Corby actor Brendan Coyle had a taste of life behind bars during filming for the third series of Downton Abbey which returned to television screens on Sunday night.
After being convicted of the murder of his wife Vera Bates in the last series of the hit ITV1 period drama, valet Bates, the character played by Brendan, had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
And some of the prison scenes for the new series were filmed at Lincoln Castle, in a three-tiered preserved Victorian prison set within the castle walls.
Brendan said: “It’s a museum really and they allowed us to go and activate that.
“That gives it a sense of scale and scope and textual feel, a grandness. You really got the sense of somewhere very imposing as opposed to just being in a dark cell.”
Brendan, who grew up in Corby, said: “Victorian prisons were really grim. There are no windows, no heating, it’s just stone walls. It would have been really cold, a harsh climate, poor diet and a punishing regime as well.
“I read up about stuff like that – it was a very, very miserable existence.”
Brendan, who was recently in Corby to attend two shows at The Core theatre staged by his cousin Helen King’s dance school, isn’t giving too much away about Bates’ eventual fate.
He said: “He’s in prison and he’s finding it a bit tedious to be honest – he’s very much in isolation from everyone else. And he’s getting bullied a bit.
“He’s pushed and provoked by people in prison who have taken against him.
“I can’t possibly tell you if domestic bliss will ever come. What I do know is that the house and Anna never lose faith. My own guess? Who knows – I like to play with options.”
The success of Downton Abbey and the appeal of Bates has brought the actor plenty of scripts and a role in the Sky1 comedy Starlings, which is returning for a second series.
He said: “It was a really happy thing to do and I’m looking forward to doing that again.
“But it’s an extraordinary cast on Downton and everyone’s done a great job so I think people deserve to do well out of it.
“There’s no cutting corners – I mean you can’t really on Downton Abbey. People have high expectations and you have to try and meet them at every single point.”
The award-winning actor, whose mum and other family members live in Corby, this year agreed to be a patron of Lakelands Hospice in the town.
You know your character has made an impact when you start seeing your face on T-shirts.
Brendan said: “A friend in LA was working on a film recently and he sent me a photograph of one of the crew wearing a Free Bates T-shirt.
“I don’t have one but maybe that’s my Christmas presents sorted out…”
According to Brendan an entire Free Bates campaign is being waged round the world, after the stoic valet was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife.
He said: “On Twitter there’s a Legal Bates team and there was a Free Bates rally in San Francisco recently.
“Free Bates car stickers are quite a thing over there.
“In fact fans have started making a whole load of Free Bates merchandise.
“Licensing? Now you’re talking…”