A Downton Abbey Anachronism?

(Note: See comments for an updated answer to the question asked in this post’s title.)

My daughter and I both had projects to work on last night and, wanting some familiar, companionable television in the background, decided to put on Season One of Downton Abbey. (Love that show 🙂 )

Around about the third episode, the one with the little fair in the village, William (the second footman) is sad because Thomas (first footman) knew he wanted to ask Daisy (kitchen maid) to go to the fair with him and thus swooped in and asked her first, just to be mean. Later in the show, William is in the servants’ hall playing a sad-sounding tune on the piano, just a few bars, before Mrs. Hughes (housekeeper) appears in the doorway and kindly offers sympathy and wise words.

As William played the tune, I realized: hey, I think I know that song! The tiny little snatch of melody he played was the only part I knew, and I was pretty sure the words were (and they were the only words I knew): “After you’ve gone.”

Was it the song I was thinking I knew? I had my phone handy so did a quick search for those lyrics and found that yes, that seemed to be the song. You can hear the original recording in the video clip below. The “after you’ve gone” lyrics don’t come until one minute and eight seconds into the song. (I’m very patient when I’m on a quest 🙂 )

But wait!

Season One of Downton Abbey ends with Lord Grantham informing everyone attending the garden party that the UK was at war with Germany. According to the Wikipedia article on “After You’ve Gone,” this song, which William plays at some point prior to the start of World War I in 1914, wasn’t published, even in sheet music form, until 1918, the year it was recorded.

Really, really surprising to me, as the Downton production team was meticulous in their historical accuracy.

Then I started to wonder: How do I even know this song?

I had this weird sensation in some cloistered alcove of my memory of a woman singing just the words “after you’ve gone.” She is kind of swaying, and her voice is nasally and loud. I was trying to describe it to my daughter, thinking maybe she could help me out.

“Somehow I associate it with ‘Hazel,'” I told her. But we knew it wasn’t from a “Hazel” episode, because we both know the “Hazel” oeuvre pretty thoroughly. (Maybe that’s a post for another day 🙂 ) “A woman is singing, and I think she’s auditioning for something, but the people don’t like her. Like ‘go away.’ And she has this really grating voice, like Ethel Merman.”

The “Ethel Merman” reference was all my daughter needed. “I think it was Ethel Merman,” she said.

But where would I have seen her singing just that line? When would she have been auditioning and nobody liked her? And why would I have associated Ethel Merman with “Hazel”? (More to the point, how did my daughter even know who Ethel Merman was?)

Then I remembered.

Sony didn’t release the “Hazel” series on DVD until really late, long after lots of other old television shows had been released. So I had my old VHS tapes that I’d recorded from TV back in the early ’90s, and when I had time I’d watch them with my girls. When I was taping them I occasionally left the VCR running and accidentally recorded whatever show followed my “Hazel” episode.

Ethel Merman was in a “That Girl” episode once. And I was pretty sure I had accidentally recorded it on one of my “Hazel” tapes.

Thanks to YouTube I was able to find that episode. Yep, it was Ethel Merman! I’ve included the entire episode here, because it’s such a cute show. Ethel Merman sings shortly after the 19:25 mark (and then again at the end of that scene). Judge for yourself how accurate my little whisper of memory/sensation was 🙂

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
This entry was posted in History, Life, Popular culture, Television and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to A Downton Abbey Anachronism?

  1. Wow!!! I remember Hazel and That Girl, but not as clearly as you do!! Wonderful memories.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rosemary Didier says:

    Amazing! I, too, am familiar with the lyric phrase, “after you’ve gone” but would have never been able to figure it out. And, very interesting sleuthing on the Downton Abbey gaffe – way to go, Katie!!


    • Thanks, Rose! But now I’m wondering if that’s the right song, or if it’s another song that I also know the melody of but don’t know any words of. If I figure it out, I’ll post an update . . . and a retraction if I’m wrong about the anachronism! But it was fun having a reason to watch Ethel Merman do what only she can do😄


    • Nope, I’ve listened to several more recordings of “After You’ve Gone” and feel confident that it’s the song William is playing in that scene. And it’s been kind of fun listening to all these different versions of a century-old song. People are still singing and recording it today, with all manner of interpretation. That’s what I call a real classic!


      • Leigh Ann says:

        It’s definitely not. It’s a slow version of peg o my heart… go listen to Patricia T Holmberg’s version of the song. Imagine it slowed down.


        • I couldn’t find the John Sydney version, but I was just now able to listen to Patricia Holmberg playing it on Amazon’s website. Yes, I can hear this being William’s version if it were slower. Thank you!


  3. Jim Rathbone says:

    Hi Katherine

    Good news – no anachronism, the Downton Abbey producers were once again spot on with their historical accuracy. The brief snatch played by William has also bothered me since I first watched the show and every time I’ve rewatched this scene I’ve longed for Mrs Hughes to just shut up and let William carry on playing. Tonight (6/6/20) I determined to get to the bottom of it and in doing so stumbled on your fascinating blog and conclusion – like many others – that this is After You’ve Gone. But after playing various Youtube videos I wasn’t convinced. So then I looked up the IMDB page for this episode (E4 S1 btw) knowing that they often include all sorts of extra info like shoot locations and soundtrack details etc

    And there it was. Plain as you like (apologies for spinning this out – but I can’t resist it!). It was first published March 1913 which ties in perfectly with the episode story date. The music was written by Fred Fisher, words by his writing partner Alfred Bryan, and the song as listed on the IMDB webpage is… “Peg O’ My Heart (uncredited)”

    Here is a link to a dynamic score with a MIDI “play” feature which allows to reduce the tempo to match William’s performance which, although in a different key and a much nicer arrangement, is clearly the same piece.


    Mystery solved!

    But I would dearly love to get the arrangement that William plays – it’s just beautiful.
    Best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, thank you so much for sharing your find, Jim! That was some excellent detective work. Never even occurred to me to check IMDB. I just now went and listened to “Peg O’ My Heart,” and it sounds JUST LIKE “After You’ve Gone”! I’m glad (and not surprised!) to learn that the Downton Abbey gang had it right all along. Ironically, I just recently watched that Season One episode, as I’m cycling through the entire series once again. You’re right; William’s arrangement is lovely. Tracking it down should be your next investigation! 😄

      Thanks again for stopping by with the story of your discovery. Very nice meeting you!

      ~ Katie


  4. Jim says:

    Likewise, Katie, and you’re most welcome 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Leigh Ann says:

    This is not the song he was playing. It was a slow version of “peg o my heart”… which was historically accurate. Go listen to the John Sydney version of the song…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I also learned this from another person who commented on this post. The two songs do sound quite similar, don’t they? I was happy to discover that I was wrong and the crew at Downton was right on target as always. Thanks for the info on the John Sydney version. I’ll look for it!


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