It is a truth universally acknowledged that the chief pleasure for a British audience watching a historical drama serial lies in gleefully pouncing upon its errors and inaccuracies. The most assiduously eagle-eyed viewers then fire off indignant hand-written letters to the Daily Telegraph pointing out that roads did not have yellow lines in 1900 and that penny farthings were not invented in time to be featured in Pride and Prejudice. Downton Abbey offers a great deal of innocent fun in this regard, what with Matthew Crawley talking about "learning curves," the footmen wearing white tie when they shouldn't be and the appearance of a Ford Model T 20 years before its time; and of course there are far too FEW servants: where are all the housemaids -- there should be at least eight of them? But let's avert our eyes from the small stuff, the big picture of Julian Fellowes' Downton has many truthful things to tell us about the spirit of life among the servants downstairs in an English country house.
Lucy Lethbridge is the author of the new book Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times.