The Sketch: The uppers look after the lowers, and the lowers reciprocate

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The Independent Online

What had she got on her head? We were in the lobby of the House of Lords for the swearing-in of the new peers. Julian Fellowes was one of them. The writer. The actor. The author of Snobs and Downton Abbey.

Here he was at what must have been a great moment in his career, robed in red, collared in ermine, head sticking out bravely.

Good for him, he was the ugly duckling of his family (that's not a metaphor). "Lord Fellowes of West Stafford! Who's laughing now?"

Anyway, back in the lobby, Mrs Fellowes was wearing a brilliant white Mahdi-type turban sort of thing – straight across her forehead, down across her ears and criss-crossed behind, allowing her fabulous hair to spill up and out and down her back. Magnificent, imperial profile. The bearer of the Kitchener name, one of our great imperial heroes.

Kitchener of Khartoum. You know the fellow. Concentration camps. Your country needs you. Apparently she has a voice that could clear a battlefield as well. "I want all you people with the fuzzy hair to go and stand over there, do you see? Where we can shoot you!"

When she married she changed her name to Kitchener-Fellowes and so did her husband. For reasons of their own, they didn't want the name to die out.

These investitures have much to recommend them to sentimental medievalists. The man walking ahead of the new Lord Kitchener was some sort of herald wearing a tabard gorgeously quartered with gold Tudor lions and a wild Guinness harp.

Compared with Downton Abbey this heraldic surcoat counts as grainy documentary realism.

And is that why Julian's been called to the peerage? His recent television series is a marvellous description of life under a Big Society regime. It's a democracy without the voting. It's Conservatism without the flogging. It's communism without the compulsion.

To each according to their needs is the essence of Sunday night serials and Downton Abbey plays straight into David Cameron's communications strategy. The uppers look after the lowers and the lowers reciprocate right back.

The daughter looks after the maids, the maids look after the housekeeper, the housekeeper looks after the valet and the valet looks after the Earl. It's a social contract. They're all in it together.

It makes sense of an appointment that would otherwise be – in the noble lord's language – ludicrous.

But there he is, living the dream, and the best of British luck to him, to them, and to that fabulous-looking creature in the Mahdi headgear.

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