Downton Abbey - Brendan Coyle

Brendan Coyle is already familiar to fans of
North and South and Lark Rise to Candleford!

Brendan Coyle plays John Bates, the new valet to Lord Grantham. His character had been injured in the Boer War whilst serving as a batman to Lord Grantham so Brendan used a walking stick and acted with a limp to complete his character traits.

“A batman is a fighting man, who serves as a butler and tends to the needs of his commanding officer – so they would have fought alongside each other and Bates would have been Lord Grantham’s right hand man, looking out for him and protecting him,” explains Brendan. Being a batman would have meant Bates and his master would have lived in close proximity to one and another and Bates would probably have been one of the closest men to his commanding officer.

“Bates would have been commonly referred to as a cripple in those times and there wasn’t much sympathy for people who suffered with any kind of disability no matter how it was sustained,’ he says. “So, when he is appointed by Lord Grantham as his valet without Carson’s knowledge it comes as a surprise to all the staff that this man, in such a superior position, is ‘afflicted’.”

Bates experiences a lot of bitterness and resentment from the other staff because he can’t carry out his duties properly and they find themselves carrying some of his workload. “He is given a lot of room to be able to perform what duties he can but there are others who have to compensate for his inability to perform the duties that a valet normally would. He has to deal with a young footman’s ambitions to be valet and Lady Grantham’s maid who, for some reason resents him, so he has to deal with a great deal of prejudice.”

Not only does Bates fail to complete most of his duties, those he does manage to complete, tend to becarried out pretty poorly. There’s a number of incidences where Bates drops things, he falls, or rather, is tripped up at the very grand arrival of a Duke, which is embarrassing for everybody in the line-up but mostly for Bates. “I was trying to make that scene as realistic as possible so I did let myself fall as naturally as I could,’ explains Brendan. “If you become a dead weight and are padded well enough, then you can take the impact. I’ve done a lot of stage fighting, so I wasn’t afraid of that. It did take about 20 takes and I was sore for a few days afterwards. It’s worth it just to get that one shot. I was very keen for that to look as painful and as humiliating as possible for Bates and in turn for Lord Grantham.”

Despite his many secrets Bates is essentially an honourable man who believes in loyalty and honesty which in later episodes works against him. “He doesn’t know specifically what he has done to upset his colleagues but he is older and wiser and there is a sense that he is carrying a heavy burden around with him that he won’t divulge,” says Brendan. He quickly discovers an ally below stairs in the form of housemaid Anna played by Joanne Froggatt but before this has a chance to grow into something more, the devious O’Brien lays the groundwork with an unsuspecting Lady Grantham to have Bates fired.

“When it becomes apparent that his trial period is over Lord Grantham finds himself under a lot of pressure to do the right thing by his staff and let Bates go,’ says Brendan. “There’s a powerful scene where Lord Grantham has to dismiss Bates and it’s an extremely difficult thing for him to do, because Grantham knows the extent of Bates’ loyalty to him, his injury is testament to that.”Just when it looks like Bates is all washed up with no hope of another job, Lord Grantham has a last minute change of heart and tells him to go back inside the house. “Lord Grantham is a man of honour and he decides that he can’t do it because, as he says it’s ‘simply just not right’.”

As the tension builds between Bates and first footman, Thomas, the stakes between the two servants get higher as Bates’ honesty comes into question. “The resentment from Thomas and O’Brien never goes away and it bruises and bruises until violence erupts between the two men but it only cements Bates’ resolve to stay put and fight his corner…literally.”

Like the rest of the cast, Brendan benefited from the experience and knowledge of the show’s Historical Advisor, Alastair Bruce. “He has been absolutely invaluable and his presence was appreciated by everybody,” says Brendan. “He gave a very clear insight to the running of the house, the status, positions and functions of all the different staff, which was fantastic. We even had etiquette lessons,” he laughs.

For Brendan, Julian Fellowes is one of the country’s most gifted writers and there was no hesitation when he was offered the part. “Julian understands drama and crucially, he understands actors and acting, so there’s never a dull moment. The script was a real page-turner and you have this whole range of lives, classes, status and storylines - he’s a clever boy!”


  1. Big fan of his, he's such an interesting figure! I loved him in N&S and LR to C! Downton Abbey sounds lovely, can't wait for it to come to PBS! :)

  2. The character of Bates has really captured my imagination, as well as my heart, and it's only 5 episodes into the first series!

    Bates is so enigmatic and stoic and you just want to reach out to him and see the real man behind that proud front. I can't wait to see his story unfold in the remaining episodes and in the next series. I'm sure Mr Fellowes will delight in keeping us in varying states of suspense and anticipation about the real Mr Bates as the programme progresses into next year.

    Brendan Coyle plays this character with such grace, humilty and humour that you can't help but see how someone as sensitive and caring as Anna would fall for him. Very clever writing and beautiful acting.

  3. Miss Laurie, I like him as well!
    Did you check Youtube? ;)

    Kate, I couldn't agree more!

  4. A fine actor, a very interesting character in downtown abbey.
    I love the programme, a diamond in a desolate world of reality tv.

  5. Brendan Coyle just magnifies me...

  6. I've seen practically everything available with him, even interviews, which are, unfotunatelym quite rare abd hard to find. I've read loads of comments, coming from enchanted women viewers - all over the world, co he could likely have dozens of women, including the smartes, the most beautiful. I live far away from this charming little village where he resides, and there's a gap of 18 years between us, but I honestly feel - deep inside, that he's a kind off man that could easily become my everyday dream. Something in his eyes, hus voice, those incredible wrinkles around his warn eyes tells me, that he would be able to make me feel happy and useful again. It's a pity I can only pray for more tv series seasons to have few moment od his looks - not directed at me of course...At least I can spend some time with the character he plays, if not himself.

    1. i agree withyou 100%. This could be my profile

    2. Huh, knowing that I'm not the only one makes me feel at least a little less pathetic:)

  7. Brendan Coyle is an incredibly talented actor. I really love N&S and it's because of his portrayal as Higgins that the series has an extra dimension/depth to it than just the central romance, which sets it apart from other period piece movies. He is absolutely riveting in that role. He is also outstanding in Lark Rise as Robert Timmons and really carries that series. He and Claudie Blakley play exceptionally well off of each other and make a completely believable onscreen couple. It's interesting to see him play Bates, who is so different from Higgins and Timmons in the sense that he is so stoic and keeps his emotions/thoughts close to the vest while Higgins and Timmons are so outspoken and passionate. I think it's a credit to his skill as an actor that I find the character of Bates so compelling. I've seen a lot of his work and he always does an excellent job. I'm glad that he is finally getting some recognition for his talent now that he's on DA. I hope that means he'll have better and more prominent roles in the future.

    1. I love the Christmas episode.Bates and Anna are very sweet together.I find myself being over-joyed for them one minute and the next episode my eyes are brimming with tears......
      Definetly my favourite story line so far!



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