The British TV series “Downton Abbey” has gone downtown in connecting with viewers across the United States and Canada, and one of the actresses has a local connection.
The sixth and final season of the period drama continues 9-10 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 14 – then 9-10:30 p.m. Feb. 21, and 9-11 p.m. March 6 – on PBS’ “Masterpiece” – on ETV across South Carolina and UNC-TV across North Carolina.
Fans of the dysfunctional family capers captured on “Downton Abbey” include Dr. Philip Nicol, owner of The Diabetes Center in Murrells Inlet. His sister, Lesley Nicol, has played Beryl Patmore – “Mrs. Patmore” – since the series’ debut.
A diabetologist who is board certified in internal medicine and a specialist in the treatment and care of diabetes, Dr. Nicol reflected on the show, his sibling’s success, and memories they shared from growing up in the United Kingdom.
Question | What is your weekly ritual for watching “Downton Abbey”? Live on TV? Recorded for play later, maybe with certain folks and at a favorite time or day/night?
Answer | My wife and I watch it live each Sunday night. The biggest challenge is avoiding spoilers for four months, as the show airs in the UK during the previous fall. I have to strictly avoid anything “Downton” on the Internet from September to January.
Q. | Seeing Lesley cookin’ on “Downton Abbey” from the start of the series, has this given you any new glances of your sister, maybe even let you see a new angle of her from traits you remember – or better understand now – from childhood?
A. | I have enormous admiration for my sister. Although she is currently enjoying worldwide recognition for her role as Mrs. Patmore and other recent stage and movie roles, the earlier part of her career was decidedly unglamorous. For many years, she slogged it out in regional theater and small TV roles simply because she loved the profession. It was always about the work, and I am so happy that her dogged determination has finally been rewarded.
Q. | What story line through the first five seasons was most memorable for you to see?
A. | My favorite story line during the first five seasons was the Lady Mary/Mathew Crawley romance. Who could resist it?
Q. | How did Lesley first tell you about her foray into this series, and what was her and your respective expectations, never mind the giant following that has ensued worldwide?
A. | Lesley first told me during a phone call that she had a part in a period piece. She was quite excited about it because of the writer, Sir Julian Fellowes, and the high quality actors cast already. Of course, at that stage, it was only for one season and nobody had any idea where it was headed. In that business, you never look too far into the future.
Q. | As you watch “Downton Abbey” in this final month to go on the air on this continent, what anticipation or sadness clenches your heart as a fan and native Briton?
A. | We will dearly miss our Sunday evening escape into the aristocratic way of life that I grew up observing from a distance. Fortunately, there is some outstandingly high quality TV emerging from U.S. creators now, so we are no longer dependent on the Brits for excellence. I just hope that Lesley finds a job.
Q. | So many British series – including the comical “Mr. Bean,” “Keeping Up Appearances,” and the late Benny Hill’s show – have made their mark with viewers on this side of the pond. How do all these shows help enrich U.S. culture with the storied history and heritage of your homeland?
A. | I’m not sure that “Mr Bean “and Benny Hill and Monty Python have done much to enrich U.S. culture. I do think that they help people to take life a little less seriously, though.
Q. | Are there aspects/effects from “Downton Abbey” that resonate differently with in reactions by viewers here vs. over there – things that we don’t realize?
A. | It is always difficult to convey to Americans how normal and nondivisive the class differences are in the UK. We just all grew up accepting that there were some people who lived in really big houses and had servants and endless amounts of money, and we didn’t. We didn’t feel aggrieved or angry; we just were fascinated by their antics.
One other thing that doesn’t always work here is British humor, which is very dry and often not understood at all. Julian Fellowes has written hilarious lines for Maggie Smith, Mrs. Patmore and the current Spratt/Denker duel that have us laughing out loud. I’m not always sure that it works as well on this side on this side of the Atlantic.
Q. | Are you also a native of Manchester, like Lesley? What is in the water there that has produced such great music acts such as the Hollies, Peter Noone, and a lady whose music moved my soul heading into the 1990s, Lisa Stansfield?
A. | I also lived in Manchester. The only thing that I can think of that might be responsible for producing so much artistic talent – and soccer talent, if I might add – is that you have to do something creative with your life to compensate for living in such a lousy climate.
Q. | How often you return home to the British Isles?
A. | I don’t go back to the UK much now. Lesley is living in Los Angeles, and I am getting to see her far more than I used to in London.
Contact STEVE PALISIN at 843-444-1764.
If you watch
WHAT: “Downton Abbey,” in sixth and final season
WHEN: 9-10 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 14, then 9-10:30 p.m. Feb. 21, and 9-11 p.m. March 6.
WHERE: On PBS’ “Masterpiece”
▪ ETV across South Carolina (www.scetv.org)
▪ UNC-TV across North Carolina (www.unctv.org)
ALSO: Parade magazine published its “The Ulitimate ‘Downton Abbey’ Quiz,” comprising 20 questions, on Dec. 27, with 16 more at www.parade.com/downtonquiz.