Downton Abbey: Why Do We Love Early 20th-Century Toff Dramas So Much?

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Just when you thought the tide of port, stiff white collars and
Yes, Your Ladyships was dying down, along comes another wave.

Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes’s 1912 drama set in
a thwacking great stately home, is entering its final stretch. So
now prepare for the new version of Upstairs, Downstairs;
out later this autumn, it’s set in 1936, six years after the
original series ended.

Why do we love these toff dramas so much – and more particularly
these early 20th-century toff dramas?

Well, class is the obvious number one answer. The outward signs
of class may have become blurred in the last 70 years, since the
days these dramas were set in, but we remain as obsessed as we ever
were about differences in accent, background, school and university
– just look at the acres of newsprint devoted to the backgrounds
of the new coalition leaders.

Class differences in dress remain, although they are less distinctive
than 70 years ago. Clothing obsessives can have a good old wallow
in those more elegant days. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s
a minor boom in 1930s style when Ed Stoppard, Tom’s boy, appears
as the young blood in tails in the new Upstairs, Downstairs.

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14, 2010

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