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Buzzfeed talks ‘Downton Abbey’ with Joanne Froggatt

June 2, 2014

Time to appease members of The Downton Abbey Separation Anxiety Society once more…

As part of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, Buzzfeed’s Jarett Wieselman talks with Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates) about her early days of acting beginning with ‘stage school’ at the age of 13. At 15, her first acting job was a guest shot on the UK series, The Bill. Her first major role came at the young age of 16 where she was on Coronation Street for two years until the ripe old acting age of 18.

Froggatt goes on to talk about the early days of Downton, including her audition, and how it immediately hooked her that it was going to be something special. While it’s still surprising to a few, Wieselman points out that the hit British period drama, Downton Abbey, was not the first acting gig for most involved with the series. As with Froggatt and most actors in the UK, it’s abundantly clear that their early training in theatre gives them a strong base for both drama and comedy.

The 5th series of Downton Abbey will transmit in Autumn in the UK and in January 2015 on PBS in America. Be patient, we’ll have more bits and bobs from the set as filming continues until August.

Lost Hitchhikers Guide chapters found!

June 1, 2014

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, which tells the story of how human Arthur Dent travels the universe after escaping the destruction of Earth, originally began as a BBC radio series in 1978. The following year brought joy to the literary world when H2G2 was released in novel form with the brilliant six-part BBC 2 television series, starring Simon Jones, David Dixon and Mark Wing-Davey, premiering in 1981.
Douglas Adams on the set of the television verison of H2G2

The BBC has reported that Douglas Adams originally wrote 16 chapters for an early version of his third book in the H2G2 trilogy, Life, The Universe and Everything, but filed the typescript away and started over. This abandoned draft for Life, The Universe and Everything was recently discovered in an archive of his work at the University of Cambridge. Extracts will now be included in a new biography, titled The Frood: The True Story of Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Jem Roberts, the biography’s author, received permission from Adams’ family to look at his papers after they were loaned to Cambridge University made the discovery. Roberts explained to BBC News: “The original version was going brilliantly. He had loads of really funny chapters and scenes and then he just decided to abandon the whole lot and start from scratch. The book that we know has exactly the same plot. He’d written a version that was about two thirds of the way through before he abandoned it.

There are two short extracts, which are very entertaining actually, which were cut from the first book,” Roberts said. “One of them is all about the history of the Dentrassi, who work on the Vogon ships, and there’s a bit where Arthur goes on this long reverie about science, which is very out of character for him, which I think is maybe why it got cut.”

The Frood: The True Story of Douglas Adams and the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Jem Roberts will be published in September. If, for some crazy reason, you need a reminder as to the genius that is Douglas Adams and the brilliance of the television series….enjoy!


Fancy a story read by Benedict Cumberbatch or Hugh Bonneville?

May 31, 2014

Yet one more reason why I think the UK is a continual source of amazement.

It seems that BBC Radio 2 was THE place to be yesterday as The Chris Evans Breakfast Show hosted six very talented youngsters who won this year’s 500 Words competition. The annual contest challenges children to write an entire story in just 500 words. This year there were a record 118,632 entries, with judges having to choose a top three in two age categories: nines and under and 10-13 years of age. This year’s judges were Top Gear‘s Richard Hammond, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Malorie Blackman, Charlie Higson and Francesca Simon.

The Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winners in each age category (9 & under and 10-13) were announced Friday at the Hay Literary Festival. As if this wasn’t cool enough to have the 50 finalists present to find out who won, the top 3 stories in each age group were read by some pretty amazing talent in their own right, all of whom not only lent their talents and voices but strongly recognize the value of tapping into a child’s imagination and to encourage creativity.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Hugh Bonneville read 500 Words winning childrens stories

The Bronze medal winner in the 9 & under age group, ‘Should-Be’s’ by Juliette Lea, was read by Sherlock‘s Benedict Cumberbatch.

The Gold medal winner in the 9 & under age group, ‘Lost Undergound’ by Daniel Martlew, was read by Downton Abbey‘s Hugh Bonneville.

The fact that these stars lend their time and talents to a competition such as this is nothing short of greatness. Other winning stories were read by Harry Potter‘s Matthew Lewis, singer Paloma Faith, Dick ‘N’ Dom and Barney Harwood. Click here to have a listen.

Royle Family’s Sue Johnston added to cast for ‘Downton Abbey’ 5

May 30, 2014

It’s that time of year when most members of the Downton Abbey Separation Anxiety Society are desperate for any sliver of information that might come from the set during filming of the forthcoming series.

Not wanting to disappoint, brilliant news came from series producers yesterday as they announced that Royle Family, Waking the Dead and Coronation Street star, Sue Johnston, will play Denker, a lady’s maid to Dame Maggie Smith’s character, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. Recognizing the monumental task at hand of having to stand up to the Downton matriarch, series producers said that Johnston will definitely play a character robust enough to live up to the Countess’ exacting standards while understanding her hidden depths.
Sue johnston

Johnston said: “I’m delighted and very excited to be a part of Downton Abbey, I have some lovely friends in it that I’ll be so happy to be working with and I cannot wait to start filming.”

Having already added 24 star Rade Sherbedgia as a Russian refugee who has fled the revolution after World War 1 and Richard E Grant and Anna Chancellor, both of whom will play guests of the Granthams at Downton, the mega-hit ITV period drama is definitely not sitting on their awards for the upcoming series. Returning for series 5, currently in production, will be Dame Harriet Walter, reprising her role as Lady Shackleton, the Dowager Countess’s friend, and Peter Egan, who will return as Lord Flintshire.

Downton Abbey 5 returns this Autumn on ITV in the UK and, at this point, Sunday, January 4, 2015 on PBS in America (unless series creator/writer Julian Fellowes can convince otherwise).

Does Julian Fellowes have a point re: Downton Abbey 5?

May 29, 2014

Historically, from a Doctor Who broadcast standpoint, the concept of same day transmission has long been the subject of what has sometimes been a rather heated debate over the years. While this wasn’t even in the wheelhouse in the pre-Internet days, with today’s over the top social media fascination with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, it’s virtually impossible to not be bombarded with spoilers unless you just completely shut off from the outside world and watch TV Land until a series premieres sometimes several months following its actual completion on the other side of the pond.

Finally finding a way to figure it out, the most recent series of Doctor Who and Mark Gatiss’ “An Adventure in Space and Time” were both aired same day in the UK and America. More recently, the 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor”, was actually simulcast at the same time, same day in November 2013 where it was named the largest ever simulcast of a TV drama by the Guinness Book of World Records.
Day of the Doctor

The creator/writer of Downton Abbey says it’s now time for the hugely successful British period drama to follow in the footsteps of Doctor Who with a same-day transmission on ITV and PBS to avoid any transatlantic storyline leaks. “The difficulty that we have is that people are discussing the series as it happens online before America’s seen it and on the internet we’re all in the same company. It’s madness”, said Fellowes in a recent Telegraph interview.
Downton Abbey

That said, the premiere of series 4 of Downton Abbey on PBS in January 2014 didn’t seem to suffer too much for having its premiere several months after the series ended in the UK as a record 15.5 million viewers tuned in to see how the Crawleys would adapt to life without Matthew. The elephant in the room comes in to play when you have a major plot issue the likes of Lady Sybil dying or Matthew headed towards a fatal car accident and trying to avoid those spoilers for several months.

So far, it hasn’t seemed to matter with the Downton Abbey audience. The benefit of the word-of-mouth buzz and promotional opportunities that take place for the months leading up to the PBS premiere has, so far, outweighed the negatives. So far. It varies series to series which is why you saw series 3 of Sherlock air within weeks of the BBC broadcast. Not optimum but a step in the right direction given the fact that the audience is by far younger and more in to social media which blew up after the BBC premiere to discuss how Sherlock survived his rooftop dive from St Barts.

Who knows where this will end up with regards to the premiere of Downton Abbey 5. I can see both sides. Julian Fellowes jokes about what he’d like to see and what will probably happen saying: “I don’t have enough sway to choose my own clothes. It’s what I’d like but who cares what I think. What say you?

‘Doctor Who’ parody gold from The Hillywood Show

May 28, 2014

The genius that is The Hillywood Show has struck again with a brilliant parody of Doctor Who. The comedy sister duo of Hilly & Hannah Hindi specialize in Hollywood movies and pop culture parodies. It would be hard to top their Twilight parody, but they just might have done it with this incredible send up of Doctor Who with the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant. Never mind that they set the parody to the Time Warp from Rocky Horror Picture Show. That’s just the icing on the cake and definitely makes the wait until August and Peter Capaldi’s first full season as The Doctor much easier to deal with.

Written, directed, edited, and produced by Hilly and Hannah with a single camera, it’s a monumental effort considering it took only 5 days to complete. Don’t believe me on the five days thing? Check out this behind-the-scenes account of how they did it.

Can’t wait for the Sherlock parody. Let’s hope they are working on it as we speak.

Pre-Mr. Bates, it’s Brendan Coyle in ‘Paths to Freedom’

May 27, 2014

As with many of the individuals that have called Downton Abbey home, either upstairs or downstairs, there have been earlier acting lives that have gone relatively unnoticed since the acting ‘pot-of-gold’ that is Downton Abbey. In the case of Brendan Coyle (Mr. Bates), he might have actually called upon one of his earlier career efforts to gain a bit of guidance to help prepare him for the character of Mr. Bates. It was in series one of Downton that he revealed a past prison stint to Mr. Carson and then, fast forward to the end of series two and much of series three when he spent time behind bars for allegedly killing his ex-wife, Vera.
Brendan Coyle is Jeremy Fitzgerald in Paths to Freedom

In 2000, the Irish mockumentary comedy, Paths to Freedom premiered on Irish television network RTÉ Two. Starring Brendan Coyle as Dr. Jeremy Fitzgerald and Michael McElhatton as Raymond ‘Rats’ Doyle, Paths to Freedom follows the lives of two recently released inhabitants from Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison as they try to reintegrate back into society. Upon release, they agree to be filmed as part of a documentary following what life is like for former prisoners once they are released.

Jeremy and Rats are from very different backgrounds. While Rats has been in and out of trouble throughout his whole part-time poet and musician life, it’s pretty clear that Jeremy is a few cards short of a full deck after prison. A distinguished consultant gynecologist who has now lost his license after prison, he shows his love of a wealthy style of life by driving a new Mercedes-Benz, playing golf at his local club ‘The Fitzhatton’ and repeatedly describing his admiration of Michael Flatley. When Jeremy is questioned by the camera crew as to what affect prison has had on him, and he responds that it caused him to lose his ‘no-claims bonus’ and raise his golf handicap by six strokes.

Unfortunately, there was only one series of Paths to Freedom. Of note also is that Jeremy’s wife, Helen, in Paths to Freedom is played by Deirdre O’Kane, who can be seen in the Chris O’Dowd’s brilliant Moone Boy as Martin Moone’s Mom, Debra. Give it a look while you pass the time before series 5 of Downton Abbey begins.

Don’t Panic – only 364 days until Towel Day 2015!

May 26, 2014

With major apologies for neglecting to give everyone a heads up that yesterday was Towel Day, I’ll begin by saying that there are only 364 days until the 2015 Towel Day celebration. On the outside chance you don’t know what Towel Day is, it’s an annual celebration of the life and works of the late English writer Douglas Adams. You see, it was Adams’ classic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or H2G2, that alerted Planet Earth to that fact that a towel is one of the most useful items to carry with you around the universe.

The first Towel Day took place two weeks after Adams passed away far too young from a heart attack on May 11, 2001 as a no-brainer way for fans to pay their respects. With 364 days until the next Towel Day, there are any number of places and events to consider when making your celebratory plans. According to towelday.org, there are organized events in 22 different countries around the world with festivals for froods everywhere.

  • There’s the annual Towel Olympics held in Paris. Events include the towel throw, towel combat, towel skipping, and towel superman, a sort of long jump carried out while wearing your towel like a cape. The traditional final event is the towel carry, where each team carries one of its members around a course on a towel, naturally.
  • In Norway, the Kolumbus public transport company hands out free towels equipped with electronic passes that allow holders to travel free on its buses and boats from 12.42pm.
  • Other international festivities which mark the day include readings of Vogon poetry which, as any H2G2 fan will tell you, is the third-worst in the galaxy, treasure hunts, flash mobs, and the creation and drinking of the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters, which are said to be “the alcoholic equivalent of a mugging, expensive AND bad for the head“.

If you head to Dresden next year, you might be lucky enough to be the beneficiary of a Towel Day Flash Mob…

Happy Towel Day to all. Start making plans now for 25.5.2015. Don’t say we didn’t remind you in time to make plans.

Happy 75! – Sir Ian McKellen

May 25, 2014

One of most brilliant actors of all-time, Sir Ian McKellen, turns 75 years young today.

Like Dame Judi Dench, retirement is not in Ian McKellen’s vocabulary. At 75, with six Laurence Olivier Awards, a Tony Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, two Academy Award nominations, four BAFTA nominations and five Emmy Award nominations in his rear view mirror, Sir Ian McKellen is having the time of his life.
Sir Ian McKellen turns 25 on May 25, 2014

With a career ranging from a 1959 performance in Shakespeare’s Henry IV opposite Derek Jacobi and Trevor Nunn to his 2014 reprisal of Magneto in X-Men: Days of Future Past, what lies in-between is almost too much for anyone to fathom. There are leading roles in a number of Shakespeare plays including MacBeth, Othello and King Lear, a guest appearance as himself on The Simpsons, film roles in Gods and Monsters, The Da Vinci Code, four X-Men features, three Lord of the Rings and three Hobbit movies where he has played Gandalf for coming up upon fifteen years. His most recent effort, currently in pre-production, has him cast as Sherlock Holmes – a retired Sherlock Holmes looking back on his life grappling with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman in A Slight Trick of the Mind.

Amidst all of this, he found time to be part of the cast of Coronation Street, appear as #2 in the American re-make of The Prisoner and host Saturday Night Live. Almost lost in the sea of brilliant acting efforts is his first foray into situation comedy that premiered in the UK last year and finds it’s way to America beginning Sunday, June 29 on PBS. McKellen plays Freddie Thornhill, an over-the-hill actor whose career consisted mainly of bit parts, alongside Sir Derek Jacobi who plays Stuart Bixby, his partner for over 49 years in their Covent Garden flat. They both seem to be having the time of their lives with one series and a Christmas special of Vicious already in the books and a second series set to film in the not-too-distant future.

Warning: Language flags ahead.

The original title for Vicious was Vicious Old Queens. Rumor has it that, in true Sir Ian McKellen quick-witted fashion, he objected to the title stating that “I’m not old!. So, Happy Birthday, Sir Ian. Please don’t ever retire.