DVD review: “Upstairs Downstairs” (1971 – 1975)

“Upstairs Downstairs” (1971 – 1975)

Television/Drama

Sixty-eight Episodes

Created by: Jean Marsh, Eileen Atkins, John Hawkesworth and John Whitney

Featuring: David Langton, Rachel Gurney, Simon Williams, Nicola Pagett, Gordon Jackson, Angela Baddeley, Patsy Smart, Jean Marsh, George Innes, Evin Crowley, Pauline Collins, Christopher Beeny, Jenny Tomasin, John Alderton,Meg Wynn Owen, Lesley-Anne Down, Jacqueline Tong, Hannah Gordon, Gareth Hunt, Karen Dotrice and Joan Benham

James Bellamy: [during shooting] “Tell me, do you ever regret not becoming a gamekeeper like your father?”

Hudson: “I never believe in dwelling on what might have been. sir.”

Released recently in a brand new box set is the now classic “Upstairs Downstairs” (1971 – 1975) what must be seen as the precursor for quality English drama as well as the Julian Fellows created “Downton Abbey” (2010 – 2015) whose show is narratively similar if not completely based on. Of course after the latter show it seems that “Upstairs Downstairs” should be rife for re-discovery as it explores some of the same themes but also has some of the best English character actors of the time including Gordon Jackson, Pauline Collins, Lesley-Anne Down and Gareth Hunt amongst many many others.

The series basically depicted the lives of the wealthy Bellamy family (“upstairs”), who reside at 165 Eaton Place in London’s fashionable Belgravia, and their servants (“downstairs”).

“Upstairs, Downstairs” was considered groundbreaking at the time of its release because there had never before been a drama series on British television that examined society from the servants’ point of view. The serie became the most popular drama series on TV at the time, picking up over twenty-five awards, including the rare Peabody Award and two BAFTA’s, during the course of its run.

From a gender point of view the life below stairs for women would remain essentially the same from one series to the next with few exceptions. Their were multiple plots that involved the maids trying to make a better life but would be derailed for one reason or another. The same could be said for the ladies upstairs, they are seen as accessories for their husbands by working the social strings in the background, and to fulfill their duty to produce children.

If you are an avid “Downton Abbey” viewer then this series is a must watch it covers similar ground but has at its heart something that will be instantly recognisable, that is human drama from over a hundred years ago that in some ways is still with us now. The other element that I like in particulate is seeing how the series was produced with archetypal characters that in some ways are timeless but are also refreshingly transparent, that is as an audience member you know how people will behave even if it is against their own self interest, something we see everyday.

I highly recommend this series to own alongside “Downton Abbey”, it not only illustrates perfectly how the past influences the future, but also how subjects of stories remain current, even though they are over fifty years old.

Video

The full-screen, 1.33:1 black & white and colour transfers for “Upstairs, Downstairs” look good, considering how vintage English TV programs from this period generally go. The black & white videography is sharper but darker than the more blown-out colour episodes. Typical anomalies associated with early 70s videography are present here (flaring, video noise), but they’re minimal.

Audio

The Dolby Digital English mono audio tracks are entirely serviceable, with a relatively strong re-cording level, low hiss, and English subtitles to help.  

Special Features

Audio Commentaries

Original black & white pilot episode is included, with the alternate ending explaining Sarah’s exit from the Bellamy house. 

The Making of Upstairs, Downstairs 

Simon Williams and Alfred Shaughnessy in Conversation

Russell Harty Goes Upstairs, Downstairs, a 30-minute show where interviewer Harty visits the sets of the series the day after it has wrapped its series’ finale.

Episodes

Series One

On Trial: On a crisp autumn morning in 1903, a young woman seeks employment in a fashionable London townhouse.

The Mistress and the Maids: Richard Bellamy engages an artist to paint a portrait of his beautiful wife, Lady Marjorie.

Board Wages: Matters get out of hand when the servants mock their employers while the family are away on a summer holiday.

The Path of Duty: Elizabeth returns from studying abroad and the household are in a frenzy, preparing for Elizabeth’s entrée into London society.

A Suitable Marriage: Elizabeth decides not to marry Angus and is captivated by a German-baron visiting England at Christmas.

A Cry for Help: Richard’s genuine concern for the new house parlormaid has eyebrows raised and tongues wagging.

Magic Casements: Her sense of duty and loyalty are severely compromised when Lady Marjorie has a passionate affair with a friend of James, with whom she falls deeply in love.

I Dies from Love: Upstairs, Lady Majorie and friends plan an outing for the servants. However, Downstairs there is romantic intrigue going on between Emily and the next door footman.

Why Is Her Door Locked?: Months after Emily’s death, a grief-ridden Mrs. Bridges takes leave of her senses.

A Voice from the Past: In an effort to help the poor in London’s East End, James and Elizabeth come face-to-face with a downtrodden Sarah .

The Swedish Tiger: James entertains a visiting Swedish friend and Sarah is the prime suspect when valuable household objects go missing.

The Key of the Door: On the eve of her 21st birthday, Elizabeth is utterly defiant and, consequently, on the brink of a complete breach with her parents. 

For Love of Love: Despite their disdain for social conventions, Elizabeth marries Fabian socialist and poet, Lawrence Kirbridge, in a traditional church service and all of its trappings.

Series Two

The New Man: Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Kirbridge return from their honeymoon and set up their new household in nearby Greenwich.

A Pair of Exiles: Sarah tells James she’s having his baby and the Bellamys make provisions to avoid a major scandal.

Married Love: The strained Kirbridge marriage has yet to be consummated, causing Elizabeth great unhappiness in her quest to make a happy life with Lawrence and her great desire to start a family. As it happens, Lawrence’s interests lie elsewhere.

Whom God hath Joined…: When Elizabeth arrives at Eaton Place for tea, it becomes increasingly evident that she’s left Lawrence after their six-month marriage.

Guest of Honour: Mrs. Bridges is the envy of every cook in Mayfair and Belgravia when King Edward VII dines at Eaton Place.

The Property of a Lady: A tangled web of duplicity is woven when love letters in Lady Marjorie’s delicate hand fall into the tawdry hands of a scheming Irishman.

Your Obedient Servant: Richard and Hudson realize the complicated fraternal relationship when their respective brothers visit London.

Out of the Everywhere: Elizabeth returns home with her newborn daughter, Lucy, and the very disagreeable and old Nanny Webster, to look after “Baby”.

An Object of Value: Everyone’s nerves are frazzled when Lord Southwold dies, Lady Southwold and her companion, Miss Hodges, spend a some time with Richard and Lady Marjorie and a valuable diamond brooch goes missing.

A Special Mischief: Elizabeth joins the suffragette movement, but in her effort to protect her, Rose is imprisoned.

The Fruits of Love: Sweet pillow talk is very useful to Elizabeth’s new lover, wealthy businessman Julius Karekin and Lady Marjorie and Richard are in the throes of losing their beloved Eaton Place.

The Wages of Sin: Sarah is pregnant with Watkins’ baby and Lady Marjorie has run out of patience with both of them.

A Family Gathering: Elizabeth’s affair with Julius is over, James returns to England with his fiancée, Phyllis, and a major event marks the end of an era.

Series Three

Miss Forrest: In the spring of 1912, Lady Marjorie prepares to visit Elizabeth in New York and James takes an interest in Richard’s comely and respectable new secretary, Miss Forrest.

A House Divided: News of the Titanic disaster arrives at Eaton Place, and the entire household anxiously await word of Lady Marjorie’s fate.

A Change of Scene: James’ weekend visit to Somerby Park, with Hudson in tow as his valet, presents an opportunity for both to appreciate their beloved Eaton Place and what they’ve left behind there.

A Family Secret: The race is on downstairs — who will marry first upstairs — Captain James or his father, Richard?

Rose’s Pigeon: Alfred, the former Bellamy footman, is on the run and dupes Rose and uses her kindness as a shield from the law.

Desirous of Change: Hazel Bellamy assumes her role as mistress of the household with great trepidation and Richard becomes the quarry of a bounty-hunting Austrian woman and her wily and rapacious brother.

Word of Honour: Richard Bellamy, who has been in considerable financial distress since the death of Lady Marjorie, finds himself at the center of a insider trading firestorm in his capacity as a member of Parliament.

The Bolter: Hazel’s first substantial encounter with fashionable society causes her great humiliation, marital distress and a near-fatal accident, when she and James visit Lord and Lady Newbury at Sommerby Park.

Goodwill to All Men: It’s Christmas 1913 and two young ladies, one from upstairs and the new parlor maid, conspire to spread holiday cheer to the less fortunate.

What the Footman Saw: A leisurely evening out with his chums, a few beers and some downstairs gossip give Edward a bigger headache than any hangover ever could.

A Perfect Stranger: While running an ordinary errand, Rose’s life takes an extraordinary turn.

Distant Thunder: The disparity between James’ and Hazel’s background is cut wide open when Hazel suffers a miscarriage.

The Sudden Storm: A downstairs dalliance and a happy outing to a seaside resort divert the staff as war looms on the European continent.

Series Four

A Patriotic Offering: In a gesture of goodwill, the Bellamys offer generous hospitality to a family of Belgian refugees and Edward is feeling increased pressure to enlist.

News from the Front: James is home on leave and offers a realistic account of what is really happening on the front and Daisy and Edward announce their engagement to Hudson.

The Beastly Hun: The sinking of the Lusitania has Hudson on a tirade and his anti-German fervor pervade the servants hall. Upstairs, Richard is made Civil Lord of the Admiralty in the newly-formed coalition government.

Women Shall Not Weep: Edward and Daisy marry before he’s sent to France and Georgina becomes a volunteer nurse.

Tug of War: James yearns for a regimental post at the front and Rose volunteers to become a conductorette as the war rages on.

Home Fires: Lady Prudence hijacks the Bellamy drawing room for an officers tea party and in her new job as conductress, Rose collects a fare from a very special passenger.

If You Were the Only Girl in the World: Hazel romances a shy pilot with mad abandon, James and Georgina meet in France on the eve of a major military campaign.

The Glorious Dead: Sadly, perhaps inevitably, tragic news arrives for someone at Eaton Place.

Another Year: At the end of a very difficult year, the New Year is full of hope and augurs well, especially for Richard Bellamy.

The Hero’s Farewell: Lady Prudence finally gets hold of the Bellamy drawing room for a worthy cause.

Missing Believed Killed: Their nerves in tatters, Hazel and Richard do all they can to unearth any information about James.

Facing Fearful Odds: Virginia Hamilton returns to Eaton Place, seeking Richard’s advice on an urgent matter.

Peace out of Pain: While James is convalescing, Richard proposes to Mrs. Hamilton, Edward comes home, and Hazel comes down with the Spanish flu as the war draws to an end.

Series Five

On with the Dance: It’s June 1919 and a jubilant Victory Parade passes 165 Eaton Place — but with the new family dynamic, what’s to become of the beloved Bellamy townhouse?

A Place in the World: As Britain tries to rebound from the war, James Bellamy runs for political office.

Laugh a Little Louder Please: Georgina and her cohort throw a bacchanal at Eaton Place, with tragic consequences.

The Joy Ride: When James buys a small airplane, Virginia defies Richard and the three undergo quite an ordeal. 

Wanted – a Good Home: It’s the new governess against the entire staff when young William and Alice get their wish — an adorable puppy.

An Old Flame: A lonely James has an affair with the very married Lady Newbury.

Disillusion: It’s spring and Hudson’s fancy wreaks havoc on the entire household.

Such a Lovely Man: Two bachelors pitch the woo to two ladies in the Bellamy household.

The Nine Days Wonder: The entire household comes together when a General Strike is called throughout Britain in May 1926.

The Understudy: On the eve of an important dinner party for a French diplomat, Hudson suffers a heart attack.

 Alberto: Frederick considers his future when he feels his talents are largely wasted in the Bellamy household.

Will Ye No Come Back Again: Hudson is back in his element when the Bellamys travel to Scotland for their summer holiday.

Joke Over: After an evening of dissipated behavior and a reckless drive into the countryside, Georgina must appear at a coroner’s inquest, when one of the locals is killed.

Noblesse Oblige: Better the devil you know than the one you don’t is the lesson Mrs. Bridges and Ruby learn after a terrible row. Upstairs, Lord Stockbridge proposes to Georgina, but there’s a catch.

All the King’s Horses: James returns to England, with new found vigor and untold wealth, on the eve of the October 1929 stock market crash.

Whither Shall I Wander?: After nearly 30 years, the Bellamy saga ends with the sale of 165 Eaton Place and a fresh beginning for every member of the household.

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