know Fellows, so my impression that he must be an ignorant pretentious twat is perhaps quite wrong; but one thing we can all agree on is that the 'hors-de-série' entreact over Christmas was so boring, predictable and at the same time absurd that most of those who enjoyed parts of the previous episodes will not bother to tune in again. Sitting through periods of silence while we watched the faces of people struggling with their emotions when faced with problems that anyone with an ounce of character could have dealt with on-the-fly tells me that Fellows is catering to an era of humourless wimps of which he is in danger of being identified. There was never a house in Britain that the odious newspaper magnate, however rich and influential, would not have been booted out of by the least senior member of staff without bothering to get permission from higher authority. That he could have been tolerated, let alone remain engaged, to a member of the family on the blackmailing grounds we are supposed to believe is ridiculous.

I can only conclude that Fellows has been allowed, in return for bringing film-business money to properties in need of maintenance, to enjoy the company of people who are either anachronistic relics or, far more likely, taking the piss and taking the money. My apologies to the actors who do their best, sometimes brilliantly, mostly in the role he would call 'servants' as indeed they were as this was a tradtion. Before that they were called slaves. But in 20th Century households and estates they were staff who held positions just as in any other business with the exception they were treated more like family, held in great and mutual respect and the only time for emotional upsets was when a long-time member had, for good reasons of their own evolving lives, to leave.

Being fed this sort of stuff, how can the youth of today expect to have any real idea of the past? Fortunately, after the last offering, they won't watch it.