CLOSE
Carnival Films
Carnival Films

15 Proper Facts About Downton Abbey

Carnival Films
Carnival Films

Like Upstairs, Downstairs for the Twitter generation, Downton Abbey has brought a bit of British history into the homes of millions of viewers for the past six years, and reinvigorated interest in 20th-century propriety. Though the series ended its six-season run in March, it's still garnering a lot of buzz thanks to an upcoming PBS Labor Day marathon (kicking off on Friday, September 2), talk of a possible move to the big screen, and the 10 Emmy nominations it earned for its final season. Here are 15 fascinating facts about the lords and ladies of Downton Abbey.

1. E.R. AND CHICAGO HOPE INSPIRED ITS STRUCTURE.

In developing the structure for Downton Abbey, creator Julian Fellowes found inspiration in some unexpected places. “Constructing Downton, I was consciously thinking in terms of those American structures,” Fellowes said in Rebecca Eaton’s book, Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Sherlock, Downton Abbey, Prime Suspect, Cranford, Upstairs Downstairs, and Other Great Shows. “I had liked E.R. There was something called Chicago Hope that I liked very much, and thirtysomething, with all these stories going at once.”

2. HUGH BONNEVILLE THINKS IT’S MORE LIKE BREAKING BAD.

When asked to sum up the series’ appeal at a party for Downton Abbey’s third season premiere, star Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley) joked that, “It’s Breaking Bad with tea instead of meth.”

3. GILLIAN ANDERSON COULD HAVE BEEN THE COUNTESS OF GRANTHAM.

While promoting her role in Masterpiece’s 2012 version of Great Expectations, The X-Files star Gillian Anderson expressed her hope that, “people will embrace [Great Expectations] with the same love that flowed toward Downton Abbey," then shared that she was offered the role of Cora Crawley.

4. ELIZABETH MCGOVERN AND HUGH BONNEVILLE HAVE BEEN MARRIED BEFORE.

© 2010 Courtesy of MASTERPIECE

On screen, that is. The actors played husband and wife on the 2008 BBC series Freezing.

5. CORA WASN’T CREATED FOR AMERICAN AUDIENCES.

Some critics of the show have questioned Fellowes’s motive in developing a British series around an American character, with some assuming it was a strategic creative move in order to attract American audiences. “We weren’t thinking in those terms about foreign sales,” Fellowes told the Independent. “The advantage for me of having the American wife was it gave me a central character who was not dyed in the wool of the upper middle class upbringing, so you could have one of the principal characters who didn’t take all that stuff for granted, and questioned it, as Cora did. She was not consciously written for America. The fact that we would have a central character for American sales was much more clever than we were really.”

6. DOWNTON ABBEY IS REALLY HIGHCLERE CASTLE.

Much of the series is filmed at Highclere Castle, an estate in Hampshire, England that is home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. In addition to being open to the public, the home can be rented for weddings and parties and occasionally operates as a hotel. In addition to its iconic exterior, the library, dining room, drawing room, and grand hallway seen in Downton Abbey belong to Highclere Castle.

7. THE SERVANTS’ QUARTERS ARE IN LONDON.

Because the servants’ quarters at Highclere Castle have been modernized, the series' downstairs kitchen and attic living quarters are built at London’s Ealing Studios. Which means that the show’s producers need to pay particularly close attention to continuity. “For example,” explains The World of Downton Abbey author (and niece of the show’s creator) Jessica Fellowes, “Thomas might be filmed leaving the kitchen with a plate of food for upstairs and would then appear two weeks later in the dining room!”

8. ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER TRIED TO PURCHASE HIGHCLERE CASTLE … FOR HIS ART COLLECTION.

NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images

In 2010, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber (who lives in a neighboring estate) made an offer to purchase Highclere Castle, apparently as a home for his art collection. The Carnarvons kindly let Webber know that the property was not for sale. “I think it has more to do to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s desire to hang his art collection somewhere,” Lady Carnarvon told the Los Angeles Times. “Maybe it might help with his estate duties. He was not a friend and, therefore, might not be aware of our own art collection.” FYI: The estate is valued at approximately $240 million.

9. THE CASTLE REALLY DID OPERATE AS A HOSPITAL DURING WORLD WAR I.

During season two, Downton Abbey was turned into a convalescent home for soldiers. In real life, during World War I, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon did turn Highclere Castle into a recovery hospital for soldiers.

10. EACH EPISODE COSTS MORE THAN $1 MILLION.

Given the show’s strict attention to detail and authenticity, it’s probably unsurprising that it’s an expensive series. According to The World of Downton Abbey, each episode costs about £1 million (or about $1.5 million) to produce.

11. THE COSTUMES COULD USE A CLEANING.

Nick Briggs - © Carnival Films

In keeping with the show’s dedication to authenticity, it maintains a “no-wash” policy with some of its costumes in order to keep within the period look. “We do stink, as they don’t wash our costumes,” Sophie McShera (who plays Daisy) told The Daily Mail. “They have these weird patches, which are sewn into the armpits and which they wash separately.”

12. IT’S THE MOST SUCCESSFUL SHOW IN MASTERPIECE’S MORE THAN 40-YEAR HISTORY.

“Nobody in their right mind could have predicted what happened, when it sort of went viral,” Julian Fellowes told The New York Times in 2013. It’s estimated that more than 120 million people around the world have watched the series at one point. The show is broadcast in 250 territories worldwide, and has become a major hit in Russia, South Korea, and the Middle East.

13. ISIS WAS NOT KILLED OFF BECAUSE OF HER NAME.

One of the show’s most beloved stars was its faithful pooch, Isis, who passed away in season five. Though many thought the Labrador got the boot because of her name, star Hugh Bonneville set the record straight on that matter. “To clarify recent speculation, the Labrador that appeared in Series One (1912-14) was a dog called Pharaoh,” wrote Bonneville. “From Series Two (1916-1920) onwards, the Labrador has been a bitch named—in keeping with the Egyptian theme—Isis. Anyone who genuinely believes the Series 5 storyline (1924) involving the animal was a reaction to recent world news is a complete berk.”

The “Egyptian theme” that Bonneville refers to is a nod to George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who was one of the individuals who discovered King Tut’s tomb.

14. IT RECEIVED A RECORD NUMBER OF EMMY NOMINATIONS.

Nick Briggs - © Carnival Film & Television Limited

With a total of 69 nominations and 12 wins (so fa), Downton Abbey is the most nominated non-U.S. series in Emmy history.

15. THE QUEEN LOVES IT, AND LIKES TO LOOK FOR ANACHRONISMS.

Among the show’s many famous fans are several members of the British royal family, including Queen Elizabeth, who “loves to pick out the mistakes,” says At Home with the Queen author Brian Hoey. “They do tend to get it right. However, the Queen did notice on one episode that there was a young so-called British officer wearing medals which had not been awarded when he was supposed to be alive. He was fighting in the First World War and the medals on his chest did not come in until the Second World War.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
A Brief History of Black Friday
iStock
iStock

The unofficial start of the holiday shopping season is often referred to as the busiest shopping day of the year. But where did this tradition start and just how big is it? Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about Black Friday. Hopefully they'll give you some good talking points tomorrow, when you line up outside Best Buy at 4 a.m.

HOW DID BLACK FRIDAY BECOME SUCH A BIG SHOPPING DAY?

It's hard to say when the day after Thanksgiving turned into a retail free-for-all, but it probably dates back to the late 19th century. At that time, store-sponsored Thanksgiving parades were common, and once Santa Claus showed up at the end of the parade, the holiday shopping season had officially commenced.

In those days, most retailers adhered to an unwritten rule that holiday shopping season didn't start until after Thanksgiving, so no stores would advertise holiday sales or aggressively court customers until the Friday immediately following the holiday. Thus, when the floodgates opened that Friday, it became a huge deal.

SO RETAILERS WERE ALWAYS HOPING FOR AN EARLY THANKSGIVING?

You bet. They weren't just hoping, though; they were being proactive about it. In 1939, the Retail Dry Goods Association warned Franklin Roosevelt that if the holiday season wouldn't begin until after Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the traditional final Thursday in November, retail sales would go in the tank. Ever the iconoclast, Roosevelt saw an easy solution to this problem: he moved Thanksgiving up by a week. Instead of celebrating the holiday on its traditional day—November 30th that year—Roosevelt declared the next-to-last Thursday in November to be the new Thanksgiving, instantly tacking an extra week onto the shopping season.

BRILLIANT! HOW DID THAT WORK OUT?

Not so well. Roosevelt didn't make the announcement until late October, and by then most Americans had already made their holiday travel plans. Many rebelled and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on its "real" date while derisively referring to the impostor holiday as "Franksgiving." State governments didn't know which Thanksgiving to observe, so some of them took both days off. In short, it was a bit of a mess.

By 1941, though, the furor had died down, and Congress passed a law that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November, regardless of how it affected the shopping day that would become known as Black Friday.

WHY CALL IT BLACK FRIDAY?

If you ask most people why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, they'll explain that the name stems from retailers using the day's huge receipts as their opportunity to "get in the black" and become profitable for the year. The first recorded uses of the term "Black Friday" are a bit less rosy, though.

According to researchers, the name "Black Friday" dates back to Philadelphia in the mid-1960s. The Friday in question is nestled snugly between Thanksgiving and the traditional Army-Navy football game that's played in Philadelphia on the following Saturday, so the City of Brotherly Love was always bustling with activity on that day. All of the people were great for retailers, but they were a huge pain for police officers, cab drivers, and anyone who had to negotiate the city's streets. They started referring to the annual day of commercial bedlam as "Black Friday" to reflect how irritating it was.

SO WHERE DID THE WHOLE "GET IN THE BLACK" STORY ORIGINATE?

Apparently store owners didn't love having their biggest shopping day saddled with such a negative moniker, so in the early 1980s someone began floating the accounting angle to put a more positive spin on the big day.

DO RETAILERS REALLY NEED BLACK FRIDAY TO TURN AN ANNUAL PROFIT?

Major retailers don't; they're generally profitable—or at least striving for profitability—throughout the entire year. (A company that turned losses for three quarters out of every fiscal year wouldn't be a big hit with investors.) Some smaller outlets may parlay big holiday season sales into annual profits, though.

IS BLACK FRIDAY REALLY THE BIGGEST SHOPPING DAY OF THE YEAR?

It's certainly the day of the year in which you're most likely to be punched while reaching for a Tickle Me Elmo doll, but it might not be the busiest day in terms of gross receipts. According to Snopes.com, Black Friday is generally one of the top days of the year for stores, but it's the days immediately before Christmas—when procrastinators finally get shopping—that stores make the serious loot. Black Friday may, however, be the busiest day of the year in terms of customer traffic.

Snopes's data shows the 10-year span from 1993 to 2002, and in that interval Black Friday was never higher than fourth on the list of the year's busiest shopping days by sales volume. In 2003 and 2005 Black Friday did climb to the top of the pile for sales revenue days, but it still gets stiff competition from the week leading up to Christmas, particularly the Saturday right before the big day.

DO PEOPLE REALLY GET INJURED ON BLACK FRIDAY?

Sadly, yes. One of the most tragic Black Friday incidents happened in 2008, when 34-year-old seasonal employee Jdimytai Damour was killed after a crowd of hundreds of people from the approximately 2000 people waiting outside knocked him own and stampeded over his back after the doors opened at 5 a.m. at the Wal-Mart on Long Island, New York.

In 2010 in Buffalo, New York, several shoppers were trampled trying to get into a Target. One of the victims, Keith Krantz—who was pinned against a metal door support and then shoved to the ground—told a CNN affiliate he thought he would be killed. “At that moment, I was thinking I don't want to die here on the ground,” Krantz said.

In Murray, Utah, 15,000 shoppers swamped a mall with such force, the local police had to respond to break up skirmishes and fistfights, and keep shoppers from ransacking stores.

In 2008, a fight broke out between a young girl and a man at another Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio, over a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen television. It was $798, marked down from $1000. The New York Times reported that the not-so-aptly-named Nikki Nicely, 19, leaped onto a fellow shopper’s back and began pounding his shoulders violently when he attempted to purchase the television. “That’s my TV!” shouted Ms. Nicely, who then took an elbow to the face. “That’s my TV!” The fight was broken up by a police officer and security guard. “That’s right,” Nicely cried as her adversary walked away. “This here is my TV!”

HOW CAN THIS KIND OF THING BE AVOIDED?

In an effort to keep a few would-be clients from personal injury law firms, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created a special checklist for retailers expecting large crowds.

So what’s OSHA’s advice? Consider using bullhorns. Hire a team of police officers. Be prepared for “crowd crushing” and “violent acts.” Set up barricades. And, above all else, if charging shoppers come running, stay out of the way.

Haley Sweetland Edwards contributed to this story, portions of which originally appeared in 2009.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Hess Corporation
arrow
Pop Culture
A Speedy History of the Hess Truck
Hess Corporation
Hess Corporation

Unless you know someone crazy about air fresheners or caffeine pills, holiday gifts purchased at gas stations don’t usually provoke much excitement. But if you were one of the millions who grew up in the northeast, the annual release of the Hess toy truck at Hess gas stations—usually green, always labeled with a Hess logo, always boxed with batteries—was and is as much a part of the holiday as Santa Claus and his sleigh.

The idea for an affordable, quality children’s toy sold at service stations at thousands of Hess locations in 16 states was courtesy of Leon Hess, the college dropout-turned-fuel magnate who began selling oil door-to-door in 1933 and graduated to gas stops by 1960. Hess decided he would trump the cheap merchandise given away by gas stations—mugs, glassware—by commissioning a durable, feature-heavy toy truck modeled after the first oil tanker he ever bought for his company. Unlike most toys of the era, it would have headlights that really worked and a tank that kids could either fill up or drain with water.

Most importantly, Hess insisted it come with batteries—he knew the frustration suffered by kids who tore into a holiday present, only to discover they’d have to wait until it had a power source before it could be operated.

The Hess Tanker Truck went on sale in 1964 for $1.29 and sold out almost instantly. Hess released the toy again in 1965, and then introduced the Voyager Tanker Ship in 1966. For the next 50 years, hardly a year went by without Hess issuing a new vehicle that stood up to heavy play and offered quality and features comparable to the “real” toys on store shelves. Incredibly, fathers would wait in line for hours for an opportunity to buy one for their child.

The toy truck became so important to the Hess brand and developed such a strong following that when the company was bought out in 2014 and locations converted to the Speedway umbrella, new owners Marathon Petroleum promised they would keep making the Hess trucks. They’re now sold online, with the newest—the Dump Truck and Loader, complete with working hydraulics and STEM lesson plans—retailing for $33.99. Bigger, better toy trucks may be out there, but a half-century of tradition is hard to replicate.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios