Catching Up With Downton Abbey

I decided to flee the madness in London for a day and visit some old friends in the countryside, the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. The late 7th Earl was an early investor in my first hedge fund and I have kept in touch with the family ever since.

John Thomas

His grandfather, the 5th Earl gained fame and fortune from his co-discovery of King Tut’s tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings in 1922. His early death, shortly thereafter, was the origin of “The Mummy’s Curse” of depression era horror film fame. Many of his discoveries today make up the bulk of the Egyptian collection in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which the family sold to pay estate taxes.

Recently, the family has been renting out their 350 year old home, a 15-minute taxi ride south of Newbury, the spectacular Highclere Castle, for use as a film set. The period drama series that resulted, “Downtown Abbey,” unexpectedly became a blockbuster in the US where viewers stupefied by endless low budget reality shows were starved for quality, thoughtful content and adult writing.

It also sent 100,000 visitors a year their way, as well as $25 million in ticket fees. This windfall enables them to maintain the house and the magnificent gardens in immaculate condition. The cash flow also allows them to ramp up the other family business, breeding racehorses for the queen. Portraits of past winners adorned almost every room.

After tea with my hosts and a personal tour of the estate, I picked up some tea towels for friends at home who are into this kind of thing. I also saw a display of some spectacular early Egyptian relics, which the family found bricked up behind a wall 60 years after the Met sale.

The series’ third season has just begun and I can tell you now how I think it will play out. The politically incorrect and ultra liberal American mother-in-law, played by Shirley MacLain, has made an unannounced visit, and was about as welcome as a bull in a china shop. Matthew Crawley has bought a new car, so we can expect him to flirt with death in a crash in the near future. The current earl, Robert Crawley, appears to be better at hosting dinners than managing the estate, we we can count on another financial crisis.

There seems to be some sort of gay lovers triangle developing among the footmen. The former head footman, John Bates, now in prison for murder, will be exonerated, but killed in a jailhouse riot just before his release. Lady Edith Crawly is left standing at the altar, so she goes into politics to champion the suffragette movement, much to the horror of her family. The Irish son-in-law and former driver dies in the 1922 Irish rebellion.

Given the huge reception by the viewing public, we can count on this drama to extend to at least five seasons, when it will then be syndicated for the rest of our lives. That works fine for the real life Carnarvons, who can now reinvest in even more thoroughbreds. Who needs hedge funds?

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