In one of its plot lines, the final episode of the fourth series of Downton Abbey left Lady Mary unable to choose between two rival suitors. I’m not surprised. As Andrew Billen noted in The Times, the two “are identical, right up to the side they choose to part their jet black hair”.
You could argue this was just one of many unsatisfactory plot lines – the Daily Mail’s Jan Moir felt that this was a “disappointing” series full of anti-climaxes.
Nevertheless, Downton’s many fans, and I’m one, will be tuning in again at Christmas to find out what happened next and which, if either, of her identical suitors, Lady Mary ends up choosing.
In the meantime, for those of us whose Sunday evenings now feel emptier, there are ways to soften the blow.
Carnival, the production company, has been busy producing merchandise, notes Emma Rowley in The Daily Telegraph. “After washing away your tears with Downton soap, wrap yourself in your home-made Downton quilt and pour yourself a soothing cup of Downton tea (‘English rose’. Of course).”
Or, if you want something stronger, why not try a drop of the Granthams’ own red, which has been launched in the US and will soon be available here?
Indeed, it is in America where you will find Downton’s most devoted fans. “It’s always a great time to host a Downton Abbey tea party,” according to one online Missouri devotee, who joined a local gathering where 65 patrons dressed in period costumes to play trivia games. “Prizes included a box of English biscuits and English tea towels.”
The US, as Rowley says, is in many ways the show’s natural home. It is phenomenally popular there and attracted 39 nominations for Emmy awards, making it the most successful non-US TV series in Emmy history. You can even take a course on the series – at New Jersey’s Camden County College, including a “Class on Classes: Servants, Socialites and Solicitors”.
The stars, meanwhile, are enjoying their fame. Lesley Nicol, who plays Mrs Patmore, is said to be “driving round LA in a gold Jag making friends”; her fans include former Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum, who watches every episode.
“I would read, followed by watching Downton Abbey, while eating a big bag of Pirate’s Booty [snack food],” says actress Kate Hudson, describing her perfect day recently.
Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, was “stunned and teary-eyed” at Matthew Crawley’s death; Hillary Clinton has come out as a fan, as has Michelle Obama.
Discordant notes have been rare. The United Steelworkers union complains that Downton’s “classist mores increasingly intrude on American life”, while one California paper noted disapprovingly that Downton Abbeys were “popping up all over”, describing them as “new monarchical mansions”.
But on the whole, as Rowley says, Americans can enjoy Downton without worrying about social distinctions – which is just what they’re doing.
Tabloid money: India’s rocket to Mars… paid for by us
• “The Indians have successfully launched a rocket to Mars,” says Rod Liddle in The Sun. “This, despite being unable to feed half their population. It is now seemingly compulsory for all recipients of UK aid to send rockets pinging across the solar system. Perhaps the Indian rocket will bump into Nigeria’s on its way? Yep, they’ve got one too. The bloke heading India’s space programme said spending billions on a rocket is good for their morale. Yeah, sure. Not for the morale of every UK taxpayer, though.”
• “Having just hired Financial Times glamour puss Emma Gilpin-Jacobs, 44, as his director of communications, empire-building Deputy PM Nick Clegg now boasts an office staff of 20,” says Ephraim Hardcastle in the Daily Mail.
“He’s even got a chief of staff! Shadow Commons Leader Angela Eagle says scornfully: ‘We’ve had The Famous Five, The Magnificent Seven – even the Messiah only had 12.’”
• The Ministry of Defence has announced that warship construction is to end at Portsmouth – home of the Royal Navy since the days of Sir Francis Drake – while shipyards on the Clyde are to be saved, says the Daily Mail.
“Understandably, the 940 workers cast on to the dole were left to wonder if ministers were sacrificing centuries of English shipbuilding to placate Scottish voters, ahead of next year’s independence referendum.”
Now we learn that in the health service, kidney cancer patients north of the border are to receive a treatment – not available in England – “that can provide them with a few precious extra months of life. It is the latest in a string of examples of the Scots – whose NHS is heavily subsidised by English taxpayers – benefiting from what is widely considered a system of health apartheid.”
Alex Salmond and the nationalists think Scottish voters get a raw deal out of the 300-year-old union. “In the real world, isn’t this the very opposite of the truth?”