Life s ups, downs
Brendan Coyle as John Bates in Downton Abbey. Picture: Supplied by Seven.

Irish actor Brendan Coyle is slightly bemused by the level of global success reached by Downton Abbey. During the first series he got tweets about the show from all over the world, in one night from as far away as Alaska and New Zealand.

"I thought, something mad is happening here and it is great," he laughed.

He is now playing the upright valet Mr Bates in the third series of Downton and is slightly reluctantly doing interviews to promote series two, now showing in Australia.

The reluctance is entirely because he tries to avoid interviews - he has nothing but praise for the show, which he has signed to stay with for potentially six seasons.

The second season covers 1916 to 1919 but the third will slow down again and cover just 18 months.

"We rattle through a lot of storylines in order for the war to end but season three we are getting right back down to the detail of lives - we have to or we are all going to be 100 in season five."

One of the most tangled storylines of the series follows the romance of Bates and head housemaid Anna Smith. He is trying to get out of his marriage to the scheming, selfish Vera who is blackmailing him with the threat to reveal Lady Mary's scandalous affair with a Turkish diplomat in season one.

Once again Bates is doing the noble thing and suffering for other people's misdeeds.

"Some people do find that frustrating," Coyle said. "But he has to put duty first, he is very much a man of his time.

"To him it seems he has no option - he can't allow this family to fall into disgrace and if that means sacrificing his life, temporarily, I think he thinks it will come good in the end but for the moment he has to protect Lord Grantham's reputation.

"This man saved his life during the (Boer) war and gave him a job."

But he adds that viewers should also remember that romance was difficult downstairs in those days. Couples generally could not stay in service if they married.

And in the early 20th century, it was a very good job working in a big house. It wasn't cushy exactly but it was a desirable position. Life outside of service was bleak and could be a choice between the mills or the workhouse.

The will-they, won't-they romance between Bates and Anna has had one surprising spin-off: Coyle has found himself labelled a sex symbol.

He is not amused by the tag or being asked about it. "People are weird, that's all I can say," he said, sounding grouchy for the first time in our conversation. "I think maybe it started as a bit of fun in the newspaper columns but I am totally over it."

Coyle has spent most of the last four years in costume. Before Downton, he was Robert Timmins in the 19th century village-based drama Lark Rise to Candleford. "I had some time off from Downton last year and started a new series called Starlings," he said. "It is a fantastic series by Matt King, who was the ghost in the Australian series Spirited.

"I play a modern-day electrician, who is the head of a working-class family. I just loved it. He is a very happy chappy - and it was good that I got to walk around in modern clothes." <div class="endnote">

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The West Australian

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