Day 6

Keeping up with the Crawleys: This low-budget YouTube spoof is Downton Abbey, but with stuffed rats

'Cadillac' Bill Boyd-Wilson spoofs Downton Abbey in his YouTube series Downton Alley. In the videos, the Crawleys live in a cardboard box in an alley and are played by stuffed rats.

'The last name of the Crawleys is perfect for rats,' says creator 'Cadillac' Bill Boyd-Wilson

Lady Eat It and Matthew of 'Cadillac' Bill Boyd-Wilson's Downton Abbey spoof, Downton Alley (Laurie Allan/CBC)
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At first glance, a stuffed rat wearing a top hat and suit might be a bit confusing, but for Bill Boyd-Wilson, it was a source of inspiration.

Boyd-Wilson is a Hamilton-based musician and cable TV host, better known as Cadillac Bill. He's also the creator of Downton Alley, an online spoof of the popular British TV series Downton Abbey.

Downton Abbey portrays the life of luxury and elegance of an upper class family and their relationships with their servants. In Downton Alley, that noble family is portrayed by stuffed rats. 

First made popular in an online video series, Downton Alley is now also available as a book.

Stuffed rat inspiration

Boyd-Wilson was inspired to create the spoof series after interviewing Hamilton taxidermist Ankixa Risk on his cable TV program, The Cadillac Bill Show.

"I was surrounded by all of these stuffed rats and I figured, 'I've got to use these rats in a movie somehow'," explained Boyd-Wilson.

"And everyone was going on about Downton Abbey, so I thought I'll do Downton Abbey because all of Ankixa's rats are dressed in Victorian costume anyway."

The Granthams and Crawleys are filmed not in a stately manor, but in a large cardboard box set in an alley in downtown Hamilton.

"I just went to a grocery store and found some boxes and the biggest box was a toilet paper box," said Boyd-Wilson. "I figured a toilet paper box would be perfect for it."

The indoor scenes are filmed in an old, three-story Barbie house, which was wallpapered with garish Christmas wrapping paper.

The walls are lined with tiny dollar-store frames that Boyd-Wilson filled with pictures of rats.

Photos of rats line the walls of the Grantham and Crawley homes in Downton Alley (Laurie Allan/CBC)

Lady Hairy

Before creating the spoof series, and for a long time after, Boyd-Wilson had never watched a single episode of Downton Abbey

To create Downton Alley, he worked from the scripts from the original series, changing some scenes to accommodate rat life.

For example, in the first episode when the Granthams learn that the heir to their family fortune has died in the sinking of the Titanic, Boyd-Wilson added the line: "But us rats are always the first off a ship. Surely they were picked up."

He also changed some of the characters' names. Lady Mary became Lady Hairy. Lady Edith became Lady Eat It. But some of the original names were suited to his stuffed rat spoof.

Lord and Lady Grantham of Downton Alley (Laurie Allan/CBC)

"The last name of the Crawleys is perfect for rats, so I didn't change that," said Boyd-Wilson with a laugh.

Wilson recently hosted a book launch for his self-published book version of the series, which he describes as a graphic novel that uses stills from the video series.

Books are limited and can be obtained directly from Boyd-Wilson.

Boyd-Wilson jokes that as a musician with Cadillac Bill and The Creeping Bent he's never been called for a radio interview for his music.

"You guys actually called me because I made a little film about rats. And now a book. So this is my legacy," laughed Boyd-Wilson. "This is all I've got to be proud of in my life. So I'm thrilled. I'm thrilled I did something."


To hear more from Cadillac Bill, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above.

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