‘Oldies are doing well’ Phyllis Logan hails older generations as Downton helps Brits
Downton Abbey: Nicol shares comical Kate Middleton story
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“During the six seasons that we did (for TV) we usually started filming in the February and finished in the autumn, so we had a good six months of each other, and now it is curtailed into a matter of weeks, so it was done a bit too quickly but we had a great time.
“There is lots of nice, really fun stuff in it, I must say and some lovely star turns.”
Phyllis, who is also the narrator of fly-on-the-wall TV show The Highland Vets, which starts its fourth series on Channel 5 tomorrow (MON) night, believes period dramas like Bridgerton and Downton have provided much-needed escapism during the past 18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic.
She says: “With the likes of Downton Abbey it looks so magnificent, the costumes are magnificent and the mores of the time are different where you don’t air-kiss and have to be suited and booted, and straight-laced, well certainly outwardly.. who knows what they got up to behind closed doors.
“But we try to show some of this too and the public just can’t get enough of this type of costume drama.
“Everyone has been bingeing or re-bingeing on their favourite shows just to give them a sense of normality.
“If you can watch Bridgerton, if you can watch Downton Abbey, or your favourite comedy show, you think the world is ok now, or get a sense that life is continuing in a fashion.”
Downton has also led the way in using older actors in prominent roles at a time when TV and film has been criticised for being ageist.
Phyllis says: “It’s been fabulous and long may this continue. With Dame Maggie (Smith), Dame Penelope (Wilton), myself and Jim Carter, the oldies are doing well.”
Her husband Kevin McNally, who is also 65, is best known for portraying Joshamee Gibbs in all five Pirates of the Caribbean films but joined the cast of Downton for its second series on ITV as Horace Bryant.
Phyllis says: “It was nice to have my husband in Downton as well but it was very peculiar the way it happened.
“He was on set at one point and said I have just been offered this job and I said ‘oh, what is it?’ And he said Downton Abbey, and I said ‘very funny, what’s the job?’ And he said Downton Abbey and I said ‘oh come on, I haven’t got time, I’ve got to go back on set’. And he was being serious.
“They did not even tell me they were going to offer it to him and I thought they should have run it past me first, surely.”
She adds: “And it ended up with most of the scenes we were involved in being together, which was unusual.
“In normal circumstances as he was playing a posh person and I was playing the housekeeper as usual, I thought our paths would never cross but the way the storyline worked we were always together.
“So sometimes we got picked up in a car together to bring us to the castle and it felt like ‘bring your husband to work day’, so I thought ‘what is going on?’”
Phyllis, who also starred as Lady Jane Felsham in Lovejoy with Ian McShane for eight years, met Kevin, who portrayed Bernard Ingham in The Crown last year, when they co-starred in mini-series Love and Reason in 1994.
Since then they had only appeared together in short films and an episode of comedy show Rab C Nesbitt until their joint stint in Downton, but Phyllis says she would be happy to work together again in the future.
And Kevin’s help was vital when it came to recording the narration for The Highland Vets, which follows the vets, nurses and receptionists at DS McGregor & Partners veterinary practice in Thurso, Caithness, as they treat animals in the remote northern tip of the UK mainland.
After recording the first couple of episodes of series one in a studio in London’s Soho, Phyllis has been forced to do her narrations since the first lockdown in March last year from the study of her home in west London.
She says: “Kevin was my sound engineer for the Highland Vets. They sent all this equipment and I was so useless at using it that Kevin was thankfully around and on hand to be my sound engineer.”
The fourth series of the Highland Vets, which contains seven hour-long episodes, starts with the vets treating a young Common seal spotted struggling on a beach by a walker.
She adds: “I haven’t done many narrations. I enjoy this one because it is such a lovely programme, there is always something different cropping up, so it is a pleasure to do it.”
As a result of the repeated lockdowns for the pandemic she has yet to travel up to Caithness to meet the staff at the vets.
But Prince Charles did pay them a visit during a two-day tour of Scotland, where he is known as the Duke of Rothesay, at the end of last month (JULY).
Unfortunately the TV cameras were not there at the time but wearing a kilt, he was welcomed by senior vet and director Guy Gordon, who introduced him to his team, including Katie Reiss, 22, who had only started work a few days earlier.
Ms Reiss said: “It’s an unorthodox start to work! We spoke about my training at Edinburgh University and chatted about how the vets have been really helpful integrating me into work.
“He (Charles) said to stick at it and not lose hope because I have wanted to be a vet since I was a wee kid.”
Guy says: “We felt honoured that Prince Charles was keen to visit our veterinary practice to meet the staff and learn about what we do.
“He stayed with us for about 45 minutes chatting about aspects of our work with genuine interest and insight.
“The light drizzle didn’t dampen this special occasion nor cause him to hurry, he took time to engage with everyone.
“So they have the royal seal of approval.”
She adds she loves getting to see The Highland Vets before anyone else to do its narration.
“There are a few sad bits that do not go to plan but it is so heartfelt.. and the fact that they are in that location which is absolutely spectacular, that they all love it, they love their lives, their jobs, their workmates, their animals.
“It’s just beautiful and lovely and life-affirming stuff, even when things go wrong.”
Phyllis also stars in a film, The Last Bus, with Timothy Spall which they shot two years ago but has just been released.
It tells the story of an old man whose wife has just died using his free bus pass to travel to the other end of the UK, where they originally lived, with her ashes in a small suitcase.
She will also be seen in the second series of BBC drama Guilt, which is due to air later this year.
*The new series of The Highland Vet starts tomorrow at 9pm on 5Select.
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