Cranford and Return to Cranford
Jim Carter plays Mr Carson who is the butler of Downton Abbey and has worked there for a long time. He has seen Mary and her sisters grow into young ladies and like the Dowager Countess cannot bear the thought of the family estate passing to a stranger, even if he does hold the Crawley name. However, his loyalty to Downton Abbey is unquestionable. He loves the place and despite forfeiting marriage and children for this way of life he knows he will be rewarded with a home for the remainder of his days when the time comes for him to retire.
“Carson is very dignified and takes his job most seriously,’ says Jim, “he is very proud of the family and very proud of his position. He has a strong authoritarian control over the servants, but in a parental way,” he explains. Carson hasn’t always been a butler and during the course of the series Julian Fellowes reveals a few interesting tales much to the amusement of Lord Grantham and much to the discomfort of Carson. “He’s had episodes in his life which will be revealed later, which I am not going to say a word about, but from now, his life is utterly dependent on the family. When they get past the age to work, they hope they will be put in the cottage and looked after by the family. So he is totally devoted and totally dependent on them”
Carson is the head of the staff and as such runs a tight ship in the servant’s quarters. He sits at the head of the table and always has his lunch and dinner served before anyone else. He and Mrs Hughes, the Housekeeper, treat each other as equals but there is as rigid a hierarchy among the servants as exists above stairs. “It’s a mirror image in a way but that’s how it works; it’s a big operation to service this family and it’s run on very strict lines, from the kitchen maids, right through to the hall boys, the housemaids and the valets. There will be about 200 people keeping this family and the grounds going.” Carson’s domain includes the main floor, the dining rooms and drawing rooms whereas Mrs Hughes and the maids look after the bedrooms. “The staff take a lot of pride in their work and they all have a certain status. They’re part of a working partnership and although there are ground rules as to how far the relationships could go, there is a deep mutual affection there.”
There is a particular bond between Carson and Lady Mary. He understands her frustration at losing her inheritance to a distant cousin. “Mary was my favourite when she was a little girl and there was a fondness even though she can be a strident and unsympathetic girl to some but Carson has a soft spot and will always defend her and look out for her best interests.” Carson is horrified when it comes to his attention that Lady Mary is the subject of much gossip around the great houses of the gentry. With servants listening in to every conversation it is inevitable that rumours spread like wildfire.
“Carson is fiercely loyal to Lord Grantham and will not tolerate any disrespect or jokes below stairs. You hear servants talking about the Dowager Countess as ‘the old lady’ and he stamps on any signs of disrespect. It’s about pride and dignity. Pride in yourself and pride in your work. You reflect the pride and the dignity of the family at all times and he’s very keen that that should be upheld so when these rumours begin circulating about Mary he is quick to react.”
Carson’s natural ally in the house is Mrs Hughes and they have a nightly ritual of catching up with each other on the day’s events before going to bed, but Jim is adamant there is no romance brewing between them. “There is an affection there and they’re always the last two to go to bed. So to make sure they’ve got things done they just have a little catch-up on the day at the end of each day, which is sweet. You do see them let their defences down a little bit in these moments, but they always call each other by their surname - it’s Mr Carson, Mrs Hughes and Mrs Patmore. There is a gentle understanding of people growing old together.”
Jim had worked with a few of the cast before but was particularly fond of the younger members of the cast. “I’d worked on a couple of plays with Maggie before and it’s great to see her sitting at the dinner table joking away with Laura and Jessica. She is very, very funny and witty. I’ve known Phyllis Logan for ages and Penelope (Wilton) and I worked on a film years ago in Venice called Blame It On The Bell Boy, which wasn’t a great film, but it was four weeks in Venice in a five star hotel and I had about three lines to say.”
A huge cricket fan, Jim is involved with the Hampstead Cricket club and his plans for the summer include spending time with his family and enjoying the cricket season. “I used to play a lot of cricket, but then I thought, why am I travelling for two hours, away from my family to play cricket badly, when I could be at the bottom of my garden with my family watching a great game of cricket, so I stopped about five or six years ago, so my weekend and my summer is on the local cricket pitch.”
(Jim with his wife Imelda Staunton)
Pack produced by Una Maguire and Victoria Brooks, Milk Publicity!
Photo credits: Nick Briggs, Victoria Brooks
Photo credits: Nick Briggs, Victoria Brooks