Ahhh yes a classic 1970s’ television drama. My mum used to watch this every week, without fail. Myself, given I was under 10 at the time wasn’t interested. I have however, watched it all since then, at least twice and what a great series it is. Upstairs Downstairs is set at 165 Eaton Place (in London’s Belgravia not far from Sloane Square, Buckingham Palace and Harrods; Eaton Place really exists although there isn’t a 165) from the turn of the century and covers the early 1900s, the First World War and through into the “roaring twenties”. The programme covers five series in total and stars Gordon Jackson (The Professionals), Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine), Jean Marsh (the “new” Upstairs Downstairs), Lesley-Anne Down (North And South), Hannah Gordon (she “murdered” Orlando Bloom in Midsomer Murders!), Ian Ogilvy (Return Of The Saint), Gareth Hunt (he who used to shake coffee beans on that annoying coffee advert! Also The New Avengers) and many others, although the ones mentioned are probably the most “well known”.
The series tells the story of the household from 2 perspectives, the “upstairs” family, the head of which is a Conservative (yeah the same ones that just won the UK 2015 General Election) politician married to a lady (as in noble “lady”) and their children; then the “downstairs” family of servants, the butler the cook, parlour maids, footmen and chauffeurs and so on. Various “dilemmas” occur in the series, and the series shows how both sides of the household react to and deal with these. From a social history point of view it shows how society was changing during this period as we moved from the industrial revolution and the gap between the upper and working classes narrowed due to the First World War, the stocks and shares boom of the late 1920s and increasing employment opportunites.
Most of the series is filmed “indoors”, in the sense it is like a play in a theatre (indeed the door to the morning room can be seen “wobbling” somewhat on occasion!) and being of the 1970s wasn’t filmed with a constant “soundtrack” like many modern drama series. The first few episodes are in black and white (something to do with a strike by television workers at the time I believe) but the rest are in colour. The occasional episode, for context, is of course filmed outdoors or in differing locations but the series mostly revolves around 165 Eaton Place (apparently they actually used 65 and put a 1 in front of the number when filming! As I said earlier there isn’t a 165. I actually went that way the other day when I was in London and aside from the Bugatti outside it has hardly changed since the 1970s.
I don’t want to say too much about the plot (spoilers!) in case you haven’t seen it but if you’ve not seen it, and have seen the “new” Upstairs Downstairs you really should consider seeing this. It was one of the great television dramas of the 1970s, up there with the likes of Secret Army and is strongly recommended viewing because it’s not only entertaining but also informative giving us an insight into Edwardian life.
I give it 9 out of 10.
You can buy individual series (there’s 5 in all) but if it was me buying I’d “bite the bullet” and get the “complete” boxset especially considering it’s the cheaper option in the long run: