Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 4 March 2015

A Crom of comfort...Blandings is certainly funnier than Downton

The cast of Blandings and, in the background, Crom Castle
The cast of Blandings and, in the background, Crom Castle

The BBC’s new Sunday evening comedy Blandings aired for the first time on Sunday night, with Fermanagh’s Castle Crom in a starring role alongside Jennifer Saunders. What did Joe Nawaz make of it?

More realistic than Downton Abbey. That was the assessment of Blandings' star Jennifer Saunders, tongue so firmly in her cheek that she probably had to repeat herself.

The new BBC six-parter based on the PG Wodehouse stories may not exactly be brimful of kitchen-sink authenticity.

One thing in its favour — along with a stellar cast of Brit Pack Actors and source material from the great 20th century humorist — is the setting.

The ancestral pile of Blandings here is represented by none other than Crom Castle —on the banks of the Erne .

There was even a part on Sunday night for Viscount Crichton, the current Earl's son and owner of West Wing Crom Castle.

It was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it spot of buttling in his own hallway — but it was good to get an Earl-y reference in.

So could Blandings do for Castle Crom and surrounding county what Downtown Abbey has done for tourist magnet Highclere Abbey, star of that rival Sunday night toff-fest?

Only time will tell but it certainly deserves lavish exposure.

But back to that stellar cast, the more watchable than a Rolex factory Timothy Spall as bumbling lord Clarence Emsworth, the perennially fabulous Jennifer Saunders as his sister Connie — the grand dame with brains — and redoubtable Mark Williams as Beach, the indefatigable butler. Every shaggy Wodehouse yarn worth its plus fours needs at least one of those.

The beguiling idiocies of 1920s gentry and the elevation of the trivial to life-or-death was manifested here by a farting pig. Empress was off her food and the Shropshire Fattest Pig competition was around the corner.

It was a rollicking half-hour of Fermanagh-shot fun for those who think Country File is just a lazy anagram of Country Life.

So then, more realistic than Downton Abbey?

Well — no. But funnier, more credible and a dashed sight more likeable than Downton? Yes, yes and yes, in that order. Blandings is a splendid wheeze, and a large Crom of comfort for Fermanagh viewers and beyond.

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