Julian Fellowes: The Inspiring Creator of Downton Abbey

A surprising journey to success and some personal connections along the way.

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Posted in , Sep 10, 2019

We return to the sumptuous setting of Downton Abbey for the sixth and final season of this internationally acclaimed hit drama series.

I don’t watch much TV but my wife, Carol, and I eagerly awaited every episode of Downton Abbey, and we look forward to the movie. Maybe that’s because we have a vested interest. You see, the writer who created Downton Abbey got a little inspiration from Carol.

Julian Fellowes is a marvel with his own inspiring story. I wouldn’t say he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he went to good English schools and came from a solid family. No fancy title but a fine heritage including an ancestor who was the founder of the short-lived Downton Agricultural College. (Would that be where he got the name for his TV series?)

He started out as an actor. Worked in theater. Went to L.A. and auditioned for a slew of movies and TV shows. He got work, no doubt about it, in the States and in Britain, but you’d hardly call Julian Fellowes a Hollywood star.

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It was only when he took his hand to writing that his gifts came to light. He wrote the screenplay for the brilliantly clever film Gosford Park and won an Oscar for it in 2004. Pretty impressive.

Even more impressive to me is to think of the dogged persistence it took to discover the depth of his talents. Hollywood might always seem to reward the young and restless. Well, Fellowes was well into his fifth decade when he won that Oscar.  

Turned out it was only a warm up for the absorbing travails of the Crawley family and their servants. Downton Abbey was a huge hit from the day it launched and all through its 6 seasons.

Before the second season came out in England, some reporter asked him where he got the idea for Downton. He said that he’d read this book called To Marry an English Lord, about the American heiresses who married into the British aristocracy at the turn of the century. He wondered what one of those heiress’s life would have been like 20 years down the road. The rest is TV history.

Here’s the hook. My wife, who writes under the name Carol Wallace, was the co-author of To Marry an English Lord. When she reached out to Julian, he couldn’t have been more gracious. In fact, he provided a blurb for the reprint of To Marry an English Lord that led to it selling thousands of more copies.

I’ve only met Julian once, and he was a delight, as you can imagine. Kind, witty and charming. But I think it goes back to what he learned on his own journey to success. To give credit where credit is due. And to never give up. Never.

That’s the inspiring story behind Downton Abbey. Enjoy the movie. We certainly will. Thanks Julian.

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