Downton Abbey 2: The Press Launch

The series two cast.

“YOU’LL find there’s never a dull moment in this house.”

Just one of many classic new lines from Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Dame Maggie Smith) in the second series of Downton Abbey.

The press were invited to Downton on Friday for the launch of the eight-part 2011 series, which will be followed by a Christmas special.

Or rather Highclere Castle in Berkshire, the real life location for the “upstairs” scenes in ITV1’s Yorkshire-set global hit.

The home of the eighth Earl and Countess of Carnarvon.

As you’ll see from my photos further down this blog, Her Majesty’s Press took the bus to Downton from ITV’s South Bank HQ in London.

And were greeted by a number of servants who you won’t actually see on screen.

The Press with the notebooks in The Library

Seated in The Library, we were shown the first 90-minute episode and a showreel of highlights from the rest of the series.

Followed by three set piece press conferences.

And then a series of round table interviews with 15 cast members – ours took place in The Dining Room – after the serving of crustless sandwiches.

Kindly subjecting themselves to questioning were: Hugh Bonneville (Robert, Earl of Grantham), Elizabeth McGovern (Cora, Countess of Grantham), Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley), Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil Crawley), Zoe Boyle (Lavinia Swire), Joanne Froggatt (Anna Smith), Brendan Coyle (John Bates), Jim Carter (Mr Carson), Phyllis Logan (Mrs Hughes), Rob James-Collier (Thomas Barrow), Allen Leech (Tom Branson), Amy Nuttall (Ethel Parks), Lesley Nicol (Mrs Patmore) and Sophie McShera (Daisy Robinson)

There will be much more to report closer to UK transmission of the second series this autumn.

For now, here are a few of my impressions about that first episode, hopefully without any major spoilers.

And don’t forget to scroll down for lots more photos.

Dan Stevens (Matthew) and Hugh Bonneville (Robert)


The Somme 1916. Downton Abbey series two opens with a cacophony of noise amid the terrifying shelling of The Great War.

Former Manchester solicitor Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) – heir to Downton – is in a bomb crater, his face covered in mud just a shade darker than his Army uniform.

Death and devastation are all around as he carries a wounded soldier back to their trench.

Cue opening titles.

Jim Carter (Mr Carson) and Thomas Howes (William Mason)

Back at Downton, they are cleaning chandeliers – in stark contrast to the nightmare events in France.

But the war has reached far and wide, taking young men’s lives and leaving others wounded and shell-shocked.

As a tearful Lady Sybil Crawley says: “Sometimes it feels as if all the men I’ve danced with are dead.”

Scheming First Footman Thomas Barrow is at the Front, having carried out his plan to join the medical corps.

Yet far from avoiding action, he has found himself in the thick of battle and is desperate to find a way to return to Downton.

Second Footman William Mason is still serving the family at their country home but is equally desperate to join up and move in the other direction.

While Robert, Earl of Grantham hopes the day is coming when he too will be sent to fight in France.

We soon discover that Matthew is now engaged to Lavinia Swire, whose father is also a solicitor.

It’s also clear that Lady Mary now regrets hesitating over a future with cousin Matthew.

And what of head housemaid Anna and Mr Bates? The continuation of their love story is set to have viewers on the edge of their seats.

Would you expect anything else?

Behind the scenes.

Other highlights include: Outspoken new housemaid Ethel, played by former Emmerdale star Amy Nuttall; Lady Sybil learning how to cook in the kitchen before leaving to train as a nurse. Downton is about to be turned into a home for wounded officers; The arrival of newspaper proprietor Sir Richard Carlisle, played by Iain Glen; The return of an old scandal, and the appearance of red dress uniforms.

The good news for fans around the globe is that Downton Abbey has definitely raised the bar in this second series.

It hits the ground running two years on from where we left the story and simply doesn’t stop, even to iron the newspapers.

Writer Julian Fellowes’ is a master at weaving together ensemble casts and knowing just how to tug at our heart strings.

With more than a few shocks to come over two months of what promises yet again to be required Sunday night viewing.

Plus one of the most emotional steamy station platform scenes since The Railway Children.

A delicious televisual treat for us all to enjoy.

With even more good news to report:

Series three – expected to be set in the Roaring Twenties – is ready to go for 2012 as soon as TV bosses give the green light.

There is, indeed, never a dull moment.

Amy Nuttall as Ethel Parks
Laura Carmichael as Edith and Dame Maggie Smith as Violet
Brendan Coyle as John Bates and Joanne Froggatt as Anna Smith
Dan Stevens as Matthew, Zoe Boyle as Lavinia and Hugh Bonneville as Robert.


The Press Visit

What is this place and its strange transport?
Our Press coach arrives at Downton / Highclere.
Downton meets Her Majesty's Press
Where's the chauffeur gone?
Team Servants await at the main door.
His Master's Voice
Looking down from The Gallery
Round table interviews in The Dining Room.
Post-interviews refreshment awaits.
The media relax on the lawn as Mr Carson checks for missing silverware.
An impeccable afternoon of gangsta rap.
And finally...croquet on the lawn.
Following in the footsteps of my ancestor Lord Wylie


We arrived at Downton Abbey / Highclere almost on the dot of 11am. Thirty years ago exactly to that date and time I was a young reporter sat at the front of St Paul’s Cathedral – in a media stand hidden from the TV cameras – looking directly at Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, just a few feet away, as they took their wedding vows.

Having also attended Diana’s funeral at Westminster Abbey and Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton, it somehow seemed appropriate to be at Downton Abbey exactly three decades after what ITV1 billed that evening as The Wedding of the Century.

My Order of Service:

Will we ever see one for Matthew and Mary? You already know the answer, don’t you? I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see…

Downton Abbey Series Two ITV Site

Highclere Castle

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