Whispers of Lady Edith’s awful luck, followed by prayers that Downton Abbey’s creator Julian Fellowes would turn things around for her in the final episode, filled the courtyard at the Desmond on Saturday evening, March 5. The Downton Abbey Gala Celebration, held in honor of the beloved series’ final season, benefited WMHT’s efforts to bring more British drama to the small screen in 2016.
“One person after the other just looks better than the last tonight,” said Scott Sauer, WMHT Executive Vice President. “We knew that the final season would mean a lot to people, but honestly, it’s beyond what we could have thought. Tonight has just exceeded our expectations.”
Two hundred and fifty guests donned lace, beads, tuxes and top hats to show their love for Downton, while also showcasing their support for WMHT public broadcasting. Being transported back to the roaring 1920s merely made the event more memorable.
Ladies and gentleman sipped cocktails to chamber music performed by the Musicians of Ma’alwyck, later dining and dancing to jazz-era tunes courtesy of the Georgie Wonders Orchestra. A few even managed the Charleston, while others waltzed alongside displays of period furniture and fashion, courtesy of Stickley Audi & Co. and the Schenectady County Historical Society.
Costumed guests posed with stand-ups of Downton favorites, and blended in against backdrops featuring the upstairs and downstairs cast, while others bid on everything from wine to local artwork.
For Steven and Anita Busch from Palenville, the excuse to get dolled up was a good one—and they had plenty of choices to choose from. The couple regularly dress up in period costume to attend British car events and competitions, at which they often come out on top.
“We’ve been watching Downton Abbey since the beginning,” said Anita Busch. “The whole era—we just love it. We love everything about it.” Her dress, blush pink and of the period, was purchased off eBay.
“Honestly, we’re complete anglophiles,” said Steven Busch, “and we’re having a great time.”
Harriett Williams, of Clifton Park, jazzed up a gray frock with a handcrafted head piece, eager to get into the spirit of the evening. Accompanied by her son, daughter-in-law, grandson Brett and his new wife Frances, Williams expressed her fondness for the Dowager, played by the oh-so-talented Dame Maggie Smith. “I just love her. She’s got moxie and so do I! I can’t help but say what’s on my mind!”
Offering more than a few one-liners worthy of the Dowager Countess herself, Williams wished she could have it out with Lady Mary Crawley, Lord Grantham’s eldest and most fickle daughter. “That Mary is such a snob,” she said.
Rooting for Edith, Frances Williams seemed sure that the unluckiest of Crawley girls would find the happy ending she deserved in the last episode, slated to air the following evening. “I want Edith to have a happy reunion with Bertie Pelham,” she said, convinced that Edith’s beau would come round and accept her scandalous past and out-of-wedlock daughter.
“Edith needs to find her happy place,” said Alison Hayner of Ballston Lake, who attended with her daughter, Madison. Downton Abbey had been a bonding experience for them, as they always made time to watch together. Both women rented gowns from the Costumer, although Alison wished she could claim hers had once belonged to a great-grandmother.
Madison expressed concern for Thomas Barrow, the mischievous footman-turned-under butler who underwent a change of heart in season six. “They need to come to some sort of conclusion with Thomas,” she said, and either keep him on, or let him go.
She wanted resolution, as did so many others in attendance.
Though sad that a beloved series was ending after six wildly successful seasons, gala guests wanted things tied up—and not just tied up, but happily so.
“There’s just a lot to be solidified in the last hour,” said WMHT President Robert Altman, himself eager to find out how it all ends. The gala was a way to celebrate a series that Altman described as an “extraordinary thing for public television,” in terms of its devoted following and the way it has crossed generational divides.
“Tonight is just a wonderful opportunity for people who typically enjoy Downton Abbey by themselves, to come together and celebrate like this,” Altman said.
According to Scott Sauer, WMHT expects to net about $20,000, possibly more, from ticket sales, sponsorships and auction items, and will use those funds to support programming initiatives. Tickets ranged from $150 to $250 each.
The first season of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries as well as Call the Midwife, season five, will air on WMHT this April, just in time to offset withdrawal symptoms for downcast Downton fans.