Why so down on Downton?

Julian Fellowes, writer of the ITV drama series Downton Abbey, has apparently become dispirited by the amount of criticism he has received. This ranges from anachronisms (yellow lines and TV aerials) and plagiarism (sugar mistaken for salt; flower show contretemps) to historical inaccuracies and “cosiness”.

He attributes these criticisms to “permanent negative nitpicking from the Left”, though as they stem mainly from Daily Telegraph readers, this seems a strange approach to take. Telegraph readers are notoriously obsessed with wearing the correct clothes and pronouncing words as they were pronounced 50 years ago, and one can imagine them seizing with glee on anything that clashes with their particular view of the world. After all Downton Abbey is set in the early 20th century, and many Telegraph readers are authorities on this era, because they still live in it.

What Mr Fellowes may be referring to is the way other sections of the media, which are certainly tilting towards the negative left if not toppling over in that direction, have picked up the anti-Downton baton and run with it enthusiastically.

Let me come out into the open. I do not know Mr Fellowes personally, but I enjoy Downton Abbey very much and am delighted that a new series has been commissioned. I am also a Daily Telegraph reader. Many of my views are left-wing. Some are not.

I wonder what sort of viewer watches a drama in order to spot historical inaccuracies and anachronisms. I further ponder on what kind of literate person is not aware that there are no new plots, just reworking of old ones. As a writer who reads a lot, I know that I use ideas, plots and words that have been used before and lodged, often unknowingly, in my brain. Every writer does.

The real question is whether Mr Fellowes has produced a worthwhile drama, and it seems to me that he has succeeded brilliantly, with the help of some top-class casting and acting. One of his most striking achievements, not common in much drama, is to portray goodness as though it is an attractive quality.

Perhaps this is the real problem. There are those who do not like landed gentry to have good qualities and to treat their servants well. I am sure there are many who do not like the idea of servants at all, especially servants who are good at what they do and happy to do it.

But the vital question is not who you are; it is how you react. Service is a dignified calling, whether it is in a country house, a restaurant or a department store. The so-called status of a job is a red herring. What matters is whether we do a job well. Mr Fellowes, in my view, serves us very well indeed.