Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Estate of grace... move over Downton, Ulster country pile is newest star of TV

Lord Clarence Emsworth (Timothy Spall), Freddie (Jack Farthing), Beech (Mark Williams) and Connie (Jennifer Saunders) in Blandings

Move over Highclere Castle — there’s a new stately home set to take over the television ratings.

Fermanagh’s majestic Castle Crom is to enjoy a starring role next month when millions of viewers tune in to BBC One’s new period comedy Blandings.

The highly anticipated six-part series, based on the works of novelist PG Wodehouse, follows the gripping exploits of the aristocratic Emsworth family in 1929.

Filmed on the shores of Lough Erne last spring, Blandings features Timothy Spall as the perplexed Lord Clarence Emsworth, the ninth earl of Blandings Castle, and Jennifer Saunders as his indomitable sister Connie.

Other big names who came to film at the estate near Newtownbutler include comedian David Walliams, singer Paloma Faith and Harry Potter actor Mark Williams.

In an echo of Downton Abbey — ITV’s smash hit period drama which was filmed at Highclere Castle in Berkshire — Blandings Castle was portrayed by 400-year-old Crom Castle.

It is the first time the privately owned castle — the home of the Earl of Erne — has opened its doors on a commercial basis.

And Viscount Crichton, son of the Earl and owner of West Wing Crom Castle, will be one of those tuning in to watch the show when it launches on January 13.

“There are quite a few castles in Northern Ireland. We were quite honoured to have Blandings come to us. When we met the producers they came down and looked at Crom and knew immediately it was absolutely the right place to have it,” he explained to the Belfast Telegraph.

“I am waiting with bated breath. I think it will be a fabulous production.

“I am particularly delighted for Fermanagh. I often feel Fermanagh is a forgotten county sometimes.”

Viscount Crichton, who makes a brief appearance in Blandings as an under butler, is hoping that his ancestral home and his beloved Fermanagh will enjoy a similar success to that of Highclere.

Although Crom — with the exception of the West Wing — is strictly off limits to the public, like most stately homes it is expensive to maintain.

After Oscar-winning writer and producer Julian Fellowes asked if Downton Abbey could be filmed at Highclere it has become one of the UK’s best-known stately homes.

More than a 1,000 visitors a day come to the Berkshire house during the summer, enabling its owners, Lord and Lady Carnarvon, to begin major repairs running to millions of pounds.

Viscount Crichton said the family had agreed to allow Crom to become the fictional Blandings “to highlight Crom and what we are doing to keep the castle alive”.

He continued: “It was a decision we all made as a family. There have been six very hard years of getting West Wing off the ground as a commercial basis.

“We hope it will promote the West Wing as a venue. We are not in it to make a massive profit, but to make sure the house gets the respect it deserves so it can continue.

“In these very difficult times it was was very good financial decision. I pay tribute to my parents — to have 60 cast and crew in their house every day must have been very taxing.

“It is also wonderful for Fermanagh, which I love and adore. I am so glad that so many people benefited from this production.”

The first episode of Blandings will be screened on BBC One on January 13 at 6.30pm.

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Crom Castle is situated on the shores of Upper Lough Erne and set within a 1,900-acre estate managed by the National Trust. It was built in 1820 and has been the home to the Crichton family, Earls of Erne, for centuries. The grounds contain the ruins of the old castle. The estate includes the old farmyard, a visitor centre, the boathouse, the church, and schoolhouse. The West Wing is open to the public and is available for hire.

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