15 Proper Facts About Downton Abbey

Masterpiece
Masterpiece

Like Upstairs, Downstairs for the Twitter generation, Downton Abbey brought a bit of British history into the homes of millions of viewers for six seasons, and reinvigorated interest in 20th-century propriety. Though the series ended its small-screen run in March 2016, it's still garnering a lot of buzz thanks to repeated viewings on PBS and today's official announcement that the Crawley family will be making its way back into viewer's lives via a new movie featuring the original cast.

“When the television series drew to a close it was our dream to bring the millions of global fans a movie and now, after getting many stars aligned, we are shortly to go into production," producer Gareth Neame said of the upcoming film, which was written by original creator Julian Fellowes and will begin production this summer. "Julian’s script charms, thrills and entertains and in Brian Percival’s hands we aim to deliver everything that one would hope for as Downton comes to the big screen."

Though fans will likely need to wait until 2019 to see the big-screen version, here are 15 fascinating facts about the lords and ladies of Downton Abbey to tide you over.

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.

Elizabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville in 'Downton Abbey'
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.

The cast of 'Downton Abbey'
Masterpiece

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 the real-life 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 were built at London’s Ealing Studios. Which means that the show’s producers needed to pay particularly close attention to continuity. “For example,” explained 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.

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 TO PRODUCE.

Given the show’s strict attention to detail and authenticity, it’s probably unsurprising that it was an expensive series to shoot. 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.

Lesley Nicol, Sophie McShera, and Jessica Brown Findlay in 'Downton Abbey'
Masterpiece

In keeping with the show’s dedication to authenticity, the producers maintained 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 played kitchen maid-turned-assistant cook 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 of Downton Abbey's unprecedented popularity. It’s estimated that more than 120 million people around the world have watched the series at one point. The show was broadcast in 250 territories worldwide, and became 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.

Maggie Smith in 'Downton Abbey'
Masterpiece

With a total of 69 nominations and 15 wins, Downton Abbey is the most nominated non-U.S. series in Emmy history.

15. THE QUEEN LOVED IT, AND LIKED 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,” said 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.”

10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars

Jeff Bridges accepts the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart during the 82nd Annual Academy Awards in 2010.
Jeff Bridges accepts the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart during the 82nd Annual Academy Awards in 2010.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Winning an Oscar is, for most people, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Unless you're Walt Disney, who won 22. Nevertheless, owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you'd think their owners would be a little more careful with them. Now, not all of these losses are the winners' fault—but some of them certainly are (we're looking at you, Colin Firth).

1. Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie with her Oscar in 2000.
HO/AMPAS

At the 2000 Academy Awards ceremony, after Angelina Jolie planted a kiss on her brother and made the world collectively squirm, she went onstage and collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She later presented the trophy to her mother, Marcheline Bertrand. The statuette may have been boxed up and put into storage when Marcheline died in 2007, but it hasn't yet surfaced. "I didn't actually lose it," Jolie said, "but nobody knows where it is at the moment."

2. Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg with her Oscar.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed, because apparently you can do that. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty. It appeared that someone had opened the UPS package, removed the Oscar, then neatly sealed it all back up and sent it on its way. It was later found in a trash can at an airport in Ontario, California. The Oscar was returned to the Academy, who returned it to Whoopi without cleaning it. "Oscar will never leave my house again," Goldberg said.

3. Olympia Dukakis

Olympia Dukakis with an Oscar statue.
Steven Henry/Getty Images

When Olympia Dukakis's Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home in 1989, she called the Academy to see if it could be replaced. "For $78," they said, and she agreed that it seemed like a fair price. It was the only thing taken from the house.

4. Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando in 1957.
Keystone/Getty Images

"I don't know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront," Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. "Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared." He also didn't know what happened to the Oscar that he had Sacheen Littlefeather accept for him in 1973. "The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did, I don't know where it is now."

5. Jeff Bridges

Actor Jeff Bridges, winner of Best Actor award for
Jeff Bridges, winner of the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart, poses in the press room at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards on March 7, 2010.
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

In 2010, Hollywood legend Jeff Bridges won his first-ever Oscar for his portrayal of alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it was already missing by the time next year's ceremony rolled around, when he was nominated yet again for his role in the Coen brothers's True Grit

When asked about his year-old statuette, Bridges admitted that "It's been in a few places since last year but I haven’t seen it for a while now." Finding the MIA Oscar seemed even more urgent when Bridges lost the 2011 Best Actor Oscar to Colin Firth for The King's Speech. "I'm hoping it will turn up, especially now that I haven't won a spare," Bridges said. "But Colin deserves it. I just hope he looks after it better." 

6. Colin Firth

Colin Firth with his Oscar in 2011.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Perhaps Jeff Bridges secretly cursed Colin Firth as he said those aforementioned words, because Firth nearly left his new trophy on a toilet tank the very night he received it. After a night of cocktails at the Oscar after-parties in 2011, Firth allegedly had to be chased down by a bathroom attendant, who had found the eight-pound statuette in the bathroom stall. Notice we said allegedly: Shortly after those reports surfaced, Firth's rep issued a statement saying the "story is completely untrue. Though it did give us a good laugh."

7. Matt Damon

Actor Matt Damon in 1999
Brenda Chase/Hulton Archive

When newbie writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, it was one of those amazing Academy Award moments. Now, though, Damon isn't sure where his award went. "I know it ended up at my apartment in New York, but unfortunately, we had a flood when one of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town and that was the last I saw of it," Damon said in 2007.

8. Margaret O'Brien

Child actress Margaret O'Brien.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1945, 7-year-old Margaret O'Brien was presented with a Juvenile Academy Award for being the outstanding child actress of the year. About 10 years later, the O'Briens' maid took the award home to polish it, as she had done before, but never returned. The missing Oscar was forgotten about when O'Brien's mother died shortly thereafter, and when Margaret finally remembered to call the maid, the number had been disconnected. She ended up receiving a replacement from the Academy.

There's a happy ending to this story, though. In 1995, a couple of guys were picking their way through a flea market when they happened upon the Oscar. They put it up for auction, which is when word got back to the Academy that the missing trophy had resurfaced. The guys who found the Oscar pulled it from auction and presented it, in person, to Margaret O'Brien. "I'll never give it to anyone to polish again," she said.

9. Bing Crosby

Barry Fitzgerald (left) holds his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor while American actor Bing Crosby holds his Oscar for Best Actor, both for their roles in Going My Way; 1945.
Barry Fitzgerald (left) holds his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor while American actor Bing Crosby holds his Oscar for Best Actor, both for their roles in Going My Way; 1945.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

For years, Bing Crosby's Oscar for 1944's Going My Way had been on display at his alma mater, Gonzaga University. In 1972, students walked into the school's library to find that the 13-inch statuette had been replaced with a 3-inch Mickey Mouse figurine instead. A week later, the award was found, unharmed, in the university chapel. "I wanted to make people laugh," the anonymous thief later told the school newspaper.

10. Hattie McDaniel

A publicity still from 1939's Gone with the Wind; at the 1940 Academy Awards, Hattie McDaniel (left) won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and Vivien Leigh (right) won Best Actress. Olivia de Havilland (center) was also nominated for Best Supporting A
A publicity still from 1939's Gone with the Wind; at the 1940 Academy Awards, Hattie McDaniel (left) won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and Vivien Leigh (right) won Best Actress. Olivia de Havilland (center) was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

Hattie McDaniel, famous for her Supporting Actress win as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, donated her Best Actress Oscar to Howard University. It was displayed in the fine arts complex for a time, but went missing sometime in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how, but there are rumors that the Oscar was unceremoniously dumped into the Potomac by students angered by racial stereotypes such as the one she portrayed in the film.

The Most Successful Entertainment Production in History Might Just Surprise You

Goran Jakus Photography/iStock via Getty Images
Goran Jakus Photography/iStock via Getty Images

Last year, Marvel Studios capped off an unprecedented run of success with Avengers: Endgame, a movie promoted as the culmination of over 10 years of storytelling. The film made $2.8 billion, unseating 2009’s Avatar and knocking 1997’s Titanic down to third place. With nearly $3 billion in ticket sales, you would think Endgame would count as the most successful entertainment production of all time—be it a single movie, book, album, or video game.

It isn’t.

While it earned a staggering amount of money, Endgame is hobbled by the fact that theatrical runs last just a few weeks or months. To really roll in the dough, it helps to have a combination of high ticket prices and a show that runs almost in perpetuity. That’s why it’s another Disney production, the Broadway adaption of The Lion King, that can make a credible claim to being the most financially rewarding entertainment effort of all time. Since debuting in 1997, the stage show has grossed $9.1 billion. (The 1994 film, 2019 live action remake, and merchandising aren’t included in that total. If they were, the number rises to $11.6 billion.)

A theater sign for 'The Lion King' is pictured in New York City in March 2003
Mario Tama, Getty Images

The musical, adapted by Julie Taymor, follows the story of the animated original, with lion cub Simba learning to accept his role as king of the Serengeti Plains. It’s estimated the show has been mounted 25 times globally in nine different languages, with more than 100 million people purchasing a ticket to see it.

Does that make Endgame a distant second? Not quite. Another long-running musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, has grossed more than $6 billion since its 1988 debut. The 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto 5 cleared $6 billion in 2018. And if one were to account for inflation, 1939’s Gone with the Wind made $3.44 billion.

The Lion King does have one asterisk, however. If inflation is taken into consideration, then 1978’s arcade classic Space Invaders comes out the winner. The popular coin-op game—which was later ported over to the Atari 2600—was a smash hit. By 1983, it had made $3.8 billion. Accounting for inflation, it earned $13.9 billion. What’s even more impressive is that unlike big-ticket movies and stage shows, Space Invaders did it one quarter at a time.

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