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Downton Abbey Historical Adviser Alastair Bruce On Filming, Manners Special


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

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

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. Alisair Bruce

Bruce is in town to share some of that knowledge and secrets about filming the show at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts tonight.

“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, and 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 says that “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 (right) discusses protocol with Brendan Coyle (Mr. Bates) and another cast member. 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 notes that “a lot of people are reassured on a Sunday night when they watch it, [by] 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.”  

He has shared his knowledge not just with the cast and crew of Downton Abbey, but also through two Masterpiece specials, Manners of Downton Abbey and More Manners of Downton Abbey, and though events with PBS member stations. 

One such event, More Manners of Downton Abbey with Historical Advisor Alastair Bruce, hosted by WILL and our sister station WTVP in Peoria, will take place tonight, Friday, December 11 at 7:30 pm at: 

Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts
600 N East St, Bloomington, IL 61701

You can find more information and where to buy tickets here. Individual $35 tickets can also be purchased at the door.

"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.

“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!” Alastair 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," said Bruce. 

Manners of Downton Abbey will air at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, December 27th and repeat at 2:00 a.m. on December 29th. 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. 

The University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign has put together a Library Guide for the series including resources for British literature, history, and culture.

More of our interview will also air in Morning Edition later this month and will be posted directly following.