British Castles/Downton Abbey

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The PBS series “Downton Abbey” is filmed in Highclere Castle in England. That’s one of the castles discussed by the Honorable Alexandra Foley, who founded “Lady Foley Grand Tour,” which offers tours of some the great British castles and a chance to meet the owners. Foley will talk about Highclere Castle and others.

Ted Simons: Highclere Castle in England is the site of the popular PBS series "Downton Abbey" which recently wrapped up another season. Highclere is also among the english castles and palaces included on a tour led by Alexandra Foley. We recently spoke to her about highclere and other english castles. Thank you so much for joining us on "Arizona Horizon."

Honorable Alexandra Foley: Lovely to be here. Thank you so much.

Ted Simons: We've got so much to talk about here. And we brought you here because of "Downton Abbey." It just recently ended and people just go nuts over that show but before we get there, grand houses of England. What are we talking about here?

Honorable Alexandra Foley: You're basically talking about well over 1,500 historically important houses dotted all over the united kingdom. Some of them have been in the same family for hundreds of years.

Ted Simons: And are they located near London or close to towns that we would recognize or are they still out there in the boonies?

Honorable Alexandra Foley: All in the same place that they always were and a lot of them are in the middle of the countryside. They usually are close to a village or a town, not too far away but they are mostly, you know, the ones near London would be within a three hour range of London and you have Scotland and Yorkshire and the west country. They're dotted all over the place. Some of them quite remote.

Ted Simons: And is the life at these places - And we know what we see on "Downton Abbey." Goodness gracious you can't make a move without some sort of protocol being involved. Is it still like that?

Honorable Alexandra Foley: Not really but there are still elements of it there. For instance, a friend still has a Butler, there's the housekeeper, the cook, the maids, but you don't get footmen these days. It's sort of reduced down to a much more skeletal situation if you will. You don't get as many. You don't get the same feeling of upstairs, downstairs but you have to have staff when you're running such a big house.

Ted Simons: You mentioned Beaver castle. These places are huge. How are they maintained?

Honorable Alexandra Foley: Well, exactly. Beaver is one of the most magnificent houses and has been in the family for 1,000 years. And these state rooms which are stuffed full - henry the eighths portraits, -- it would take you four hours just to go round the main rooms.

Ted Simons: And another castle that I know that you're familiar with and you want us to know about is scone castle.

Honorable Alexandra Foley: Scone palace - It's a very important house in Scotland, where all the kings of Scotland were crowned and where the famous stone of scone or sometimes referred to the stone of destiny was stolen during the wars between the English and the Scots and where the picts were based. Scone also, magnificent grounds, steeped in history and the earl of mansfield was there for 900 years or more.

Ted Simons: We've talked about beaver castle. We're going to talk about Highclere. This is scone palace What differentiates a castle from a palace?

Honorable Alexandra Foley: It's a very good question. Essentially not much. It's just simply called a palace, it doesn't really mean anything, buckingham palace is basically a house. The word palace is used for no particular reason.

Ted Simons: A little more humble than a castle?

Honorable Alexandra Foley: Not really, no. Pretty much on the same scale. There are big castles and small castles, buckingham palace and scone palace, they're all different.

Ted Simons: We've got a sudeley castle as well.

Honorable Alexandra Foley: That's very special. That's 1,000 years old, and it's the only castle house in England where we have a queen buried and that is Catherine par, who was the last wife of Henry VIII and she's actually interred in the rather impressive tomb in a church on the estate. It's extremely atmospheric, owned by a dear friend of mine, Elizabeth ashcombe and that's a very special place -- and it's near the cotswald area.

Ted Simons: Now, we're getting to Highclere castle here. Were you surprised that this was chosen? Was it chosen? How did this become "Downton Abbey"?

Honorable Alexandra Foley: Well, julian fellows, he's actually a friend of mine, a wonderful man, I think he chose it because it's iconic. It's easy to get to, it's too far from London, it's very impressive from the outside, as you've seen and it has kind of an iconic look about it. And I think it photographs well and the interiors are wonderful and I think they are all great friends and great friends of mine as well and it all fitted together and a lot of these houses, use the houses for filming, all these big castles and houses have to almost run a little business. They have to keep the roof on somehow and people don't realize but the costs of running these houses is quite astonishing.

Ted Simons: Just keeping it up must be quite the bill.

Honorable Alexandra Foley: Inviting people for private invitations to meet the owners, and that all helps. They are, you know -- some of them are very land-rich and asset rich but cash is always king.

Ted Simons: Are you surprised at the success of "Downton Abbey" in America?

Honorable Alexandra Foley: Not really. Being half-American myself and having lived here since I was a child, I completely understand the fascination with the English aristocracy and titles. I totally get it. I'm not surprised at all. Also, the other thing is it's beautifully done. The acting is so wonderful and, of course, you know, who can resist Maggie smith? And, you know, these are all superb actors and the stories have been woven together by the great master.

Ted Simons: It's a genteel soap opera, if you will.

Honorable Alexandra Foley: Every machination of the human condition has been laid to bear.

Ted Simons: My patience for that kind of thing if I were living it would be nil. I would be out the door in no time but I can watch it and be fascinated by it.

Honorable Alexandra Foley: Yes, yes. It is fascinating because it's so well done. And you can't wait to see where the next twist and turn is going to be.

Ted Simons: Just again everything has got to be in its perfect place and you mentioned this and you don't do this and you sit here and you don't stand there.

Honorable Alexandra Foley: That's true -- there are certain things that just hasn't changed, how to lay a table, the order of the way things happen, all that has not changed at all really. And people are quite fussy about how things are done.

Ted Simons: We have to ask you about -- have you been to Arizona much and we know you're here now, what are your thoughts?

Honorable Alexandra Foley: I love it. I want to buy a little house here up in the desert with my own little cactus, my Jeep and my gun safe. I'm a gun collector. I like your gun laws.

Ted Simons: Alexander's Castle or Alexander's palace? What will it be?

Honorable Alexandra Foley: A humble abode. I like to live life simply these days.

Ted Simons: It's good to have you here. Hope you've enjoyed Arizona and you are welcome back and very interesting to find out more about what we see on TV, but the modern day. It has changed but not all that much.

Honorable Alexandra Foley: That's right.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here.

Honorable Alexandra Foley: Lovely to be here, thank you very much indeed.

Video: We want to hear from you. Submit your questions, comments and concerns via e-mail at [email protected].

Ted Simons: That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Alexandra Foley:Founder, "Lady Foley Grand Tour";

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