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Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville's mum's espionage links revealed

The actor's mother worked for MI6 in London

hugh bonneville
Eve Crosbie
Eve CrosbieTV & Film Writer
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Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville's mother had quite an unusual career. Appearing on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs back in 2016, the 57-year-old revealed that his late mum Patricia worked at MI6 when he was a child, but he had no idea!

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However, long into her retirement, his mother refused to say what her work had involved, leading the Robert Crawley actor to suspect that she "might have been a spy".

"When I was about ten, she said, 'I am going to go and take a job for three days a week'," he recalled. "I burst into tears and said: 'You are leaving me, you hate me, I am going to pack my bags and leave now, you are an awful mother.'"

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However, his suspicion that his mother worked for British intelligence only arose by chance decades later. He explained: "Spin forward 30 more years and she'd retired. We used to drop her off at her office sometimes at Lambeth North. I opened the newspaper one day, and it said 'Century House MI6 building to be sold'.

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"I looked at the photograph and said, 'Mum, that's your office.' And she said, 'Mmm, yes dear.' I said, 'You're a spy?'. She said 'No, I'm not a spy dear.'"

hugh bonneville childhood

As a child Hugh had no idea about his mother's MI6 links

Hugh sadly never got to the bottom of it as his mother - who was known as 'the Colonel' by friends and neighbours - died in 2015 at the age of 85. After her death, the actor said, he probed his father whether she had ever discussed the work, but, "He said: 'Never – she just went to the office.'"

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In the same interview, Hugh also opened up about his formidable on-screen mother, Dame Maggie Smith and admitted that he still felt "terrified" every time it came to film scenes with her for the ITV show.

hugh maggie smith

Hugh has admitted that he still feels nervous filming scenes with his on-screen mother Dame Maggie Smith

"I can remember the very first scene I did with her and I was absolutely terrified, and I think I can remember the last scene with her and I was absolutely terrified," he said of the award-winning actress, who stars as the matriarch of the Crawley family, Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham.

"She is the most astonishing actress. Her wit is legendary, as you say, and she doesn't suffer fools. And you raise your game, you have to."

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