The Abbey habit has been ruined by advertising

It seems we can't get enough of timeless virtues and a twee view of the world - but I can't tell where the ads stop and the programme begins

Share

It was one of the most keenly anticipated television events of the year, watched by a massive audience who, it seems, just can't get enough of being reminded of timeless virtues and a rather twee view of the world. There were period dresses, perfect manners and an interesting juxtaposition of old and new. The acting was good, even if the storyline was a little predictable.

Whichever way you looked at it, this was a blockbuster, the latest in a long line of successes. Yes, the new John Lewis advert – which viewers of Downton Abbey will have seen twice on Sunday – was a characteristically sweeping piece of work. It was a split-screen romantic fantasy involving a girl from the 1920s and a modern-day boy. She wears Mary Janes, he wears trainers; she writes on vellum notepaper, he uses an iPad; she works in a telephone exchange and he looks as if he is in a design studio.

Anyway, you get the idea: it's an age-old boy-meets-girl story, imagined in a way to suggest that, however our lives have changed, John Lewis remains a constant, reassuring, presence. "What's important doesn't change," ran the self-regarding message at the end. Never knowingly understated, John Lewis advertising is perfectly suited for Downton Abbey, whose audience, presumably, had already bought into a theatrically old-fashioned view of the world.

There was so much advertising around the programme that it was sometimes hard to know where one started and the other finished. You couldn't let your attention wander for a second, otherwise you'd hear Lord Grantham learning that his family fortune had been lost, and that he might have to sell Downton, and the next minute you'd be hearing a voice saying that the Halifax Building Society could help you "find and buy your perfect house". The casual viewer could have found it all very confusing.

There were ads for home insurance, and I found myself thinking that if only Lord Grantham had called Direct Line, things may have been very different. The plot lines for the ads were generally less predictable and more thought-provoking than those of the programme itself. I was particularly taken with an advert for a dog food which offered your canine companion "lightly grilled chicken". Now, I don't know about your dog, but I've never heard mine complain about the precise way in which his supper has been cooked. "I'd like my food to be steamed from now on," he wouldn't say. "Much more healthy. And tasty, too!"

But what about Downton itself? It was as perfectly potted as a tin of Kennomeat, and contained all the ingredients for an autumn of Sunday night viewing, once I get over the fact that I still think of Hugh Bonneville not as the good Lord, but as Ian Fletcher, the head of Olympic deliverance from the brilliant show Twentytwelve. I half expected him to greet the news of his financial disaster with "So, that's all good then."

And I know it's on ITV, but it surely blurs the line between programming and advertising too much when the announcer says over the closing credits: "You see, it was great, wasn't it?" I think we'll be the judge of that, thank you very much.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Business Analyst - London - Banking - £400-£450

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Banking - London...

Application Engineer - Flow Metering

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Application ...

Chemical Engineer/Project Coordinator

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Chemical Eng...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on