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Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-75)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-75)
LWT for ITV, tx .10/10/1971-21/12/1975
68x60 min episodes in 5 series, black & white/colour
CreatorsEileen Atkins
 Jean Marsh
Directors includeBill Bain
 Christopher Hodson
 Derek Bennett
Writers includeAlfred Shaughnessy
 Terence Brady
 Charlotte Bingham
ProducerJohn Hawkesworth

Cast: David Langton (Richard Bellamy); Rachel Gurney (Lady Marjorie Bellamy); Gordon Jackson (Hudson); Angela Baddeley (Mrs Bridges); Jean Marsh (Rose); Simon Williams (James Bellamy); Pauline Collins (Sarah); Christopher Beeny (Edward); Jenny Tomasin (Ruby); Jacqueline Tong (Daisy); Lesley-Ann Down (Georgina Worsley)

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The dramatic events in the lives of the Bellamy family and their servants between 1903 and 1930.

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The international success of Upstairs, Downstairs not only brought huge audiences and revenue to ailing broadcaster London Weekend Television but also raised its profile by providing the company with the kind of prestige and critical acclaim it could never reach with its other hits like On the Buses (1969-73).

Created by actresses Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh (the latter played house parlour-maid Rose), the series revolved around the London home of the Bellamy family at 165 Eaton Place in Belgravia. The simple but ingenious premise saw its stories develop along parallel lines in the overlapping worlds of the aristocrats and their servants. Richard and Lady Bellamy rule the house from 'upstairs' along with their children James and Elizabeth, while 'Downstairs' is run by the butler Mr Hudson and Mrs Bridges the cook (who eventually marry in the final episode); they oversee many changes of staff over the years, with only Rose and chauffeur Edward remaining for the entire run. Many of the characters leave in spectacular fashion: footman Alfred is caught in flagrante with a German Baron and later executed for murder, Lady Marjorie perishes on the Titanic and simple-minded servant Emily hangs herself after an unhappy love affair.

The scripts cleverly dovetail the plots so that the lives of the upper and lower classes mix and clash, sometimes passionately (as in the affair between lively but troublesome maid Sarah and James Bellamy), but more often in parallel, so as to explore the symbiotic intertwining of the two worlds and their growing mutual dependence. In a neat bit of symmetry, the first episode sees Sarah being turned away from the front door and told to enter by the servant's entrance, while the series concludes with Rose leaving the now empty house by the main entrance.

The first series was set between 1903 and 1909, but the tempo was reduced once the show became a hit, so that it had only reached the end of the First World War by the end of its fourth year, picking up the pace again for the final season, which concluded in 1930.

The influence of Upstairs, Downstairs was enormous and can be seen even in such recent films as Gosford Park (UK/US, d. Robert Altman, 2001), co-starring Eileen Atkins. It also led to Thomas and Sarah (ITV, 1979), a glum and belated spin-off with Pauline Collins and John Alderton reprising their original roles.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. On approval (4:03)
2. Changing values (2:23)
3. Finding your place (4:37)
Complete episode: 'On Trial' (50:19)
Production stills
Atkins, Eileen (1934-)
Collins, Pauline (1940-)
Down, Lesley-Anne (1955-)
Gordon, Hannah (1941-)
Havers, Nigel (1949-)
Hawkesworth, John (1920-2003)
Imrie, Celia (1952-)
Jackson, Gordon (1923-1990)
Marsh, Jean (1934-)
Weldon, Fay (1931-)
London Weekend Television (LWT)