Downton Abbey’s Gay Footman Rob James-Collier on Being an ‘Edwardian Sex Pest’

[SPOILERS – Don't read if you haven't seen last night's episode]

Rob James-Collier on the reaction to the action in last night's Downton Abbey episode:


It could be proper HBO. It’s quite gritty and dark, isn’t it? Thomas becomes besotted. Let’s face it, he borderline stalks Jimmy. He turns into an Edwardian sex pest. It’s pretty bad. But then he goes on this huge journey and he’s being manipulated by O’Brien into thinking this guy feels the same way. And he knows he doesn’t. The fallout from my kissing Jimmy was really dramatic….

It’s great to see there’s an impact downstairs and it’s not just those bastards upstairs. Thomas gets quite choked up, doesn’t he? And then after he kisses Jimmy, he’s just completely distraught and destroyed and vulnerable, and you feel sorry for him. I’ve had people come up to me in the street and go, “Oh my God, Thomas made me cry last night, and I hate you for making him make me cry because I love to hate him.” I’m messing up people’s lives. There was this punter who came up to me on the tube and goes, “Listen, mate, I don’t normally watch period drama.” That’s how it always starts, and the next line is, “my missus watches it.” And then the third is, “but I’ve actually started liking it. You f**king the man, man. Last night, the tears…” and then he just walks off! And you think, This is what I do it for…

…I just want to say thank you to everyone who watched and tuned in and loved my evil gayness.

More of his Vulture interview here.


  1. Zlick says

    It was actually far more touching than I expected. Best part was when, despite Thomas admitting he was a totally broken man by the horrible experience resulting from his being outted, he insists to Mr. Carson that he is not “Foul” for being homosexual. It was so tender and proto-activist. Loved it.

    Second best part was Lord Crowley reacting nonchalantly and admitting he couldn’t go two minutes at Eaton without encountering a gay lad on the make, and so coming pretty squarely to Thomas’s defense.

    The plot point was handled with suitable drama and resolution. I really was impressed. And yes, it made evil Thomas a quite sympathetic character – at least for one episode.

  2. Jeff Atwood says

    I am struck by how in Julian Fellowes’ script, much of the staff tolerates Thomas’ sexual orientation but not Ethel’s fall into prostitution. Perhaps this is more sexism; men’s vices are tolerated but women’s suffering is not.

  3. Don says

    I loved the lines from Lord Crowley, and Thomas insisting he is not “Foul”. But I had a really hard time buying the amount of support Thomas received from so many of the characters. It seemed a little to much “wishful thinking”. Fun to watch, but hard to believe.

  4. Zlick says

    My lack of anything approaching a proper Brit-level education shows in me misspelling Eton as “Eaton.” But I don’t see that too many characters supported Thomas. Just Lord Crowley and Mrs. Hughes by my count, only the former being unexpected – and nicely explained by his — ooh, perhaps intimate – encounters with gay boys at, ahem, ETON.

  5. bcarter3 says

    It’s a mistake to think that anything in this series bears any relation to reality–it’s all just a silly, albeit pretty, little fantasy.

    Let’s see: The Crowleys remain a socially acceptable family, despite having a financially incompetent head of household (who has–so far–almost lost the Abbey on at least two occasions), an eldest daughter who was involved in the mysterious death of a diplomat, a butler suspected of murder, a daughter and son-in-law involved in deadly terrorist activities (after a transgressive cross-class relationship), and a number of below-stairs sex scandals.

    Moral: If you value your life or reputation, stay far away from the Crowleys.

  6. says

    I agree with Don. If this had really happened, Thomas would have been cast out immediately, without a moment’s hesitation. And he wouldn’t have been given a recommendation either. I thought everything was well-done on the show, but it wasn’t very believable at all.

  7. Matt26 says

    It was very interesting, well written and acted story line.
    This series has already been shown, where I live and it is better than the second series, but for me the first one is in its own class. Let’s hope the fourth one continues to get better.

  8. bcarter3 says

    PS A nitpick. Thomas didn’t “…turn[s] into an Edwardian sex pest.”

    Edward VII died in 1910. This series of DA takes place in the 1920s, when George V was king.

  9. Joseph says

    Yes, it wasn’t very believable (neither is Branson’s sudden revision from Irish nationalist/socialist/revolutionary to proper ambitious capitalist). But it was emotionally satisfying, particularly Thomas’ statement to Carson that he is not “foul.”

  10. G.I. Joe says

    I think his anecdote is incredible. Thomas’ gayness is used to HUMANIZE him (although he’s a meanie) to the eyes of the audience. The producers expect the audience to feel sorry for him because his love is unrequited and because he’s persecuted.

    30 years ago they would have used his homosexuality to VILLAINIZE him. To make sure to everyone he’s a bad guy.

    It’s incredible.

  11. anon says

    He’s still foul in the sense that he’s manipulative and mean, but that often counts in high regard in British society. The Dowager is manipulative and tactless, in a sense mean, but so sly about it it’s hysterical. Thomas still needs a dressing down about his bad behavior.

    However, all the rumors so far that he’d be severely punished for being gay have not come true, though there is one more ep this season. Is there going to be a gay bashing next week? Why were the rumors so far wrong?

  12. Jay says

    Jeff, it wasn’t so much that Ethel was a fallen woman is that Ethel was a “notorious fallen woman.” Had James or Alfred actually reported him to the police and there was a scandal, there would have likely been a different reaction. Its not the action so much as the scandal. And Ethel did get support from not only Mrs. Crawley but from Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Padmore. I think Mr. Carson’s attitude toward Thomas was pretty in keeping with his attitude toward Ethel…and the thing governing his disgust in relation to his actions in both situations is the level of dishonor the behavior brought to the family.

  13. Jay says

    Don – I made a similar comment to my husband last night: “It’s not so much a snap-shot of Edwardian England as it is early 20th century values meets early 21st century idealism.”

  14. Rexford says

    @Jeff Atwood – I totally agree. This is what struck me as well, especially in relation to Lord Grantham’s sympathetic reaction. He even used the Biblical quote about “casting the first stone” to defend Thomas, yet the origin of that quote would directly apply to Ethel being like Mary Magadalene. Rather out-of-synch morality on his part.

    I think what I would have liked to have heard (aside from the reference to life at Eton) would have been something more personal from Robert. Perhaps a story about a beloved uncle, now dead, who was like Thomas, or in Mrs. Hughes case perhaps some reference to a younger brother or nephew who could show up as a future love interest for Thomas.

  15. Dominique Devereaux says

    I reality this character would have ended up like Oscar Wilde did for his homosexuality.

    This show is a piece of superficial, inaccurate CRAP!!!

  16. jaragon says

    I really felt sorry for Thomas- who must be desperately lonely if that he fell for that pretty obnoxious Jimmy. It made me wonder about what he did for sex- is there a cruising spot in the village? Does he go to London? In reality I would imagine he would have been kicked out of Downton Abbey but this is an idealistic high class soap opera so almost everyone is extremely kind.

  17. gregorybrown says

    A friend who watches DA more faithfull than I (he was a huge fan of DYNASTY long ago when I pretended not to watch) says the grand climax for the season should have been an IRA attack on the Abbey in retaliation for Branson’s apostasy. The gunmen would shoot the appropriate targets, O’Brien would shoot nearly everybody else then do a Mrs. Danvers thing, accidentally torching the house and any survivors. Thomas would escape to Singapore.

  18. John says

    One key difference between Ethel and Thomas is that Ethel actually did prostitute herself, whereas all Thomas is known to have done was to attempt to kiss the unwilling Jimmy. That is, no actual sex occurred. Granted, if consummated it would have been the “wrong” kind of sex. Yet even in Victorian times educated people understood the difference between a mere attraction to other men and out-and-out sex between men.

    In any event, both parts are brilliantly portrayed (as are those of Lady Mary, O’Brien, Lavinia, Mrs. Hughes, the Dowager and Mr. Carson). The quality of the acting draws us in even if some of us are not too sure about the plausibility of Thomas’ escape from punishment in 1920’s England. The central theme of the drama relates to the breakdown of old traditions. In that regard, we must remind ourselves that even though the Dowager and Lord Grantham came of age under Queen Victoria, Victoria is no longer on the throne.

  19. Stefan says

    The resolution of Thomas’ story line in last night’s episode didn’t bother me. It might have been historically inaccurate and wildly optimistic (especially the behavior of Bates), but it served the dramatic purpose of moving his character arc forward while keeping him in the Abbey. What bothered me was Thomas’ decision to kiss Jimmy while Jimmy was sleeping. It would be a bad (albeit legal) decision even for a heterosexual advance. Thomas is a student of human nature–he’s needed to be to survive. How he could let his own sexual frustration and O’Brien goad him into making such a silly decision seems completely out of step with his character. Sure, people get horny and stupid when it comes to love/lust, but Thomas seems like he would have been around the block enough times to be more sensible.

  20. says

    Maybe some other Brits have my experience(s) when it comes to Thomas 😉

    I’m the first Out member of my family, but certainly not the first “gay” – great aunts and uncles do indeed tell stories of their own Spinster Aunts and Bachelor Uncles… with a sad yet wistful bit of Knowing in their voices.

    in any way, i’m obsessed with the Abbey. can’t wait for series 4!

  21. Felix says

    I love the series. I felt a great deal of the sympathetic support for Thomas came out of an extreme dislike of O’Brien. There were also several mentions of everyone knowing about Thomas, just it not being official (as long as you didn’t act on it or get caught) plus he’s been there 10 years so he’s sort of family and it would look bad on the house to have him exposed at this point or to dismiss him without recommendation.

    Ethel made her own bed by getting pregnant outside of marriage (she got caught). She would have been shunned almost as much for that as the prostitution which weren’t seen as that much different. Next week is the finale of season 3 here in the states. Can’t wait.

  22. EchtKultig says

    It definitely wasn’t believable – Thomas wouldn’t have been treated so gently. But of course the whole program is a dandified soap opera – I admit I enjoy it but I don’t think it’s high art – and many other implausible things have happened in its world.

  23. rick scatorum says

    Thomas is more intimacy-frustrated than sexually frustrated (remember the touching scenes with the blinded soldier?)

    Btw, does anyone know how obriens soapy secret got to bates? She never told Thomas….

  24. Robert says

    Robert Crawley is not referred to as “Lord Crawley.” Crawley is the family last name, but he is the Earl of Grantham and therefore is called Lord Grantham. The entail leaving the title and estate to only a male heir is what sets the plot in motion in series 1. When Robert dies, his heir (potentially Matthew without revealing spoilers) would be the next Lord Grantham, and Mary would then have her mother’s title, Lady Grantham. Cora would then be the Dowager Countess, Maggie Smith’s current title in the show, etc.

    That said, I didn’t find their rather easy acceptance of Thomas’ gayness very believable, even for post-Edwardian, post-WW I, 1920s England. He likely would have been fired immediately, especially after what was essentially an attempted assault on a fellow staff member.

  25. DUH says

    My God what a series, far more exciting than Upstairs Downstairs years ago and which I thought this would be a replay of.

    I think it’s all believable if for no other reason than that it is full of oddity (perhaps overfull) which is one of the things which distinguishes a good piece of writing from that of a hack. All the histories of these great houses and old families are full of unusual twists and turns, often shocking ones.

    Thomas is getting sweeter, I like him better and I just hope he’ll end up with a nice man someday. His portrayal of distress was heartbreaking. I would like to see him rearrange some of the house mirrors so that O’Brien would open a door on the top floor and fall to her death.

    Tom, however, must be left for me. Either that or he and Thomas raise the baby together.

    What a feast.

  26. ratbastard says

    Aside from vampire stories, these Brit Edwardian period shows bore me to death. I guess it’s a form of escapism from PC modern times for some folks. I just have zero interest in watching the shenanigans of people living in a Victorian or Edwardian estate, their socioeconomic taboos and what-not, 100 plus years ago.

  27. Billy says

    I was surprised he received any support at all, but at the same time, we’re looking at all of this from a recent perspective. Berlin right around this time period (20s-30s) had PLENTY of gay nightlife.

  28. Pitt90 says


    Just saw this, but FYI, you are right about Edward VII’s reign dates, but the “Edwardian Period” was considered to continue into George V’s reign due to the fact that the son continued many of the father’s social conventions…

    I speak as a historian, if that gives any credence.

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