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Downton Abbey shows its power to the RAF

It has already demonstrated its power to keep millions of devoted viewers glued to their sofas.

But it appears the influence of Downton Abbey extends well beyond the nation’s front rooms – to the senior ranks of the Royal Air Force.

The £1 million-an-episode ITV drama prides itself on the authenticity of its historical setting, at the start of the First World War in 1914.

So filming for the new series faced costly delays when it was interrupted by the thoroughly modern racket of a squadron of twin-engine Chinook helicopters on manoeuvres.

Until, that is, senior executives were able to persuade the RAF to redirect its aircraft – training for deployment in Afghanistan – away from the show’s set at Highclere Castle in Berkshire.

The Sunday night drama, starring Hugh Bonneville and charting the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family, became ITV’s surprise hit of last year and returns for a second series in the autumn.

It is understood the aircraft noise problem first arose while shooting last year’s series.
So when it forced filming to a halt again earlier this month, the show’s historical adviser Alastair Bruce took matters into his own hands.

Mr Bruce, a lieutenant-colonel in the Territorial Army, called a senior RAF contact to ask them to practise their formations elsewhere. And such is the sway of the Bafta-
nominated series, the RAF agreed.

A source on the set said: ‘Alastair put in an informal call to politely ask the RAF to move elsewhere.

‘It did the trick and that one phone call saved the production tens of thousands of pounds in potentially lost filming time.

‘Word spread pretty quickly and Alastair was very much the hero of the hour. Everyone on set was extremely grateful.’

A Downton Abbey spokesman refused to comment.

But another show source added: ‘Alastair making this call to the RAF became the talk of the set. He was very modest and insisted that it was something that anyone could have done.’

The helicopters were on manoeuvres from RAF Odiham in Hampshire – 25 miles from Highclere Castle, which doubles as the fictional Abbey – and just ten minutes’ flying time from the set.

The Ministry of Defence said last night: ‘Low-flying training is essential to develop and practise the tactics and techniques that are necessary for operations in Afghanistan. We do all we can to minimise disturbance.’

Since its debut, Downton Abbey – written by Oscar-winning scriptwriter Julian Fellowes – has been sold to more than 100 countries, including Australia and the US.

Related Link: Downton Abbey Tour of Locations

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