Behind the scenes at Downton Abbey

Red-hot sets, fluctuating waistlines (they blame the canteen) and the ‘Lord of Manners’ who doesn’t miss a thing. Fiona Hicks visits the set of the world’s best-loved period drama
When you think of Downton Abbey, which returns for a Christmas special and will soon start filming its sixth series, chances are you picture the resplendent Highclere Castle. Five years ago, this property was selected from dozens around the country to become the home of the fictional Crawley family. ‘We looked at photographs of at least 100 houses, and visited 40 all over the country,’ says Donal Woods, the show’s production designer. ‘Funnily enough, Highclere Castle was the first place we visited.’

The house has certainly become a character in its own right. What most people don’t realise, however, is that much of the filming takes place in London.

Ealing Studios – an unprepossessing set of buildings which resemble office blocks rather than a stately home – houses many of the ‘rooms’ which are so familiar to Downton fans. In fact, the entire downstairs of Downton Abbey is a set which is resurrected here every February when filming begins.
Visiting the set is a fascinating experience. The monochrome downstairs rooms (‘we always say upstairs is Technicolor and downstairs is a black and white film’) may look pleasantly cool on screen, but in reality the studio lights make them very, very hot. And they’re star-studded, too. Mr Carson wanders through one room casually carrying his jacket, Mrs Patmore is chatting to a cameraman, and Daisy is asking an assistant for a banana.

What is even more captivating, however, is meeting the army of behind-the-scenes crew, many of whom are just as interesting as the characters they help to bring to life...

Downton Abbey : Season 5, is available to buy on Blu-ray and DVD, courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK). Purchase from Amazon here.