WORLD War One came as a blow to South Yorkshire actor Thomas Howes.
While it was not the true tragedy it was to those living 100 years ago, it brought and end to the Doncaster lad’s spell as one of the stars of one of Britain’s biggest TV hits Downton Abbey.
Woodlands-born former Danum School pupil Thomas, who played footman William in the show, was missing from the Christmas special, the most viewed programme on December 25.
That was because the character had died of wounds suffered in the trenches at the end of the last series.
But Thomas, aged 25, who has been a well known figure in South Yorkshire drama circles since childhood, was among those following the festive special, and says he was delighted to have a dramatic ending for William.
He said: “I had known about this since January, while you all didn’t find out until September, so I’ve had plenty of time to get over it.
“Obviously I was very sad to leave the show and the delightful team, but if you do have to go, then I could not have wished for a better exit than I got!
“They dealt with it in such a generous way. Liz, the producer, phoned me personally to tell me in January before anyone else, even before they told my agent.
“She said they loved my acting and they loved me, and she said telling me was the hardest thing she’s ever had to do, but it was simply what the story needed. If we were to show the realities of that time, as Anna says in the show, we couldn’t be the only house left untouched.
“My exit was a glorious one! They brought music into my dressing room at lunch and we danced around like nobody’s business!
“Then at the end of the day, the producers laid on an entire champagne reception just for me. It was so sweet of them. And they presented me with a framed signed photo of all the cast too. It was a remarkable day.
“Plus they generously paid me for the entire series even though I obviously didn’t film all of it, so eventually I was getting money for nothing! That is a type of generosity that you very rarely get in this business.”
Despite William’s death, Thomas is still watching the show, and says he has a deep investment in the story and the characters.
He said: “It’s such a rich tapestry that I think will run and run, and I’m honoured to be a part of it.
“Someone pointed out to me recently that in a way they’ve done me a favour - instead of being stuck forever in one show, being known for just one part, I’ve had a great two series out of it, with amazing storylines, and a deathbed scene many actors wait 20 years for, and now, having got what I needed out of it, I am free to move on to other things, and hopefully eventually be known, not just as William from Downton, but as Thomas Howes the actor, with many varied and interesting credits to my name.”
Since leaving the Abbey, Thomas has remained busy. Earlier this month he was at The Dearne Valley Playhouse, a venue he loves, in the show What the Dickens Returns, produced by the 2Act Theatre Company.
He has also shot a movie version of Anna Karenina, which includes big name stars Keira Knightley, Jude Law, and Matthew MacFadyen. Thomas said he initially thought he had not chance of landing that role - but added he had felt the same way when he auditioned for Downton Abbey.
He also filmed the drama United, shown on the television last year, about the Busby Babes and the Munuch Air Disaster. Thomas played Yorkshireman Mark Jones, one of the players killed in the crash.