Chris Croucher worked as second assistant director on Series 2 of Downton Abbey before being promoted to first assistant director, a role he held all the way to Series 5, when he became a producer. He then produced Series 5 and 6 of the show…
How sad is it working on the final season?
It is so strange that it's coming to an end. We have been using as a hash tag 'the last days of Downton' on Instagram, which sums it up completely because it is sad but also poetic. It has been such a journey for everyone but it does feel that it is the right time to stop. That's the key thing. It does feel the right time. I felt that when we left Highclere. Obviously, it felt very sad to say goodbye to that beautiful house but it did feel like it was the right point on out journey to say goodbye.
Gareth [Neame], Julian [Fellowes], Liz [Trubridge] and our cast all collectively talked and it did seem to be the right time. At one point there was talk of finishing at Season 5 but we all felt that we were rushing the story if we finished then. Whereas, now we feel as though we could plant enough storylines to see that it does come to a natural conclusion, while still leaving people wanting more. That's the key.
What has been one of your strongest memories from the series?
Whatever I do after this, it will never live up to this show. I think we would all be foolish to think that we could ever rival this success. This is a once-in-a-lifetime show and in some ways that is quite nice. If we all thought that the next thing is going to be bigger and better, we are just setting ourselves up for a fall. In terms of highlights, one favourite thing that I come back to is one day in the Series 3 Christmas Special, where we were filming the stag-hunting sequence up in the Scottish Highlands. We had to load up these 4X4s at 6am, travel up to the Highlands, decamp from the trucks and put everything into trailers and then go another hour up into the middle of nowhere. And then from there we took everything out of the 4X4s and hiked a mile in one direction, shot a scene, and then hiked a mile in another direction and shot another scene. Then we hiked a mile back on ourselves but with a different view. And we had everything - rain, sun, sleet, you name it! But it was just real raw and beautiful filmmaking in its simplest form and everyone mucked in. Dan Stevens was carrying a tripod across the hills, for example. I was lugging boxes. Normally, when you call wrap everyone just runs away and disperses as quick as they can to get home but that day we called wrap and everyone sat on this rock looking out over the Scottish Highlands.
Everyone took it in and thought, 'Look at where we are, look at what we do for a living,' and I think that moment will stick with me for a while.
Was there a specific moment when you realised the effect the show was having?
I suppose we tend to do that classic British thing where everything is underplayed. I have noticed it more when I go abroad. When I went to New York it hit home, standing in Times Square and seeing a big billboard counting down the days until the next series. I was, 'Wow! Okay, that is pretty big.' And I was in Bangkok and there were huge posters all over the city and you think, 'Wow, this a phenomenon.' One of the VTs that we were shown the other day was talking about the success of the show overseas and we were watching it with different subtitles and with different dubbings. It is quite surreal. But what is lovely in contrast to that is how actually the same 80 of us come to set every morning. It is a relatively small little gang in the TV world who make this huge beast. That is one of the things that I always find hilarious. Everyone talks about Downton Abbey but it is just a bunch of us who rock up to work and try to make it through the day.
Working here at Ealing must make you aware of the heritage?
Ealing is definitely home. Back before I started working on it as a producer and was on the show all year round, I was just on it for the six months of the shoot. And I went up and did Broadchurch in between Series 3 and 4. Then, when I came back in January to Ealing it was like coming home. It really does feel like home here and the fact that it has such amazing history only adds to that. It is another thing that will go down in history - Downton was shot at Ealing.
There is something charming about the fact that Downton is made somewhere with the heritage of Ealing Studios...
It is completely true. I think if we had one of these plush, new sound studios it would not feel right. We need to be at Ealing where the doors keep falling off and where there is dust in the rafters. It is wonderfully English as well. We have grown here. At the beginning, we only had Stage 3a and 3b but year we have taken on Stage 2, so we have doubled our stage space because the show has just grown so much. And, as the story develops, less happens at Downton Abbey and more happens, for instance, at Edith's London flat. The skeleton is the same but the body has completely morphed and grown and changed. If you look at the set pieces that we used to do, say, in the first two series there was maybe one big ball or a hunt. Now, we kind of do that every episode! We want to keep the show fresh. Therefore, we have to constantly up our game. And in this final season we definitely had a few set pieces that are unlike anything we have done before. There is one particular set piece that was a year in the planning. It was a five-day sequence for what will only be five minutes of footage. That's the really interesting place where television meets feature film. That's where the industry is going now. You look at what we are competing against at the Emmys, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black - these are big-budgeted American shows and yet we are still putting on our gloves and fighting in the same ring. And the way to do that is to try to do things on that similar scale, in the wonderfully British period drama way. That's the biggest challenge, actually.
How many different endings did you have, or was there just one that you knew you would stick to?
Yes. We had just the one. Everyone was happy with it. Knowing that this was the final season from the moment when Julian started writing the first page of the series was a great help because you know where you are going. I think Julian has known the ending since the beginning. How that is completely formed, of course, morphs and changes and adapts but the ending we have always known and it is lovely to finally be at that point.
What has really surprised you across the course of the show?
One thing that was very interesting was just how much people reacted to Matthew's death. That was really interesting. I had my mother-in-law swear at me on Christmas day! At Christmas lunch, she said, 'Somebody told me that Dan Stevens is leaving,' and I said, 'No, that's just one of these rumours that goes around.' Three hours later we were all sat watching and there's the moment where he is driving and she just turned to me and gave me a death stare! Some people saw it the way it was, a great twist and a great shock, but some people were absolutely mortified. I was getting text messages saying, 'You have ruined my Christmas!' That really showed me what we had to be careful of. Having people wanting to leave us is a difficult thing. It was Dan's choice that he wanted to go and pursue other things. Therefore, the most dramatic thing we could do was to kill him! You realize that this is a huge ensemble with 26 main cast and if we did go on to Series 7 or 8, naturally we would start to lose more people. And as soon as you lose that, it would not be the ensemble drama that it was. That is an interesting thing that I took on board. The show actually isn't one person. It is all 26 of them and if you start to lose that you do lessen the product.
Do you have a favourite character or storyline?
In terms of personal favourites, what is interesting is that when this series is finished and we look back on it you'll notice how different everyone is from the beginning to the end. One of the people who is most different is Daisy. When we first met Daisy she was the lonely scullery maid carrying around buckets of coal. Now she is trying to get an education. She realizes that there is a life after service. She is truly a character who has changed and grown over six series. But there is not one character that is the same person they were when we met them six seasons ago - and that is the most beautiful storytelling.
DOWNTON ABBEY SERIES 6 is released on Blu-Ray and DVD from 16 November 2015 from Universal Pictures (UK).
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