'Downton Abbey': Julian Fellowes on how his boarding school escape led to Grantham

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The Countess of Grantham would not have been amused.

Maggie Smith's arch character on PBS' runaway hit "Downton Abbey" may be benevolent to her servants, but sitting next to them for an evening? Really? One eyebrow would undoubtedly be arched.

Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery and Laura Carmichael, who play Lord Grantham and his daughters Ladies Mary and Edith, were in Manhattan's Hudson Theatre Tuesday (Dec. 10) night. 

After a screening of the first episode of Season 4, premiering on PBS Sunday Jan. 5, they joined Rob James-Collier, Phyllis Logan, and Lesley Nicol, who play servants Thomas, Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore. Allen Leech who plays Tom Branson, a driver who married into the family, and never feels quite right in either world, evidenced much more in Season 4, sat with them.

Showrunner Gareth Neame and creator Julian Fellowes also answered questions from moderator Bill Carter of The New York Times and took audience questions. They tried to not talk specifics about the upcoming season.

Fellowes explains that he melded the names of two great estates to come up with Downton Abbey. But the actors playing the gentry of Grantham learned why he called it Grantham.

"I ran away from my boarding school at 11," Fellowes says.

He was apprehended in the town of Grantham, and sent back on the mail train, sitting atop sacks of letters.

The premiere episode picks up six months after the last one, and Mary remains bereft over the death of her husband, Matthew ( Dan Stevens).

"Dan wanted to go," Fellowes says. "He wanted to have a lovely life in films, so good luck to him. In England, we only have three-year contracts."

Matthew's death was so shocking, it caused a huge uproar in the U.K.

"In the newspapers, it said I needed bodyguards," Fellowes says. "That isn't quite true. We are all having a drink with Dan tomorrow so it can't be half bad."
Photo/Video credit: Stephanie Berger/PBS