Downton Abbey Historical Adviser On Season Six, Filming And More

January 04, 2016
Bruce (middle) discussing protocol with Rob James-Collier (Tomas, left) and Kevin Doyle (Mr. Mosley, right).

Bruce (middle) discussing protocol with Rob James-Collier (Tomas, left) and Kevin Doyle (Mr. Mosley, right). More Manners of Downton Abbey is a production of Carnival Films, Chocolate Media and MASTERPIECE. Alastair Bruce is the host.

Courtesy of Masterpiece

Downton Abbey season six, the final season, premiered in the U.S. yesterday to great acclaim. It wouldn’t look the way it does or be so historically accurate, however, if it weren’t for Alastair Bruce.

The cast and crew of Downton Abbey, Masterpiece’s smash hit about the Crawley family and their servants call Bruce, the show’s historical advisor, “The Oracle” because he knows everything about the customs and protocols of the time period. 

Alastair Bruce describes the proper protocol of an officer to Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) between takes.

Alastair Bruce describes the proper protocol of an officer to Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) between takes. More Manners of Downton Abbey is a production of Carnival Films, Chocolate Media and MASTERPIECE. Alastair Bruce is the host.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Masterpiece

“It’s a great honor to be called ‘The Oracle’, and if I’m the Oracle then Delphi must be Downton Abbey,” said Bruce.

“Every time we start a new scene, and there are gathered the actors who will be taking part in the scene, there is also the director, the producer, and me,” said Bruce. “The actors can shape what they want to be doing with the director, and then I make sure that whatever it is that they’ve chosen, it isn’t breaking any rules for that period.”

He also offers suggestions based on his knowledge and “very often by knowing a lot of background and the protocols of status and where people were, you can also give a little bit of extra armament to the director to more strongly put across a point.”

Bruce says he’s interested that “A lot of people are re-assured on a Sunday night when they watch it about looking at a time that is not their own but where everybody knew their place and there was a sort of reassurance about that and things were very certain then. There’s a concept of certainty that simply doesn’t exist today.” 

You understand why they behaved the way they did when you understand what drove them.  Alastair Bruce

Further, he says he believes the popularity might be partly that “the protocols appear to enhance an even greater gentleness, one to another. I’m not so certain there isn’t an equal amount of gentleness one to another nowadays.”

"So much stuff that was in Britain is now part of your vernacular and your customs and behavior here and I think unwrapping all the strange detail in Manners and now More Manners, I’m really excited we’ve done a second documentary special,” Said Bruce. "I could go on doing this forever because you know I love to tell all about the manners that go right back in Britain - the way the protocols operated, how people were, and you understand why they behaved the way they did when you understand what drove them."

Alastair Bruce describes Thomas' medals to actor Rob James-Collier.

Alastair Bruce describes Thomas' medals to actor Rob James-Collier. More Manners of Downton Abbey is a production of Carnival Films, Chocolate Media and MASTERPIECE. Alastair Bruce is the host.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Masterpiece

Bruce was inspired to dive into history by public broadcasting television shows he watched as a child. “Public service television is a root for people to be inspired. I was inspired by television as a child, and you know, anyone can find something that interests them and then go on their own journey of discovery - and that’s what makes life fun!”

His journey of discovery led him to serve not just as a historical advisor but also to several roles in which he serves the royal family directly, first as one of the Queen’s heralds.

“Because I’m an expert in English and Byzantine coronation ritual, and the state ceremonial of the country, I was appointed to become Fitzalan Pursuivant of Arms Extraordinary,” said Bruce. “I lead [the Queen] in all the great processions of state, and, you know, that’s a huge responsibility and privilege.” 

Bruce also serves as Equerry to the Queen’s youngest son, Prince Edward, and his wife, and has previously served with the Scots Guards, “and in that role, I not only did royal ceremonial duties – with the great bands and music where we march past the queen in glorious panoply of pomp and circumstance – but also went to war with my soldiers to the Fauklands in 1982 and to other peacekeeping roles as I was required to do it,” said Bruce.     

Bruce still serves in the British army, currently as a one-star general or Brigadier general.

Alistair Bruce and Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley) discuss proper dining protocol.

Alistair Bruce and Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley) discuss proper dining protocol. More Manners of Downton Abbey is a production of Carnival Films, Chocolate Media and MASTERPIECE. Alastair Bruce is the host.

Photo Credit:

“I therefore have still retained military involvement. I’m working with the royal family to both help chart the way in which the United Kingdom celebrates itself, but also look after the way one of the Queen’s sons reaches out that extra special physical way that members of the royal family can carry the presence and role of the head of state into the life of the country in so many ways,” said Bruce. 

Downton Abbey Season Six premiered on January 3rd. Episode one is available to watch through our website and it will air on WILL-TV every Sunday through March 6th at 8:00. Keep your eyes peeled for a Downton Abbey finale event hosted by the station.

More Manners of Downton Abbey premiers on Sunday, February 28th, at 8:00 p.m. directly following episode 8 of season six. It will be followed by an airing of Manners of Downton Abbey at 9:00 p.m. on WILL-TV.

The University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign has put together a library guide for the final season that includes extensive print and online collections relevant to the Downton Abbey series, including resources for British liteature, history, and culture.