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Page last updated at 13:39 GMT, Thursday, 14 October 2010 14:39 UK
Highclere Castle is a star of the screen
by Jenny Minard
BBC Berkshire Reporter

Highclere Castle
Highclere Castle is the setting for the drama Downtown Abbey

It is steeped in history, celebrities have married there and it's a popular location for film crews.

Highclere Castle is the setting for the ITV1 drama Downton Abbey and BBC Radio Berkshire has been finding out what it is really like to live there.

The castle near Newbury is owned by Lord and Lady Carnarvon.

The Oscar winning writer of the show, Julian Fellowes, explained why the location was chosen.

"I've been in love with Highclere for ages.

"I wanted to film there a couple of times before this so it's thrilling for me that it has come off.

"It's a very unique house. It has a curious compact logic. Although it's very large of course, but it makes it a very clear house in a narrative.

"It's a brilliant statement of British confidence which is in such antithesis to the way we think now."

Downton Abbey is set in an Edwardian country house in 1912. It portrays the lives of the Crawley family and the servants who work for them.

The Crawleys have been the Earls of Grantham since 1772. In the drawing rooms, library and beautiful bedrooms, with their tall windows looking across the park, live the family, but below stairs are other residents, the servants, who are as fiercely possessive of their ranks as anyone above.

Some of them are loyal to the family and are committed to Downton as a way of life; others are moving through, on the look out for new opportunities, love or just adventure.

The difference being that they know so many of the secrets of the family, while the family know so few of theirs.

Show stars

The drama stars Maggie Smith as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, Hugh Bonneville as Robert, Earl of Grantham and Elizabeth McGovern as Robert's wife, Cora, Countess of Grantham.

Highclere Castle has been home to the Carnarvon family since 1679 and the Lady of the house explained what it is like to have a film crew invade it.

Anne Diamond
Anne Diamond meets Lord and Lady Carnarvon at Highclere Castle

"It's absolutely charming. It's just the sheer volume of people. You walk into a bedroom and there are 40 other people and you in it."

While the crew were at the castle they filmed various scenes, inside and out. Lady Carnarvon explained that on one particular day they filmed a hunt.

"It was wonderful. It was a beautiful day on the day they were doing it too. The funny thing is the one thing I asked them not to do was go across the lawns because there was to be a wedding.

"They started very early and they were all hanging around. They were going up and down for hours on end, and then suddenly just out of the laurel bushes went a fox - a real fox.

"The fox took off towards the secret gardens and the hounds turned in full pursuit. The fox wasn't caught. It just ran off.

"The hounds were eventually brought back having gone through a couple of cold frames in the garden.

"I could see the location manager thinking that is the one thing I asked them not to do," she laughed.

There are other local connections in the drama. It stars Cookham girl Jessica Brown Findlay, who plays the youngest of three daughters in the Crawley family.

The former Furze Platt School pupil turned to acting after her dream of becoming a ballerina were shattered by a serious ankle injury.

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