WORKING on global hit television drama Downton Abbey has been an amazing journey for producer Chris Croucher, who has spent the last few months of 2015 filming the last series and Christmas special, which was shown on Christmas Day.
The programme, created and written by Julian Fellowes, had done well in the UK but was not internationally known at that time.
Chris said: “I had worked on Sense and Sensibility before, another period drama, and I had to get into Downton fast.
“The series started in the trenches and halfway through shooting it I was promoted to first assistant director and also became involved in the first Downton Christmas special in 2011.
“It was a step up for me and I remained in the same position for the whole of series three, scheduling the shooting and running the floor.
“Then, between series three and four, I was asked to join another successful TV programme, Broadchurch, working as first assistant director, before returning to Downton Abbey for series four, where I was also helping with casting and post-production.”
Chris was promoted to producer for series five and six while Downton gained international acclaim across the globe, winning three BAFTAs, three Golden Globes and 11 Emmys before 2016.
“I was keen to show my dad, who I call my lucky charm, what I do and what goes on while filming the programme – and he has since had several cameo roles as a generic aristocrat in Downton,” revealed Chris.
“My mum also made an appearance as an extra in the second series.
“I am really pleased my dad, who is an engineer by trade, and I both made an appearance in the Christmas special and the whole family, including my wife Sarah and our new baby Bertie, were really looking forward to watching it on Christmas Day, because I was sworn to secrecy and could not reveal what happened.”
Chris admitted it was sad to say goodbye to Downton Abbey after filming the last episode in the autumn.
He said: “Downton is a real family, from the director, the actors, the crew to the caterers, a family that works to the best and highest standard and everyone is very passionate about what they do.
“For me Downton has never been a job. It is about a family, made by a family.
“I have a lot of respect for everyone who has been involved and it was wonderful being able to work with Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), who lives in Milland, just down the road from Liphook, where I grew up.
“Hugh is the most hard-working actor, he has an amazing range of versatility. He is brilliant and always tries to help where he can and has been very supportive of me over the last five years.”
Chris says he has learned a lot and gained valuable experience while working on the international blockbuster.
“Every single day was fascinating and different. Before Downton, television was looked on as less important than film – now television has become equal.
“There won’t be anything else like Downton Abbey in the next 20 years, it’s a television phenomenon, a global success, and it has touched people.
“Ultimately it speaks volumes of the quality of the production. Downton has 300 million viewers worldwide, 11 million in the UK alone and it is huge in China.
“Previously all successful period dramas were adaptations of existing of books, but Downton is brand new and was written by Julian Fellowes while being filmed.
“Nobody had any knowledge of what would happen from week to week. It was all in Julian’s imagination.
“Downton has all the elements of a soap – a classic TV period drama done in lavish style, paying attention to every detail, every letter, every prop, making sure to get it absolutely right.
“It was like going into another world, where everything was researched correctly.
Julian came on set every now and again but not that often, because he was busy writing the scripts while filming took place.
“The astonishing thing is that Julian has written all the scripts for Downton Abbey, which is quite phenomenal. No other writer does that, he has an amazing talent.
“He was also very supportive of everyone’s involvement. It was a collaborative production, everyone worked together to make the programme.”
Earlier in the year, at the film set at the famous Ealing Studios in London, where much of the show is recorded, Downton fan the Duchess of York spent the day being shown around the world’s longest-running film studios, meeting the cast and crew, including Chris.
* After finishing the final scenes, Chris had no rest but went straight into starting production of a new eight-part ITV period drama - entitled The Halcyon, set in 1940 during the Second World War, which tells the story of a bustling and glamorous five-star hotel in the centre of London.
Hugh Bonneville has just completed filming Viceroy House in India, where he plays Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy before India was granted independence from Great Britain.
Set in 1947, it is directed by Gurinda Chadha. Acting as an ambassador for Bafta’s charitable activities in Asia, Hugh also went to China and visited secondary schools, meeting English drama students there.