Apologies to those in other territories around the world but here in Britain, Downton fever has started ramping up. This weekend finally saw the release of the trailer for series four and it’s living up to the promise on the strength of this montage. As we’d expect, there are tears, kisses, a fair-but-stern line from Violet, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) and gorgeous dresses. But there’s also a generous sprinkling of new characters – of whom perhaps one or two may be potential new suitors for Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and, as we head further into the racy 1920s, there’s a loosening of the stays with jazz and the naughty Lady Rose getting a starring role.
So, I’m excited. When the show kicks off proper, I’ll be live-tweeting during the episodes to explain historical elements or just point and laugh at any characters I recognise as having taken inspiration from the Fellowes family. The series will begin six months after Matthew’s death, near the end of 1922, and beyond that I cannot say any more. But rest assured, as soon as I can – I will! Discussions of the characters, storylines and historical context will be found here and on Twitter. I’m also doing some more talks in London and the US – see the Calendar for more details. And in the meantime, you might like to pop along to Bampton, the real-life Oxfordshire village that serves as the location for Downton – I’ve just opened an exhibition there showing some of the costumes from the show, which is on for a month. See more here: West Ox Arts.
For a Downton fix now, you can watch the trailer HERE.
Wednesday 17 April. 10.30am. Des Moines Airport, Iowa. Waiting to catch my flight to Chicago and from there I’ll pick up the flight to London (if the thunder and lightning have stopped by then.) Here’s my end-of-trip round-up. Things I have done and learned.
NB This is full of generalisations. But generalisations are fun.
- I have talked for seven and a half hours in total.
- And signed hundreds of books.
- Had my photo taken with a lot of people. There are a lot of bad photos of me out there right now.
- Had scrambled eggs, blueberry pancakes, crispy bacon, waffles and pints of coffee. For breakfast. This morning.
- Have also had the dubious pleasures of peanut butter pie, key lime pie and raspberry sundae. But not all at once. Except for last night.
- Been to Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, Miami, Jupiter Island, Jacksonville, Sea Island and Des Moines (and now going home via Chicago). That’s four states in nine days: Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Chicago.
- [Postscript amend: Chicago is not a state. Illinois is what I meant. Honest.]
- Presidential campaign tours must be hard work.
- Americans still believe that Marilyn Monroe is the most beautiful woman that ever lived.
- Nobody is interested in the death of Margaret Thatcher. They did not admire her. They largely did not even know who she was.
- Britain is a small island off the north coast of Europe.
- There are ads on TV and in the magazines for drugs of all kinds: anti-depressants, severe plaque psoriasis, halitosis. This is strange but it gets even stranger when the camera is panning over ‘America’s Next Top Model’ Candidee English tossing back her blonde extensions and enjoying her new psoriasis-free skin with a voiceover in the monotone that is supposed to indicate ‘small print’: “Safety and effectiveness have not been proved beyond two years. This may cause cancer. Discuss with your doctor if you have cancer.”
- I haven’t seen anything older than a hundred years except for the residents of Palm Beach, where it’s hard to find anybody who can walk and eat unaided. Miami is populated by the very old and the very gay, all sharing their love of big hair, Botox and tans.
- (Dear Palm Beach – see NB above. Please invite me back)
- They are funny – cue the airline steward on Southwest Airlines (say the following to yourself in a Texan drawl): “As you all know, smoking has been banned FOREVER. If you really want to smoke that bad, walk out on to the wing. That’ll be the in-flight entertainment….In the event of an emergency, if you are travelling with a child – though God knows why you would want to do that – attend to your own mask first. If you are travelling with someone who is acting like a child, that’s your own freaking problem.” And at the end of the flight, when the light pinged. “Awlright. Get off.”
- Everything feels so big – roads, trucks, horizons, buildings, coffee cups.
- Nothing so big as my stomach – apparently no meal is complete unless it contains at least one of the following options, but preferably all four: cheese, gloopy sauce of indeterminate flavour, deep fried batter, corn syrup. I ordered steak salad last night – it came with blue cheese, deep fried onion rings, fried potatoes and a hunk of bread.
- There is quite an evenly spread mix of whites and non-whites on TV, also in senior management (as evidenced in hotels, venues etc) and also amongst the audiences I met. But all the low-grade jobs – porters, cleaners, chambermaids – were exclusively held by non-whites. (If you say ‘black’ here it means ‘Afro-American’).
- Their newspapers are terrible – hard to read, little international news, badly designed.
- Ditto the news shows which appear to choose one major story – North Korea, the Boston Marathon bombings – and talk about them for 48 hours. A ticker tape of news running along the bottom of the screen is the only way to find out that anything else has happened.
- Their newsreaders all look like contestants from Miss World 1999.
- The men are quite frequently ridiculously good-looking, especially the silver-haired limo drivers. You never saw so many square jaws as in the taxi queue.
- They are generous, kind and welcoming.
- They are free with their compliments. I have been told how cute I am, how gracious, how nice, how much fun etc. This could all quite easily go to one’s head except for the fact that I cannot believe a single word of it. I don’t know if this is because I am British or because I am suspicious when there’s no change of tone. If they were rude about one thing in front of me, I’d be more inclined to believe they didn’t parrot polite phrases. Still, I’m not complaining – it’s nice to hear.
- And some of it’s true. If someone wishes you a great day, quite often you have one. At the very least you wish them one back. I can’t help but feeling London taxi drivers might benefit from this small point of knowledge.
- Even the most basic hotel rooms have: WIFI, an iron and board, a hairdryer, huge TV, aircon.
- It is near-impossible to find anyone to do your hair in Fort Lauderdale. I did all my own hair this week, which partly accounts for the bad photos.
- Don’t say blow-dry, say blow-out.
- Their service is the best in the world. No kidding. But you pay for it – I’ve spent a hundred bucks in tips.
- Sex is never in the air. They don’t flirt. I guess it’s been litigated out of them. Or I just ate too many of those goddamn blueberry pancakes.
- It’s been great. I’m happy to go home. Thank you, America.
While I was in New York, I was invited to be on the couch with CBS. It was fun though I very much wished I had bigger hair. CBS Local