Welsh hero Simon Weston calls the shots as World War One engulfs Downton Abbey

MILLIONS of fans were engrossed in Downton Abbey's portrayal of a vanished way of life.

And, as the aristocratic period drama, which costs £1m an episode, returns for a second series, the characters' lives are torn apart with the onset of World War One.

The traumatic storylines have prompted producers of the hit show to call up Simon Weston - the Falklands veteran who suffered extensive facial disfigurement when the ship Sir Galahad was bombed in 1982 - to act as an adviser.
Simon Weston

The 50-year-old former Welsh Guardsman met actor Trevor White in a London coffee shop to discuss his role as soldier Patrick Gordon in the new episodes due to be shown this autumn.

Caerphilly-born Simon said yesterday: "He wanted to know some things about disfigurement and what it should look like. I told him about different sores and what it would like and how it can be around the edges of a skin graft.

"There is always scarring that does not heal, and to make it authentic I told him he would not be able to shave around it so you end up with little tufts of hair."

Simon also offered guidance on dealing with explosions, mustard gas attacks and bullet and shrapnel injuries.

He called the Canadian, who speaks French, German, Italian and Spanish, a "super fellow".

"We got on incredibly well to be honest," he said.

"I think roles like this for actors and actresses are quite demanding. because they are so challenging. It's not like playing another character because you are taking on so many other things. Your role has impact."

The ex soldier, who served in Berlin, Northern Ireland and Kenya before being deployed to the Falklands, said it was "a privilege" to be asked for advice for the war-themed plot.

The new series sees Downton Abbey become a convalescence home for the sick, wounded and infirm. Some scenes shot at the stately home, Berkshire's Highclere Castle, feature amputee actors.

Producer Liz Trubridge said: 'We had incredible extras. Some used in the war scenes were ex-soldiers. Some of the amputees were war veterans, or people that had lost limbs in accidents.

"Others were real aficionados [of the First World War].

"We were very fortunate that we came across a wonderful man called Taff Gillingham, who owns a set of trenches just off Ipswich, so we filmed the battle scenes there."

The award-winning drama, which attracted at its peak more than 11.4 million viewers an episode last year prompting ITV to increase its run from the initial series seven to eight, used specialist agencies Amputees in Action and VisABLE People. The team also worked with Armed Forces charity Help for Heroes, founded by Welsh couple Bryn and Emma Parry.

One extra, Simon Green, 44, lost his arm in a motorbike accident 18 years ago.

He said: "I get blown up in the trenches. I'm not sure how bloody it will be but I think it is a more realistic way to do those kind of scenes."

Fellow amputee Jonathan Clipton, also 44, said it had been a good way to network and share experiences.

"We have all been through a lot and this is a positive, fun, way of getting on with life," he added.

Creator Julian Fellowes said: "The heart of this series is how everyone copes with the country being at war. None of them is unaffected. All of them change. And death does not entirely pass Downton Abbey by."

He added that the new series would show women's efforts to keep the country going while the men were away.

The first series, set in 1912, starring Hugh Bonneville and Dame Maggie Smith, was a huge hit in more than 100 countries.

This year there will also be a Christmas special, set after the war in December 1919. And a third series, expected to be set in the 1920s, is being planned.

Yet Mr Weston admitted he had never seen the show.

"It's on a Sunday night and there is always sport on," he said.