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Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-75)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

'On Trial', originally transmitted on
Written by Fay Weldon, directed by Raymond Menmuir (black and white version by Derek Bennett *)

November 1903. 'Clemence' arrives at the main entrance of the Bellamy household, looking for work. She is told to enter by the servant's entrance. A suspicious Rose lets her in. Lady Marjorie decides to engage Clemence 'on trial' as the under house parlour maid but insists that she change her name to 'Sarah'. At lunch Sarah tells the rest of the staff that she is of French origin and of noble birth. She also claims to be able to tell fortunes and to be an proficient seamstress. Everyone except the maid Emily disbelieves her. Rose goads her into saying something in French, convinced that she is lying. Sarah, however, finally relents and sings a song in French.

Rose and Sarah get up at 5.30 the next morning. Rose gives her the list of her duties but realises that Sarah can't read so she promises to help her get organised. In the kitchen, Sarah sees the cook sell a chicken taken from the larder and keep the money. Sarah goes out without permission and when another chicken is found to be missing she is accused of the theft. She admits it, saying that if the cook can then why can't she. The staff initially say they will have her arrested, but in the end make her confess that she has not been to France and that her claims to nobility are all lies. Mr Hudson, the butler, asks her to repent by making her copy out sections from the bible, but Sarah tearfully admits that she can neither read nor write.

Richard Bellamy and Lady Marjorie return home late after an evening out. She admits that she hates change but also warns him of their increasing dependence on their servants as a result of their lifestyle.

Alfred the footman accosts Sarah on her way to bed and frightens her. Rose tells her that he is slightly 'touched' and suffers from bad nightmares. In bed that night Rose tells Sarah of her early life and her occasional regret about her mother's decision to put her into service at a young age. Sarah thanks Rose for being so friendly. Rose combs her hair and tells her that they must all stick together and look out for each other.

* Due to industrial action by camera staff, "On Trial" and several other early episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs were made in black and white. The original version was directed by Derek Bennett. This was later remade in colour by Raymond Menmuir when the dispute was resolved. A special ending for this episode was also shot so that it could bridge the gap between this first episode and the next colour episode, as many broadcasters were unwilling to show both colour and black and white episodes together.