Yet another in UK television's long and illustrious history of producing period drama of the very highest quality, Upstairs Downstairs was originally conceived as a comedy vehicle for co-creators, actresses Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins. However, on approaching experienced producer's John Hawkesworth and John Whitney, the seasoned veterans reworked the premise, wisely promoting the dramatic elements of the format to centre stage and relocating the main settings to an Edwardian town house in London.
Eventually the show went into production at London Weekend Television, who, following a change in the company's management, lost faith in the fledgling series potential. The programme was left languishing on the shelf for six months before eventually being allocated a 10.15pm Sunday night slot. Regardless of the late time-slot it quickly confounded expectations by gathering both viewers and critical acclaim from the outset.
In addition to excellent production design and first class writing, the series boasted an impressive cast headed by Gordon Jackson as Hudson, the loyal and conscientious butler to the Bellamy family. Jean Marsh herself played Rose, the upstairs parlour maid, while Pauline Collins was outstanding as feisty, fiery maid Sarah. (A role originally earmarked for Atkins, but one which she was unable to take due to prior stage commitments.)
Along with the more overtly traditional emotional turmoils which are a dramatic staple of television period drama, the series elevated itself to classic status by highlighting the effects of a social order and way of life doomed to extinction by the after-effects of the Great War and the end of the Victorian way of life.
During its successful run the series won a number of prestigious awards, both in Britain and the US where it netted an impressive seven Emmys and a Golden Globe. An Ivor Novello award was bestowed on composer Alexander Faris for his theme tune, 'The Edwardians.'
Upstairs, Downstairs was shown in over 70 countries to a cumulative audience of over one billion viewers and spawned a spin-off series (Thomas and Sarah), which starred Collins with real life husband, John Alderton. As elegant and sophisticated as the age it portrayed, Upstairs, Downstairs was a classic series which stands as yet another landmark of quality British drama.
Published on February 10th, 2019. Written by SRH & Laurence Marcus (2000) for Television Heaven.