JAN MOIR: Yes, Downton is silly, snobbish tosh. And that's why we love it!
Lawks alert. Carson, bring Lady Grantham her special smelling salts, there’s a good fellow. Gather round everyone. I’m afraid I have some rather bad news.
For television star and leading historian Professor Simon Schama has gorn and called our beloved Downton Abbey ‘a steaming, silvered tureen of snobbery’.
Urk! Mneek. Gaaark! And other Dowager Countess Violet-type strangled pheasant noises of dismay.
Class act: The Crawley sisters – Sybil, Mary and Edith – are snobs, but that's what we love about them
Yes, Schama has taken to the pages of Newsweek magazine to disparage the award-winning television series, now being shown in America.
He says Downton is guilty of ‘cultural necrophilia’ and is littered with inaccuracies and clichd storylines.
Tell us something we don’t know, big guy. That is exactly why we all love it so much, you silly teacake.
Really. I am half-minded to fetch a pennyworth o’ borax and get Mrs Patmore to wash his naughty mouth out. Schama, who currently lectures — it’s his hobby as well as his calling — at Columbia University in New York goes on to express his dismay at the series which he believes is ‘overacted and hyper-overacted’.
The very nerve of the fellow.
Not a fan: Historian Simon Schama reckons Downton is guilty of 'cultural necrophilia'
How dare he Who does he think he is I mean he’s just a tradesman. He’s just another upstart with an A+ in history who had to buy his own furniture and doesn’t know the difference between a spittoon and a soup spoon at the crack of tiffin time. He hasn’t a clue how to toast an artichoke.
He isn’t fit to blacken the nubbet of the Hankerey stick, the traditional ebony and silver inlaid implement which lords and ladies have used to thrash their grateful servants for centuries.
He isn’t up to scratch on the symbolism of the powdered minikin, always worn on a gentleman’s left lapel, to signify membership of the Snubs Club which meets to fence with fish knives at the Horseradish Arms in the Downton village hall on the last Friday of every month. (Yes, I’m making this rot up, just like Julian Fellowes does.)
Fair enough that the 66-year-old professor doesn’t like Downton. However, I can’t agree with his lofty dismissal of the ‘servile soap’ that Americans ‘desperate’ for something to take their minds off the ‘perplexities of the present . . . down in grateful gulps’.
This suggests that anyone who enjoys the middlebrow delights of Downton is a moron desperate for a laff. Someone who cannot, like him, be trusted to differentiate between historical fact and costume drama fiction.
Downton's Christmas special: There's nothing wrong with harmless escapism whatever Professor Schama may say
He sneers at what he deems to be the ignorati; befuddled by the drawing room shenanigans and the kitchen sink palavers of the English upper crust and the crumbs who serve them.
Yet there is nothing wrong with harmless escapism such as this — something which Charles Dickens himself understood.
In the mid-1800s, when Punch and Judy shows were routinely disapproved of by authorities, Dickens defended them as ‘an extravagant relief from the realities of life which would lose its hold upon the people if it were made moral and instructive’.
Little bit of a history lesson for you, there, prof. You’re welcome!
Meanwhile, Professor Schama also insists that the Downton crew are merely pandering to an ‘unassuageable’ American craving for the master and servant dynamics of the British country house drama.
So what As kitchen maid Daisy might say, us’re ain’t mekkin’ history — us’re mekkin’ a living, heck as like.
Now leave us alone to thrill at Mr Bates in peace.
Captain Coward and Pilot Pluck
Pilloried: Francesco Schettino has become a national disgrace
Ooof. That hurt. I just fell into a lifeboat. It’s the sort of thing that can happen to anyone. There’s a lot of it about.
One minute you’re trying to direct more than 4,000 panicking and drowning passengers off your sinking ship, the next you’re accidentally in one of the first lifeboats streaking towards the safety of the shore.
Then you trip up again, only this time you fall into a nice, warm taxi which speeds you even further away from the scene of the disaster.
Like I said, it can happen to anyone.
No wonder that in Italy, Francesco Schettino has become a national disgrace. The man in charge of the Costa Concordia has been pilloried for leaving his ship when it was ripped open by rocks off the Tuscan coast last Friday.
His claims that he did nothing wrong have done little to comfort the bereaved, or those who battled through the dark icy waters in fear of their lives. Eleven people died in the disaster and 21 are still missing.
Yet against the shame of his apparent weakness came tales of incredible courage, from colleagues who risked their own lives to save passengers, to the Italian coastguard whose incandescent tirade against the escaping Captain Coward did much to restore faith in human nature.
Tragedy: As Schettino abandoned the stricken Costa Concordia, his passengers were dying
Not to mention the young dancer from Dorset who was one of the last off the ship, to the violinist who helped others but perished when he returned to save his beloved violin.
To think of others at a time of great peril is one of the highest human achievements. That ordinary people did so much to help their fellow passengers only adds to Schettino’s shame.
And let us not forget that three years ago, almost to the day, another catastrophe was played out in the skies above New York, when U.S. Airways Flight 1549 was hit by a bird strike shortly after take-off.
Pilot Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger calmly told air traffic controllers that he was going to ditch in the Hudson River rather than risk a catastrophic crash in a densely populated area. He was brave and heroic and all 155 of his passengers and crew survived.
Captain Coward said that he had no choice but to desert the 400million liner and its thousands of passengers.
That might be the case — but in your moment of truth, when catastrophe strikes, you’ve got to hope that your fate lies in the hands of a Sully rather than a Schettino.
The root of the ageing problem
Lots of fright sights on the Golden Globes red carpet this week, but Madonna came up trumps in her fabulous Reem Acra dress. She looked incredible!
However, in her unmissable-as-always fashion report of the event, I am intrigued by my colleague Liz Jones’s suggestion that Madonna (pictured) deliberately lets her dark roots grow and show to prove she is not going grey.
That inky stripe amongst the blonde locks It is a badge of youth. It’s a testament to staying forever young.
It’s skunk chic, with a hidden message. Can this be true
Yes, says my galpal in Manhattan, who claims that some women actually get their grey roots dyed black for that very reason. It’s a look. Who knew
This fight against the remorseless nature of nature — it’s exhausting! And ever more complicated than you think.
Suri Cruise is furious. Harper Beckham is bubbling mad.
Kaia Gerber has trumped them all — by starting a modelling career at the tender age of ten.
Modelling at that age She is a beautiful little girl, that’s for sure.
Comes up trumps: Kaia Gerber, the 11-year-old daughter of Cindy Crawford, models Young Versace
Her mother is supermodel Cindy Crawford, her father is handsome millionaire Rande Gerber — what did you expect
Yet as she struts and cavorts in a tiny skirt for Versace teen couture, one wonders what chance of a normal girlhood she has now.
Not much, I reckon.
Making a clown of himself… again
Big joke: Paul Burrell dressed as a clown
Scratch and scour as much as you like, it won’t do any good. For former butler Paul Burrell, the barrel was scraped dry long ago.
And just when you thought he had retired to Cheshire, to tend to the blooms in his flower shop and never cash in on his royal connections again, the old fool is back.
Paul Burrell heaps humiliation upon embarrassment upon himself as he hurtles around Europe taking part in Channel 4’s Coach Trip series.
Have you seen it This is the television show which is to reality shows what Siberia is to holiday destinations. It’s the last resort, the end of the line, the deep freeze of dreams, the death of all ambition — social or professional.
To ram the message home, Coach Trip bosses have made Burrell dress up like a clown (cruel) and, even worse, appear alongside Edwina Currie.
Oh dear. He’ll be dating Denise Welch next. Or maybe not. Burrell’s long journey — from esteemed royal associate as Princess Diana’s ‘rock’ to being just another dirty pebble on the slag heap of national disgrace — began with a simple book contract and ended in this ignoble infamy.
I hope the new generation of royals — and all their friends, acolytes, relatives and servants — do take note.
Can there be any more disgusting sight than the triumphal exit from court of yob Daniel Chrapkowski
He was not given a custodial sentence for kicking a man in the head until he was unconscious.
The stranger had admitted the terrible sin of telling Chrapkowski to stop kicking over dustbins.
If that is the face of Britain today, I just don’t even want to look at it.
Oh what a painful birth
One Born Every Minute is back on Channel 4. The fly-on-the-maternity-unit-wall-documentary returned with the usual cavalcade of the good, the bad and the ugly births.
It is supposed to be educational — but I wonder what all the screaming and hollering does to young women watching and expecting their first babies
It can hardly be a comfort, even if I do love all the midwives, who never judge and are incredibly kind to everyone. Still, I can’t help but worry about some of the new mums — and their luckless offspring.
While she was in the delivery room, 18-year-old Leanne — barely more than a kid herself — got a text from the boy who made her pregnant. ‘Leanne, I want to be a proper dad.
Tell my boy I love him,’ she read aloud, and then giggled. Her best mate Lori was not impressed. ‘I’d just ignore him, to be honest,’ she advised Leanne. ‘Put your phone down.’
What I am thinking is that if the father of a child only gets in touch by text when the baby is about to be born, then both parents are too young and immature to be starting a family.
Leanne’s anxious mother Carol was the only one who seemed to have a grasp on reality. ‘I feel horrified for how life is going to change for everyone,’ she said, shortly before baby Alfie casually popped into the world. His birth was as planned as an impulse purchase at a store till.
Leanne thought vaguely that maybe she’d get a house, maybe later find another bloke who wanted to be involved with her and Alfie.
Yeah, it might all work out fine.