It certainly pays to be a youngster on the set of Downton Abbey series five. Not only do you get to become a star at a time when most of us were still in our nappies, but you also land the best babysitter money can buy.
And no, we’re not talking Norland nannies. Little’uns Fifi Hart (who plays Sybbie Branson) and twins Oliver and Zac Barker (who play young George Crawley) are kept entertained by none other than Allen Leech, aka Tom Branson.
At yesterday’s Downton Abbey press launch, the actor revealed he’d had a blast working with the adorable kids during filming on series five. “They were great. I became known as the whisperer, the dragon man and the fire-starter. The game to keep the kids entertained was if they were really good during the takes, we’d go in search of dragons because there’s lots of effigies of dragons around the castle and if we were really good we might be able to see them move before they freeze because they get scared of humans. Amazingly, we haven’t found a moving one yet.”
Leech, 33, also spoke of another special game themed around the new series’ first episode which sees a fire break out in the famous Abbey. “All the fires we have on the show are controlled by our special effects team. Another great [game] was to see the magic man, as I’m known, make the flames go very high and very small. So, I’ve turned them into fantasy-loving pyromaniacs.”
When asked whether he’d had any memorable run-ins with fans, the actor shared details of an encounter at border control in the United States back in Branson’s vigilante days. “The episode had just aired where I’d left Sybil pregnant in Dublin having burnt out the landed gentry and the man at passport control – an elderly man in his sixties – took my passport, looked at me, looked at my passport, looked at me again and said, ‘That’s a sh**ty thing you did to your wife.’”