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Downton Abbey romance plagued by Catholic/Jewish prejudice inspired by creator Julian Fellowes' own love life

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Downton Abbey's Atticus and Lady Rose

Downton Abbey's Atticus and Lady Rose

Allen Leech and Michelle Dockery

Allen Leech and Michelle Dockery

Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess, pictured in the third series, set in 1920

Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess, pictured in the third series, set in 1920

Viewers like to see "English gentlemen" in TV dramas, research suggests

Viewers like to see "English gentlemen" in TV dramas, research suggests

Lady Mary played by Michelle Dockery with Baby George and Tom Branson played by Allen Leech with baby Sybbie - after five successful series, Julian Fellowes's hit drama 'Downton Abbey' will return for a sixth series, ITV and Carnival Pictures have announced

Lady Mary played by Michelle Dockery with Baby George and Tom Branson played by Allen Leech with baby Sybbie - after five successful series, Julian Fellowes's hit drama 'Downton Abbey' will return for a sixth series, ITV and Carnival Pictures have announced

Maggie Smith returns as Dowager Countess Crawley

Maggie Smith returns as Dowager Countess Crawley

ITV's Downton Abbey series 5

ITV's Downton Abbey series 5

ITV

ITV's Downton Abbey series 5

ITV's Downton Abbey series 5

ITV's Downton Abbey series 5

ITV's Downton Abbey series 5

ITV's Downton Abbey series 5

ITV's Downton Abbey series 5

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Downton Abbey's Atticus and Lady Rose

When researching the stories behind the intrigue, passion and scandal of Downton Abbey, one might expect Lord Fellowes to turn to the history books.

In fact, it appears, his plots have an inspiration rather closer to home: his own love life.

Lord Fellowes, the creator and writer of Downton, has disclosed a recent storyline featuring Lady Rose and her handsome young beau was based on his own early experience of romance.

The plot features the naive Lady Rose, played by actress Lily James, fall in love with the handsome Atticus Aldridge, a Jewish suitor who did not win the approval of all in the family.

Lord Fellowes has now told of his own experiences of fledgling romance between faiths, saying he had gained an insight into the problems of courting amid familial disapproval.

 In an interview with the New York Times, conducted as the fifth series of Downton came to a close in the United States, the Oscar-winning writer gave an insight into the anti-Semitism faced by Lady Rose and Atticus, saying he too had not been accepted because of his religion.

Speaking of 1920s Britain, Lord Fellowes said: “There was, here, at that time, a kind of universal, upper-class assumption of superiority.

“People didn’t mind if you came to their house or you shot their pheasants, you ate their dinners or went to their daughter’s dances.

“But, my God, they didn’t want you to marry her.”

Of his own experience, he added: “I felt it as a Catholic when I was young.

“One of my first girlfriends was from a fairly senior Jewish family. They were a very nice family — I’m still friendly, actually, with the girl and her brother.

 “But her parents wanted a Jewish husband. And it’s a very strange feeling when you realize that people don’t like you because of what you are.”

Lord Fellowes has previously refused to name his young date, confirming only that she belonged to one of the “great Jewish families”.

He has rarely spoken on his love life publicly, and has been married to Emma Kitchener for 25 years.

In an interview with Haaretz, last month, he said the episode had been “sort of my first experience of not being desirable”.

“They certainly didn’t want a Catholic in the family,” he said. “People always think the prejudice is one-way, but it can be two ways. I wanted to use that in the show.”

 It is the first time Lord Fellowes has tackled the issue of anti-Semitism in Downton, despite the Countess of Grantham, Cora, having Jewish ancestry.

The writer said he had consulted with Jewish historians as he developed the storylines, explaining “drawing room anti-Semitism” had gone on throughout the 1930s before people were “shocked out of it” by events in World War II.

“Mind you, I would love to say to you it’s faded away,” he added. “But I’m horrified by the rise of anti-Semitism that we’re witnessing today.

Lord Fellowes is currently preparing for the pilot episode of his new American period drama The Gilded Age.

When asked the perennial question of when Downton would come to an end, he replied: “I could walk away, but I wouldn’t walk away. It’s too much my baby.

“It won’t go on forever — I’m not a believer in that. But I can’t immediately now tell you where the end will be.”

Telegraph.co.uk