Sorry but Sunday evening's out... I'm at Downton Abbey
IT'S the TV series that's captured every type of telly viewer in every pocket of society. Nobody can talk of anything else other than the Upstairs Downstairs lives of the Crawley family -- the Earl of Grantham, his wife and three single daughters, and the staff who look after them.
It's becoming such an epidemic that even those who didn't catch last year's first series is now frantically trying to catch up so they can join the rest of us on series two.
Downton has taken over as headline water cooler topic on Mondays now, even ahead of X Factor. Forget Tulisa and even Gary Barlow, we're far more obsessed with Lady Mary and Cousin Matthew.
Why have we all caught Downton fever? I think it's a mix of things. It's nostalgia, as we look back to another age, and the escapism that goes with it. Then, it's the sumptuous sets, the attention to detail and the beautiful costumes. Add some cracking storylines, which tug at every emotional string, and we're hooked. But most of all, Downton Abbey is all about the characters -- played in full colour by a team of brilliant actors.
There's someone in Downton we can each relate to; there's a love story (or three, at any time) we empathise with; there's an evil wind blowing or a disaster around the corner, and there are, of course, the incendiary characters to spice things up.
Right now, we can't get enough of Downton Abbey. I even saw one person tweet last week that she recorded and re-watched the trailer for next week's show several times, such is her craving for more.
It's not the first time a period drama has absorbed the nation. I remember when Brideshead Revisited hit the screens in the late 1980s, the world would stand still for that magical hour every week.
Ditto the more recent remake of Pride and Prejudice. But the rarity in modern times is to find a series that we all want to watch on TV, and that we will indeed work our lives around and go from week to week, watching without fail.
We lap it all up. Because while this is all history, it's recent history. We're intrigued, because shows like Downton Abbey give us an inkling of the world our grandparents and great-grandparents inhabited.
Julian Fellowes, the writer of Downton Abbey, has chosen a fascinating period of history to relate.
The Great War changed the world and deconstructed society so much in a relatively short space of time. Maybe we're going through something similar right now -- our world is turning -- and we seek both solace and reference in what went before.
Downton Abbey is ITV's most expensive costume drama ever. Series one cost over ¤1m per episode, and I'd guess even more has been spent on series two. But it's this costly care, and attention to detail that pulls me in -- the beautiful touches of a bygone age.
I can't wait for next Sunday's episode, just as I relish the next day's post-mortem of the same. It's the perfect antidote to the Monday blues. And did I mention Cousin Matthew?