I was joined at my usual perch at Michael’s yesterday by Downton Abbey‘s executive producer Gareth Neame and Hope Dellon, executive editor at St. Martin’s Press whose new book, Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey, is the “official” and definitive behind-the-scenes look at the wildly popular series. Unless you’ve been living under rock, you have undoubtedly heard that series creator Julian Fellowes writes every word of each episode that Downton addicts devour every season, but you may not know it was Gareth who is truly responsible for bringing the series to the small screen.
Having worked in British television for over two decades, Gareth was, as he writes in the book’s foreward in which he chronicles the backstory of the creation of the series, “familiar with maids, footmen and aristocrats and historic houses that serve as inspiration for drama.” He was also a fan of Gosford Park, the film that earned Fellowes an Academy Award. Gareth approached Fellowes with the idea to do a television series set in a grand house during the Edwardian era, focusing equally on the lives of the servants and the aristocrats, but, as Gareth told me, “Julian was resistant at first to do it. He didn’t think lightning would strike twice.” Still, Fellowes sent an email a few days later outlining all the major characters and the plot revolving around an inheritance issue with a distant cousin, a male heir (Matthew Crawley), who comes into the world of a family living in a great house staffed with servants. “We didn’t know whether it would work,” Gareth told me. “But everything was there on the page.”