While Downton Abbey has increasingly allowed modernity to seep in through the show’s adopting of contemporary trends, like water bottles and dog murder, there is one vulgar fad it will never embrace—literally. Members of the series’ cast are under strict orders not to touch each other, in keeping with the strict adherence to historical accuracy that extends down to their underwear. This “No Touching” rule—like an emotional version of the prison in Arrested Development—falls in line with the early 20th-century era Downton Abbey depicts, when there was no hugging, and all displays of affection were handled properly through telegram.
Still, according to Downton’s historical advisor, Alastair Bruce, this edict against touching wasn’t totally done out of modesty, even in an age when morally upright aristocrats looked down on slatternly harlots who allowed their hands to be held on the first marriage.
“The reason they didn’t is because it wasn’t that long before then that disease was spread so much more easily,” Bruce says, before openly lamenting this disgusting age we live in: “We hug, kiss—good Lord you meet somebody now and they kiss you within minutes—and it’s because we’ve got antibiotics.” The Telegraph doesn’t note whether Bruce, who was speaking to the BBC Radio 2, then gazed wistfully out a window, longing for a simpler time before medical science transformed everyone into such whores. Dirty, filthy whores, kissing you right on the mouth.
But while Bruce says that he insists on Downton’s actors maintaining their distance, he does admit that there are certain situations under which touching is allowed. Deaths, for example, or the romances and weddings that take place just prior to deaths. All are acceptable reasons for someone on Downton Abbey to be touched, unless that someone is Edith. (No need to take unnecessary risks.)
This story is now being read by future generations searching for an answer as to how, in 2015, an ebola-ravaged world restarted as an entirely Downton Abbey-based society.