Downton Abbey’s Jim Carter and the Madhouse Company of London
I read recently on John Towsen’s blog ALL FALL DOWN about Jim Carter, the prim and proper butler Mr. Carson from PBS & ITV’s celebrated hit Downton Abbey and the fact that Carter is a trained juggler and magician/comedian. He apparently trained with Hovey Burgess in the 70’s, and used to work the streets of London as a juggler, unicyclist, and perform a comedy magic act as a drunken magician.
As reported on John Towsen’s site, he was pretty good.
His post has fuller information, and I hope that you’ll read it! He’s got some fascinating articles other than this one up there, and his blog is well worth your attention.
In reading about this, I started to do some research about Carter, and found some fascinating strings that I thought I’d share.
According to IMDB, Carter was also a member of the “Madhouse Company of London”, a comedy troupe which performed in the states in the 1970s. Other members were Marcel Steiner, Marc Weil and Tommy Shands, and British Eccentric comedian Ken Campbell.
The Madhouse Company was founded by Marc Weil and Canadian Andy Jones (Weil has since settled down in suburban Philadelphia and performs at the Montgomery Theatre. His daughter is a famous actress that made it big in The Gilmore Girls. Jones is a company member of Touchstone Theatre in Vancouver and an acclaimed comedian.)
The Madhouse fellows performed crazy stunts and kind of lowbrow humor, and performed their vulgar and a little crazy cabaret all over Europe, and in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, among other places. They were in residence at BAM’S Manhattan theatre Brooklyn Navy Yard (a cabaret space in Chelsea) in 1974, and were a hit.
In 1975, another group of brash young comedians performed some outrageous comedy in a show called the National Lampoon Lemmings Show. Performers in that show included Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Harold Ramis, and Bill Murray), Mel Gussow of the New York Times compared the Lemmings show unfavorably to the Madhouse show, saying:
“Lampoon” sets new boundaries for impropriety. But unlike its cousin-in-vulgarity, the Madhouse Company of London, it does not match its bad taste with good humor. Too often the entertainment merely indulges itself in a stand-up cabaret equivalent of name-dropping. “Patty Hearst” appears on stage in ballte dress and blasts “Steven Weed.” What’s the joke?”
The Harvard Crimson had less kind words to say about the Madhouse crew: “Its attempt to revive the old revue format is noble, but the material for the Wild Stunt Show is simply atrocious.”
In the meantime Carter had continued to work as a legitimate actor as well, and when his acting work took off, he dropped his variety act. By 1984, he started appearing regularly in film and television He has since performed in over 50 films and over 70 television shows, including Shakespeare In Love, The Madness of King George, 102 Dalmatians, and The Singing Detective.
Below is an AP photograph that I believe shows Carter as a Madhouse Actor, performing a street stunt in 1975.
What do you think? (click for a larger image)