DOWNTON Abbey star Jim Carter is helping the fundraising efforts of the Harrogate school where he was once head boy.
The actor, who plays Carson the butler in the hit ITV1 costume drama, has donated a poster signed by all the cast – including Dame Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville – as a prize for a forthcoming Ashville College dinner dance.
Speaking to the Advertiser from the set of the Christmas special, Jim said he had happy memories of his time at the school.
“I did enjoy it,” he said.
“I left in 1967, having been head boy there in my final year.”
It was at Ashville that he first got the acting bug, appearing in productions of The Devil’s Disciple by George Bernard Shaw, and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. “I think that’s where my interest probably started,” he said.
“I did school plays, I’ve still got the photos, and recently - since the success of Downton Abbey - I was contacted by some of the masters, who sent me play bills.”
Jim said the extraordinary popularity of Downton had taken him by surprise, with the show attracting more than 10 million viewers a week and scooping several prestigious awards, including BAFTAs and Emmys.
“It’s wonderful that it’s so successful,” he said.
“When you make these programmes, you have no control, no idea, but it’s a remarkable success right across the board. We were at a charity event at Highclere Castle, people were paying £1 for an autograph, and we made £4,000.”
Jim has just spent two weeks filming the Christmas special and was speaking to the paper on the phone from the castle - in full costume.
“It’s the climax to the second series and we’re doing it now because we had to finish at Highclere Castle in the summer, so they could open up the house,” he said.
“It will go out at Christmas, so we’re racing against the clock.”
Jim says he can’t reveal details of the storyline - a good job really, since Downton fans would probably never forgive us - but he let us in on one little secret.
“We do have an extremely big Christmas tree,” he said.
The signed Downton poster will be auctioned off at Ashville’s Mistletoe Ball at the Crown Hotel on Saturday, November 26.
The event, organised by parent-teacher association the Friends of Ashville, will raise money for the school and two good causes – Chrissy’s Quest and Being Bel – helping a local child with cerebral palsy and another who was paralysed in an accident.
Fundraising committee member Sara Buchan said: “Apart from having a really good night out, the aim of the ball is to raise money for the school and the two charities.
“In order to do this, we rely on the generosity of parents and local businesses to donate prizes for the auction. We are very grateful to Jim for sending us the Downton Abbey poster.
“Because the show has a huge following, I’m sure this prize will be keenly fought over.”
l For more on Chrissy’s Quest, see page 15.