How to dine at Downton Abbey

Shoulders back, elbows in and avoid sex, religion and politics. The hit period drama's historical advisor Alastair Bruce guides us through dinner at Downton...

Dining is a big part of life at Downton Abbey. The Crawleys’ day is punctuated with breakfast trays, tea bells and dinner gongs. They change outfits for their evening meal, upping their sequin and starch count for fancy affairs and pulling out all the stops when guests drop by. 

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Fast forward to 2014 and the dinner party is a little different. They are less formal, more drunken events, with no staff on hand to deliver a perfectly cooked five-course delight to the dining room. In fact, a dining room would be a fine thing. 

So say we’d been invited to share the Crawley’s turkey dinner this Christmas (Hey, a girl can dream!), what measures would we have to take to be socially acceptable at dinner in the 1920s? Luckily, Downton Abbey’s historical advisor Alastair Bruce is on hand to give us some invaluable pointers… 

1. I would guide you to be comfortable in your clothes and be comfortable in yourself, to know that you are an important member of the world. That would be the first thing.

2. Secondly, I would make sure that you knew how to approach the cutlery: outside in.

3. I’d make sure you knew to keep your elbows in, too.

4. Sit up straight – and hold your shoulders back. I would advise any woman who wishes to make the very best of herself to stand up straight and hold her shoulders back because there is no one who doesn’t look better. I promise you, you’ll catch people’s attention and people will listen to you because you’re also demonstrating a confidence. 

5. Be a good conversationalist. Turn one way for the first two courses, and the other way for the next two courses. Isn’t it awful when you go to a party and the person on your right is talking that way and the person on your left is talking the other way and you feel like Johnny No-Mates? That never happens at Downton Abbey, so that’s something to look forward to.

6. It’s always wise – actually in any situation, both then and now – to leave sex, religion and politics out of the dinner party conversation. If you leave those three out you are unlikely to go wrong and you’re unlikely to upset anyone. Nowadays I find most conversations are about sex, religion or politics! And then everyone gets very worked up…

7. Just relax and enjoy yourself. 

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Downton Abbey returns on Christmas Day at 9:00pm on ITV