Downton Abbey: says Julian Fellowes

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Naked reading on couch emerges as elusive solution to feckless TV keeping

The new season of Downton Abbey has ended – but the old problem of which room in the house is best left unsealed remains unresolved.

Confirming theories that his programme hadn’t been filmed in the Great Room, Julian Fellowes was filmed near the sofa.

Fellowes’s conspiracy theory involves a supernatural occurrence on 1 August 1966, when an episode of his house of cards series was to be broadcast.

Confused? No? Let us explain. In that episode, the grand clattering of china could be heard during the early stages of the dinner service. The noise would only be heard after the plates were laid on the table – presumably because having been in the kitchen previously, dinner-party guests had forgotten where to put the china.

The extra china on the plate. Photograph: ITV/Rex

But most telling was the ad lib that appeared halfway through: “He’s the chancellor of the exchequer and he hasn’t eaten a thing – quite brilliant, isn’t it?” What Fellowes didn’t realise at the time was that the remark was a jab at Harold Wilson, the prime minister who, that evening in front of a packed studio audience, had earlier announced his withdrawal from the EU referendum.

Fellowes chose that summer night to resign from the referendum campaign, with Wilson suggesting that his wife had helped persuade him to stand down. But it was Wilson’s acerbic quip – “Now, a cabinet minister’s really the only person I’d rather ask to do something that he thinks might cost him his job” – that was likely to have had the most lasting effect.

When September came round, Fellowes was once again an outsider, humiliated on his television show by a much tougher opponent – the head of state.

In the Downton Christmas episode, HMV said it would no longer stock the favourite author’s books, forcing the writer to advertise himself in the Guardian as an alternative to Twitter.

From August 1966 onwards, Eamonn McCabe observed, Fellowes became more and more obsessed with writing for television – and while he still places the sofa high on his list of worries, now it probably comes a close second.

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