Julian Fellowes reveals the reason Downton Abbey was almost never made

The BBC's decision to remake Upstairs Downstairs almost killed off the Crawleys before we'd even met them...

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Downton Abbey is an internationally popular mega hit of a period drama. So much so that it’s strange to think back to a time when people weren’t sure if the show was going to be a success.

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It’s even odder to imagine that we almost never met the Crawleys. But there was a moment, before Lady Mary and the Dowager Countess made it onto our telly screens, when their future was a little uncertain…

“We were in pre-production when the BBC announced they were going to make a new version of Upstairs Downstairs,” creator Julian Fellowes tells RadioTimes.com. “They’d bought the rights, because that originally wasn’t BBC, it was Granada.” 

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow. Should we go on?’,” he admits.

“Upstairs Downstairs seemed like the brand name, much more than Downton. I mean, Downton Abbey wasn’t a brand name then. Nobody had ever heard of it.”

Upstairs Downstairs originally aired in the early 70s before being revived in 2010, beginning at Christmas shortly after Downton aired its hugely popular first series on ITV. But The BBC period drama, starring Keeley Hawes, Ed Stoppard and Claire Foy, failed to pose a serious threat, running for just two seasons before being cancelled in 2012. 

“Now of course it seems strange really because the show became so successful but you don’t know,” says Fellowes.

“People always say, ‘Did you realise it was going to be so successful?’ Of course not! I thought it would find its audience. I believed in it. I thought it was a good show and a terrific cast. I thought that all that was great, but you just don’t know.” 

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Downton Abbey concludes with a Christmas special later this year