Sue Johnston’s Downton Abbey debut as the Dowager Countess’s new lady’s maid divided opinions on Sunday night. But creator Julian Fellowes has revealed he was keen to bag Sue for the role of Gladys Denker from the start!
Julian said: “We wanted a lady’s maid for the Dowager Countess and I felt quite strongly that she had to be a strong character to hold her own on screen with Maggie Smith.
“Sue Johnston occurred to me fairly early on. You don’t want a shrinking violet opposite the Dowager because she’d make mincemeat of them!”
Denker’s arrival caused fireworks in the Dowager’s household almost instantly. An experienced lady’s maid at the top of her profession, Denker is accustomed to doing things in a certain way, leading to an immediate clash with the Dowager’s butler Spratt, who’s also used to doing things his way…
Julian explained: “In the case of Denker it seemed to me an opportunity to have another older female character.
“Lady’s maids were at the top of their profession. So I thought it would be fun to have Denker as an older woman.”
Sue, who turns 71 next month, didn’t land her first TV role until she was 38, but since playing a minor part in Coronation Street in 1982 she’s never looked back.
With iconic roles such as Shelia Grant in Brookside, Barbara Royle in The Royle Family and, more recently, marriage-wrecker Shelia Price in Coronation Street, Sue Johnston’s certainly made her mark on TV.
And with more spats with Spratt in the pipeline, we can reveal Denker is set to make her mark on the Downton household when she reappears in the series finale.