‘Tedium policeman’ is how Downton Abbey’s on-set advisor Alastair Bruce describes himself.

Cast and crew, however, call him ‘the oracle’.

Keeley Bolger, writing for BT’s news site, recently interviewed Bruce. He watches every scene filmed, ensuring

backs aren’t slumping, food isn’t shovelled and everybody, both above and below stairs, knows their place.

“I’m just there being a tedium policeman,” he says, laughing.

His responsibilities encompass advising not only on the physical appropriateness of the sets themselves but also on the actors’ speech and etiquette. Everything must reflect 1924 as much as possible.

One of the subjects discussed in the interview was speech. People spoke much more formally then, something faithfully reproduced in Mr Selfridge, which has often attracted criticism, e.g. ‘the dialogue is too stilted’. Yet, that is how people conversed nearly a century ago.

Bruce has made a few concessions in this area:

We have made a decision not to have the actors and actresses speaking exactly as they did in the Twenties, because nobody would watch the programme.

That said, he knows how words were pronounced in the early 20th century and coaches the cast accordingly:

Os are the most challenging. Take the word ‘room’ for example.

“Some people will pronounce it as ‘rooom’, but those above stairs didn’t. They said ‘room’. It’s that kind of absolutely irrelevant detail that I will screw down on and get right!”

Table etiquette is another aspect where Bruce exercises his authority, which the cast appreciates:

One of the greatest challenges is perfecting the dining scenes, and it’s not just who sits where at the table, but also how food is eaten. Bruce is always on the lookout for people shovelling down their meals, especially the supporting actors.

“It’s not their fault, they eat breakfast [in a more modern way] and that’s fine, but sometimes you have to say, ‘This is how you hold a knife, this is how you hold a fork’. You have to keep going, ‘It’s 1924!’”

Although we know much about grand families of the day thanks to diaries and letters, Bruce says that servants did not correspond often, outside of family and close friends. Nor did they keep diaries. We know about life below stairs largely through housekeeping accounts which someone such as Mrs Hughes would have kept:

I keep asking directors to show Mrs Hughes at her books because it’s housekeepers’ books that have told me what I know.

Bruce isn’t behind the scenes all the time. In Series 1, he had a cameo as a butler. Over the past year he has had two cameos, one in 2013 and most recently in Series 5, which will premiere in the US in January 2015:

In last year’s Christmas special he played the Lord Chamberlain to King George V and in the series finale he played a brigadier. 

Attention to detail as well as Julian Fellowes’s concept and writing has helped to ensure that Downton Abbey is a much appreciated television programme.

Despite the relaxed attitudes in our society, the popularity of Fellowes’s and Bruce’s work proves that we still value precision and accuracy.