Upstairs, Downstairs is one of the most successful television programmes ever made in the UK. Produced by London Weekend Television for ITV (not, as many people think, by the BBC) and originally screened on Sunday nights from 1971 to 1975, the series has been transmitted in more than 70 countries around the globe and has been watched by an audience in excess of one billion viewers.
What was Upstairs, Downstairs about?
Set in the tumultuous first three decades of the 20th Century, Upstairs, Downstairs told the story of the wealthy and influential Bellamy family, who lived in a large, multi-storey house at 165 Eaton Place, Belgravia, not far from Buckingham Palace. The series began life as a fairly low-budget drama series. In fact, ITV management felt that the series was unlikely to be a success and refused to schedule it for more than six months after it had finished recording. It only saw the light of day when a gap appeared in the schedules at 10.30pm on Sunday evenings. The ratings for Upstairs, Downstairs were much higher than anyone could possibly have anticipated and soon the programme was moved to an earlier primetime Sunday evening timeslot.
Originally devised by actresses Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins as a comedy series (with the working title 'Behind the Green Baize Door') about the lives of servants tending to their upper-class employers, the decision to rework their idea into a drama series paid huge dividends. Marsh and Atkins created a series that not only focused on the lives of the servants, but also delved into the challenges and trials facing the well-connected family living 'upstairs'. Each episode of Upstairs, Downstairs featured a self-contained storyline (Will Lady Marjorie have an affair? Can Sarah cope with the arrival of a fearsome new nanny? Has Rose finally found her ideal man?), but weaving throughout each of the episodes an ongoing storyline developed the characters and their situations in a high-class version of a traditional soap opera.
'Upstairs' - Main Characters and Cast Members
Richard Bellamy (David Langton)
Head of the household, Richard is a well-connected Conservative MP. Although at first sight rather austere and humourless, Richard is in fact a loving and caring husband and father. He treats his servants well, provided that they know how to behave properly and don't do anything to bring scandal upon the family.
Lady Marjorie Bellamy (Rachel Gurney - Seasons 1-3)
Lady Marjorie comes from landed gentry and is the daughter of the widowed Lady Southwold. As a consequence, Lady Marjorie is perhaps even starchier and more traditional than her husband and she is a woman who knows the importance of maintaining the social order. But even Lady Marjorie is occasionally tempted to stray from the straight and narrow...
James Bellamy (Simon Williams)
Richard and Lady Marjorie's son James is, to be rather blunt, a bit of a prat. Exhibiting an over-inflated ego and a streak of unbecoming hedonism, his personality switches from petulant to bullying with great ease. Never one to think too long or hard about other people's feelings, James causes his parents (and in particular his father) no end of heartache.
Elizabeth Bellamy (Nicola Pagett - Seasons 1-2)
Headstrong, feisty and rebellious, Elizabeth is a thoroughly 'modern' young woman — and every traditionalist parent's nightmare. Always willing to throw caution and convention to the wind, Elizabeth's affairs of the heart bring shame and scandal to the Bellamy family. Her determination to 'do the right thing' also leads to near-ruin for both herself and one of the servants...
Hazel Forrest/Bellamy (Meg Wynn Owen - Seasons 3-4)
Hazel first meets the Bellamys when she's employed by Richard to help him write a book on his family history. Soon, the shy, middle-class Hazel falls head over heels in love with louche playboy James. But are their rapid nuptials a case of 'marry in haste, repent at leisure'? And can middle-class Hazel ever truly feel at home amongst the well-heeled socialites?
Georgina Worsley (Lesley-Anne Down - Seasons 3-5)
Bubbly, enthusiastic and just a touch too full of life for her own good, Georgina's arrival at Eaton Place breathes fresh life into a family touched by tragedy, disappointment and scandal. But can the flighty Georgina cope with the onset of the Great War? And will she ever find true happiness - possibly with her cousin James?
Virginia Hamilton/Bellamy (Hannah Gordon - Seasons 4-5)
A beautiful, sophisticated and warm-hearted widow, Virginia Hamilton's path crosses James Bellamy's when he is called to help mount a defence against the charges of cowardice brought against her eldest son. Soon love blossoms between Virginia and Richard, a pair of people who have both lost their original partners.
Lady Prudence Fairfax (Joan Benham)
Haughty, yet well-meaning, Lady Pru is a long-time friend of the Bellamy family and can always be relied upon to lend a shoulder of support to the rest of the characters when needed.
Sir Geoffrey Dillon (Raymond Huntley)
The Bellamys' family solicitor, Sir Geoffrey is pompous, overbearing and thoroughly dislikeable — yet despite this, he regularly saves several of the family from ruin and/or public scandal.
'Downstairs' - Main Characters and Cast Members
Hudson (Gordon Jackson)
Dour, humourless and quick to judge, Hudson is nevertheless an ideal butler for the Bellamy household. He's ruthlessly well organised, knows how to maintain order and discipline amongst his fellow servants below stairs, and is unswervingly loyal to Mr Richard and Lady Marjorie. Indeed, nobody at 165 Eaton Place knows the value of the British class system better than Hudson, and nobody is a more fierce defender of old-fashioned customs, routines and standards of behaviour.
Rose (Jean Marsh)
Hard-working, conscientious and pragmatic, Rose begins her life at Eaton Place as the house parlourmaid, and manages to work her way up to lady's maid by the time the series draws to an end. Dedicated to her work and perfectly happy with having gotten a position working for a 'man of quality' like Mr Richard, Rose never quite manages to find a man to take her away from it all...
Mrs Bridges (Angela Baddeley)
Woe betide anyone who crosses the foghorn-voiced Mrs Bridges in her domain, the household kitchen. A servant of the 'old school' like Hudson, Mrs Bridges expects her kitchen maids and scullery maids to jump to her every beck and call. Underneath it all, she's not actually a bad sort, just very abrupt and determined to serve her betters to the best of her ability.
Sarah (Pauline Collins - Seasons 1-2)
Ambitious, a compulsive liar and easily led into all sorts of trouble, Sarah is the antithesis of Rose's responsible way of behaving. Sarah walks out of her job at Eaton Place on several occasions, but successfully manages to lie, beg or plead to come back. Unfortunately prone to falling pregnant far too often for a 'respectable' servant, Sarah is a troublemaker of the highest order.
Thomas (John Alderton - Season 2)
Initially employed as a chauffeur for Elizabeth and her new husband Laurence Kirkbridge, Thomas appeared at first sight to be an honest, reliable and reputable servant. But beneath it all, there's only one person that Thomas cares about - himself. Able to lie, manipulate and run rings around his fellow servants and employers alike, Thomas is self-serving and utterly untrustworthy. And when he and Sarah pair up, the sparks really begin to fly...
Edward (Christopher Beeny)
Well-meaning but not the sharpest knife in the drawer, Edward is the Bellamys' footman, responsible for fetching and carrying things about the place. Edward starts out in service as a flirty young man, but is dramatically changed by his experiences in the Great War and his marriage to fellow servant Daisy. One of life's unlucky losers, Edward is possibly the most sympathetic character in the whole series.
Ruby (Jenny Tomasin - Seasons 2-5)
If Edward is the most put-upon of the male staff, then it's poor, simple scullery maid Ruby who ends up doing most of the hard, thankless work amongst the female staff. Perpetually bossed about by the tyrannical Mrs Bridges, Ruby simply cannot do anything right — partly due to her own natural incompetence and partly due to being permanently terrified of being shouted at again.
Daisy (Jacqueline Tong - Seasons 3-5)
Young and feisty Daisy represents the generation of servants who slowly realise that this way of life can't last forever — and if there's no job for her in a big house like Eaton Place, what can she do with her life? Loyal and hard-working, yet ambitious for more money, responsibility and freedom (something that older servants like Rose and Hudson would never countenance), the character of Daisy really helps reveal what the great changes in society post-WWI must have been like for women like her.
Frederick (Gareth Hunt - Seasons 4-5)
Frederick was James Bellamy's batman, or assistant, during the Great War, initially arriving at Eaton Place to pass on some bad news to the family. Following the War, he becomes the new footman. Never greatly liked by the other servants, Frederick is another servant with ulterior motives and a propensity for looking after number one.
Emily (Evin Crowley - Season 1)
The most pitiful and tragic of all of the servants to work at Eaton Place, Emily is a young illiterate Irish girl pressed into service to make ends meet. Life for Emily is never particularly joyous, but when she falls in love for the first time, a tragic chain of events is set in motion that culminates in her taking her own life.
Upstairs, Downstairs was loved by the public and was adored by the critics too. During its five seasons it picked up a gamut of gongs. Listed below are some of the prestigious prizes it was nominated for and won:
BAFTA Award (British Academy of Film and Television Art)
- 1972 - Best Drama Series (winner)
- 1973 - Best Drama Series (nominee)
Best Actress, Pauline Collins (nominee)
- 1974 - Best Drama Series (winner)
- 1975 - Best Drama Series (nominated)
Best Actor, Gordon Jackson (nominee)
- 1976 - Best Drama Series (nominated)
Emmy Awards (USA)
- 1974 - Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series - Jean Marsh (nominated)
- 1976 - Outstanding Limited Series (winner)
Outstanding Supporting Actor, Drama - Gordon Jackson (winner)
Outstanding Lead Actress, Drama - Jean Marsh (nominated)
Outstanding Supporting Actress, Drama - Angela Baddeley (nominated)
- 1977 - Outstanding Supporting Actress, Drama - Jacqueline Tong (nominated)
Outstanding Drama Series (winner)
Golden Globe Awards (USA)
- 1975 - Best TV Show, Drama (winner)
Best TV Actress - Drama, Jean Marsh (nominated)
- 1977 - Best TV Actress - Drama, Jean Marsh (nominated)
- 1978 - Best TV Show, Drama (nominated)
Season One, 1903 - 1909
(Transmitted 10 October, 1971 - 5 March, 1972)
A new servant, the rebellious Sarah, joins the Bellamy household. Her smart-alec manner and ambition to achieve something more with her life than simply remain in service lead her into conflict with the other staff and later cause her to catch the eye of the young cad James Bellamy. Life's not much better for some of the other servants, with the unfortunate Emily committing suicide when she's forbidden from seeing her new beau. Meanwhile, Elizabeth, the headstrong daughter of Richard and Lady Marjorie, causes scandal amongst London society by refusing to conform to the standards of behaviour expected from a young lady like herself.
- 'On Trial'
- 'The Mistress and the Maids'
- 'Board Wages'
- 'The Path of Duty'
- 'A Suitable Marriage'
- 'A Cry for Help'
- 'Magic Casements'
- 'I Dies From Love'
- 'Why Is Her Door Locked?'
- 'A Voice From The Past'
- 'The Swedish Tiger'
- 'The Key of the Door'
- 'For Love of Love'
Note: Due to industrial action at the time of recording, episodes two to six were made in black and white. Two different versions of episode one ('On Trial') exist - one to be shown if a broadcaster wishes to 'skip' the black and white episodes (leading into the next colour episode, 'Magic Casements') and one that simply leads directly into episode two.
Season Two, c1908 - 1910
(Transmitted 21 October, 1972 - 19 January, 1973)
Elizabeth discovers that married life isn't all it's cracked up to be when her new husband turns out to be gay. The new footman/chauffeur at the Bellamy household, Thomas, proves to be almost as much of a troublemaker as Sarah — who, incidentally, finds herself pregnant by James (who is then promptly dispatched to serve with the army in India). Mrs Bridges and her new kitchen maid Ruby find themselves stretched to their limits when King Edward VII comes to dinner, and Rose's attempts to stop Elizabeth getting into trouble with the suffragette movement lead to her being imprisoned...
- 'The New Man'
- 'A Pair of Exiles'
- 'Married Love'
- 'Whom God Hath Joined...'
- 'Guest of Honour'
- 'The Property of a Lady'
- 'Your Obedient Servant'
- 'Out of the Everywhere'
- 'An Object of Value'
- 'A Special Mischief'
- 'The Fruits of Love'
- 'The Wages of Sin'
- 'A Family Gathering'
Season Three, 1912 - 1914
(Transmitted 27 October, 1973 - 19 January, 1974)
Tragedy strikes the Bellamy family when Lady Marjorie, en route to visit Elizabeth in America, drowns on board the Titanic. Richard's new secretary Hazel Forrest is swept off her feet by James and soon becomes his wife. However, middle-class Hazel finds it difficult to adjust to the ways of the aristocracy and James begins to realise that their hasty marriage might have been a terrible mistake. Downstairs, Hudson ponders his career with the Bellamy household when he's offered a better position, and Rose falls in love with an Australian farmer. New arrivals at Eaton Place include the good-hearted under-house parlourmaid Daisy and Richard's ward, the bubbly and beautiful society girl Georgina Worsley.
- 'Miss Forrest'
- 'A House Divided'
- 'A Change of Scene'
- 'A Family Secret'
- 'Rose's Pigeon'
- 'Desirous of Change'
- 'Word of Honour'
- 'The Bolter'
- 'Goodwill to All Men'
- 'What the Footman Saw'
- 'A Perfect Stranger'
- 'Distant Thunder'
- 'The Sudden Storm'
Season Four, 1914 - 1918
(Transmitted 14 September - 7 December, 1974)
The winds of war sweep across Europe and the entire Bellamy household is swept up in the chaos of the conflict. James and Edward join the army, Richard finds himself working for the Admiralty and the flighty Georgina faces the true brutality of the war when she becomes a nurse tending to the wounded in the trenches. Many of the servants take jobs helping the war effort, and Hazel does what she can by organising morale-boosting events for wounded officers. However, there's still time for new romances as Daisy and Edward marry and Richard falls in love with beautiful widow Virginia Hamilton. But as the Great War draws to a close, the shadow of death touches people living both upstairs and downstairs at 165 Eaton Place...
- 'A Patriotic Offering'
- 'News From The Front'
- 'The Beastly Hun'
- 'Women Shall Not Weep'
- 'Tug of War'
- 'Home Fires'
- 'If You Were The Only Girl In The World'
- 'The Glorious Dead'
- 'Another Year'
- 'The Hero's Farewell'
- 'Missing Believed Killed'
- 'Facing Fearful Odds'
- 'Peace Out Of Pain'
Season Five, 1919 - 1930
(Transmitted 7 September - 21 December, 1975)
With the war over, all levels of British society find it hard to adjust to life in peacetime, and the same is true of everyone living at 165 Eaton Place. As the 1920s start to roar for the wealthy and glamorous, life remains much the same for the ordinary working men and women. Events such as the 1926 General Strike take their toll, with the servants below stairs beginning to realise that households such as theirs may not be around for ever. However, the future of the Bellamys seems assured when James makes a fortune on the Wall Street Stock Market and reinvests all of the money in yet more stocks and shares...
- 'On With The Dance'
- 'A Place In The World'
- 'Laugh A Little Louder Please'
- 'The Joy Ride'
- 'Wanted - A Good Home'
- 'An Old Flame'
- 'Such A Lovely Man'
- 'The Nine Days' Wonder'
- 'The Understudy'
- 'Will Ye No Come Back Again'
- 'Joke Over'
- 'Noblesse Oblige'
- 'All The King's Horses'
- 'Whither Shall I Wander?'
One of the main reasons why both critics and audiences fell in love with Upstairs, Downstairs was because of the way in which it tied the fictional events in the lives of the Bellamy family to many historical incidents that took place in the early years of the 20th Century. The death of King Edward VII, some months after he had come to dine with the family, hits both the servants and the Bellamy family hard. Lady Marjorie perishes on board the ill-fated RMS Titanic, and the looming storm-clouds of the First World War bring the third season to a conclusion when all of the servants head off to the seaside in an omnibus for their annual day trip out.
The fourth season of Upstairs, Downstairs covers the years of World War I, showing the impact that the conflict had on all levels of British society. With virtually all young able-bodied men volunteering to sign up for the army (and as a consequence many of their jobs being taken by working-class women), the upper classes were largely left to fend for themselves or to 'make do' with far fewer servants. This had an enormous impact on all levels of society. Many people in service suddenly realised that there were other employment possibilities for them. The elite gradually began to realise that the status quo they had enjoyed for centuries was coming to a close. However it wasn't just World War I that claimed thousands of lives across Europe in 1918: the devastating outbreak of Spanish flu that swept the world actually claimed more lives in a single year than the four-year outbreak of the 'black death' (bubonic plague) from 1347 to 1351. In fact, it's estimated that around the world, between 20 and 40 million people died from influenza in 1918 - 19, 200,000 of them in the UK alone. With Upstairs, Downstairs accurately reflecting the harsh realities of life, it makes sense that the 'flu would have to have claimed the life of one of the show's regular characters...
It wasn't just the clever weaving-in to the plotlines of major historical events that made Upstairs, Downstairs seem more real than many other historical costume dramas — it was also the small minutae of life that were regularly featured in the series. The arrival of electricity to 165 Eaton Place, the popularity of the music-halls as a place for public entertainment (indeed, Sarah gets a job as a music-hall performer when she's forced to quit working at 165), the first installation of a telephone, the family's first purchase of a motor car, the servants clustered around a 'wireless' listening to the latest news — all of these small details helped to convey more about the realities of life in the early 20th Century than any number of textbooks or boring lectures could ever hope to do.
The legacy of Upstairs, Downstairs was huge, provoking broadcasters to rush into production a number of similar programmes to capitalise on the show's success. Perhaps the most obvious show to follow in Upstairs, Downstairs's footsteps was BBC One's The Duchess of Duke Street (broadcast 4 September, 1976 - 24 December, 1977). Created, written and produced by many of the same team responsible for Upstairs, Downstairs, The Duchess of Duke Street is also set in the early years of the 20th Century and tells a dramatised account of a true story, that of Rosa Lewis, a kitchen-maid who worked her way up through society to become the owner of the Cavendish Hotel in London's Jermyn Street. In the TV series, we follow the life and adventures of Louisa Trotter as she too progresses from working as a skivvy in a hotel's kitchen through to international fame as the proprietress of the exclusive (and highly discreet) Bentinck Hotel on Duke Street. Louisa Trotter was played by formidable actress Gemma Jones, perhaps now best known for playing Hogwarts' resident nurse Madam Pomfrey in the Harry Potter films and as Bridget's mum in the Bridget Jones films.
One surprising spin-off from Upstairs, Downstairs hit TV screens four years after its parent series drew to a close. Thomas and Sarah detailed the exploits of the two mischief and mayhem-prone servants who had left UpDown at the end of the second series. Once again starring real-life husband and wife actors John Alderton and Pauline Collins, Thomas and Sarah ran for 13 episodes, failing to grab the imagination of the viewing audience in quite the same way as the events of Eaton Place had done.
What The Actors Did Next
Many of the actors involved in Upstairs, Downstairs went on to even greater success. Pauline Collins is best-known for playing the lead role in the movie adaptation of Willy Russell's play Shirley Valentine (for which she was nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award); she was also the lead in BBC One's political drama series The Ambassador.
Jean Marsh (Rose) made a cameo appearance in Alfred Hitchcock's penultimate film Frenzy before becoming somewhat typecast as an evil witch in the Hollywood movies Return to Oz and Willow. Together with her old writing partner Eileen Atkins, Marsh created another long-running period drama series that was much-loved by TV viewers around the world: BBC One's The House of Eliot.
Nicola Pagett (Elizabeth) went on to star in shows as diverse as A Bit of a Do, Ain't Misbehavin' and (playing the title role) Anna Karenina. Hannah Gordon (Virginia) became an icon to a generation of students with nothing better to do in the afternoons as the host of the gentlest of TV programmes, Watercolour Challenge. Lesley-Anne Down (Georgina) abandoned the UK soon after Upstairs, Downstairs finished recording and relocated to Hollywood, where she's made a career for herself playing roles in the Joan Collins mould in programmes like Dallas and (most famously) as arch-bitch Olivia in the so-bad-it's-good soap Sunset Beach.
Gareth Hunt (Frederick) swapped the sedate life of a servant for that of international spying and intrigue when he took on the role of Gambit in The New Avengers opposite Patrick Macnee and Joanna Lumley. He's also very famous for shaking his fist suggestively in a series of adverts for instant coffee. Another actor from Upstairs, Downstairs successfully crossing over from period costume drama to an all-action macho 1970s gun-toting series was Gordon Jackson (the ever-so-respectable Hudson the Butler), who shattered any chance of being typecast by starring alongside Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins in five seasons of The Professionals.
Finally, both Christopher Beeny and Simon Williams have become incredibly famous faces over the years, popping up in programmes like In Loving Memory and The Rag Trade (Beeny) and Agony, Doctor Who and Don't Wait Up (Williams).