Bonneville calls for more risky TV

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Published: Tuesday 14th April 2015 by The News Editor

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Actor Hugh Bonneville has dismissed plans for a Downton Abbey spin-off and hit out at the health and safety culture plaguing TV drama.

The ITV period drama bows out at the end of the next series despite attracting millions of viewers around the globe.

Its executive producer Gareth Neame has suggested that there could be a Downton film while its creator Julian Fellowes has even mooted a TV spin-off, set in the 1970s.

But Bonneville, who plays the drama’s Earl of Grantham, had a sarcastic response when asked about the possibility.

“Great idea. I think we should combine those two thoughts. Let’s make a film set in the 1970s in which Lord Grantham wears flares and a kipper tie. I can see it now,” he told Radio Times magazine.

He said that filming the final scenes would be emotional.

“Series five was supposed to be the last so this one is a bonus and it feels right for the story.

“Of course it’s sad. We’re filming the final episodes now. When we finish there’ll be tears,” he said.

Bonneville said that Downton Abbey, filmed at Highclere Castle, and other dramas had been beset by health and safety culture.

“It happens on any film or TV set these days and it’s 10 times worse than it was 10 years ago,” he said.

The actor’s BBC-based comedy W1A – in which he plays Ian Fletcher, the hapless broadcaster’s head of values – depicts a corporation obsessed with health and safety.

But asked whether health and safety culture had an impact on Downton, Bonneville said: “Oh sure. If someone is going to look into a mirror you need to fill out a long risk assessment form about possible damage to their irises.

“I’m exaggerating of course, but that is what (W1A’s creator) John Morton has tapped into, the spread of a risk-averse culture and the way we’ve adopted all these acronyms, targets, hurdles, barriers and red tape rather than just getting on with the job of making programmes.”

In the new series of W1A, Jeremy Clarkson lands the BBC in trouble after writing an embarrassing tweet and using the word “tosser” repeatedly on screen.

As they filmed the new series before the latest controversy involving the former Top Gear presenter they “had to tweak the voice-over a little”, he said.

The actor also called on the Government to do more to support the arts.

“I did most of my early work at the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company. Dozens of our leading actors and writers would say the same,” he said.

“When the financial crisis hit Germany in 2008, they increased their arts budget by 8% because they recognised it as part of the engine room of the economy.

“Why can’t our politicians recognise that the arts are not an indulgence but an industry that employs tens of thousands of people.”

And he said that he was a firm supporter of the licence fee.

“I love the hidden joys of coming across a programme on the World Service or BBC4 you wouldn’t find anywhere else. You couldn’t run either of those services on commercial lines.

“Working on Downton Abbey, we have had a lot of contact with PBS in America and they’re constantly on their knees with a begging bowl. They really struggle. I’d hate to see us going down that route.”

Published: Tuesday 14th April 2015 by The News Editor

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