Dinner and ‘Downton’

Still reeling from the death of Lady Sybil, fans of “Downton Abbey” stepped into the lobby of Louisiana Public Broadcasting Thursday evening, braced for a preview of Sunday night’s episode.

A hundred fans of the series paid $25 each to dine from an Edwardian-inspired menu, hear a professor of British history talk about the show’s authenticity and watch the third season’s fifth episode in advance of its air date shared Sunday night with some late season National Football League event.

The hoi polloi must wait until 8 p.m. Sunday to see the episode on WLPB Channel 27 (Cox 12).

Sally Pelton began following the drama this season.

“My neighbor, Frances Garland, kept telling me to watch it,” Pelton said.

Though she saw the preview Thursday night, Pelton said she’ll record the fifth episode Sunday.

“I record it because I miss some things because of the accents,” she said. “And I’m hosting a Super Bowl party.”

It was an older crowd that watched the preview though there were a few 20- and 30-somethings.

Tiffinay Henry, 36, drove up from Patterson.

“I couldn’t wait ’til Sunday,” Henry said.

“I was a fan of the ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ saga,” said Jean Rosen, of Lafayette. “I really like the way ‘Downton Abbey’ gets into the lives of the downstairs people.”

Jiles and Brenda Davis, Beverly Gregory and Glenn Davis left Monroe at 10 a.m. Thursday, arriving at their hotel on Siegen Lane at 3 p.m. for the evening event that began at 6:30 p.m.

“Why?” Gregory said. “Because we’re hooked.”

After seeing the Louisiana Public Broadcasting promo for the preview, Glenn Davis said, “I got up the next morning and booked our tickets online.”

At $25 a seat, the preview was a steal. Similar events in Houston and Boston went for more than $100 a person, said Terri Crockett, director of Friends of LPB.

“In Louisiana, everything doesn’t have to be a beer festival,” said LPB president and CEO Beth Courtney. “We wanted for people to be able to come together to watch.”

Courtney welcomed the crowd wearing embroidered, backless slippers with Edwardian jewelry draped over a black shrug and sheath.

After Sunday night’s episode, two remain in the third season of what’s become the most-watched series in the history of Masterpiece on PBS.

In last year’s second season, more than 17 million viewers eavesdropped on the lives of the upstairs Crawley family and Downton Abbey’s downstairs servants.

“It’s the highest rated show for PBS in 20 years,” said Bob Neese, WLPB’s promotions manager.

Bill Hadley, 68, and wife Carolyn joined the “Downton Abbey” audience in last year’s second season.

“My daughter, Cindy Clark in Montgomery (Ala.). asked, ‘Mother, are you watching ‘Downton Abbey’? I knew if she liked it I’d like it.”

The Hadleys, who’ve earned their livings in the travel business, used Netflix to get up to speed on “Downton Abbey.”

“We’ve done a lot of traveling, and Britain has always been our favorite place to visit,” Bill Hadley said.

Louisiana fans of the show have been clearing Sunday evenings or recording the series since “Downton Abbey” came to American public television from Great Britain in January 2011.

Not everyone close to Thursday night’s fundraiser follows the show.

“It took some research,” said Caryn Roland, who owns Heirloom Cuisine with her husband, chef Jason Roland. “I have three small children,” Caryn Roland said. “I don’t watch a lot of TV.”

Roland watched some episodes of “Downton Abbey” on Netflix after agreeing to cater the preview. Chefs Jason Roland and Daniel Dreher prepared Thursday night’s buffet dinner.

The menu included Lady Emily’s dried apricot and toasted pecan cheese terrine, Lady Mary’s mango curry cream cheese terrine with pecan praline glaze and Countess of Grantham’s English country grilled vegetable display of asparagus, portabella mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers and red onions marinated in Balsamic dressing.

Making no claims of authenticity, Caryn Roland said, “We took some of our food and gave it an Edwardian twist.”

There was shepherd’s pie with seasoned beef, peas, carrots, celery and cheddar.

“I don’t think the chefs had ever made shepherd’s pie for one of our catering events,” Roland said.

Mrs. Patmore and the kitchen help at Downton Abbey would appreciate Heirloom Cuisine’s work on the preview buffet. Prepping began Tuesday. Cooking for the night’s event took place over four or five hours Thursday, Roland said.

WLPB paid for the food prepared for the preview. The caterer did the rest for no charge, Roland said.

“My first job out of college was with LPB,” Roland said. “We do a lot of their events. I believe in their mission and wanted to be part of something fun and different for them.”

Tickets for Thursday night’s fundraiser went quickly, said Kate Bradshaw, special events coordinator for Friends of Louisiana Public Broadcasting.

“We played with the ticket price,” she said. “We looked at what other stations were doing. You don’t want to overcharge people. We plan to do something for the fourth season, maybe a panel discussion.”

Door prizes at Thursday night’s preview included tea for two at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, “Downtown Abbey” DVDs of first, second and third seasons and a “Free John Bates” tote bag.

The character John Bates is Lord Grantham’s valet wrongly accused of murdering Mrs. Bates.

How real is “Downtown Abbey”? Entertaining is a better characterization.

“They get the economic crisis right that hit the English landed elite at the end of the 19th century and start of the 20th century,” said Meredith Veldman, an associate professor of history at LSU.

An agricultural depression in Great Britain began around 1870 with grain imports from the American Midwest and the Russian steppes flooding the British market.

“Downton Abbey” is an Edwardian period piece that starts during the reign of King Edward VII, 1901 to 1910.

From the death of Queen Victoria, through son Edward’s rule and into the 1920s, Great Britain saw laborers and women becoming politicised.

Many upperclass Englishmen died in battle in World War I. Death duties levied on heirs of estates further led to the breakup of many great houses and their holdings.

“Formality and heirarchy” the series gets right, Veldman said. “But it’s a soap opera, and it seems to be getting worse as the series goes on.”

Lady Sybil’s marrying the chauffeur wouldn’t have happened, the professor said.

“She’d have been cut off,” Veldman said. Or worse considering the chauffeur is Irish and willing to fight to free Ireland of English rule.

“No way an Irish rebel would come to live with the family,” Veldman said.

In the show, Lord Grantham opposes daughter Edith’s marrying an older man.

“That would have been considered an ideal match for a second, unattractive daughter,” Veldman said.“But I think the Irish part is the worst.”