"None of that behaviour in my kitchen"... Watching 'Upstairs, Downstairs'

Mel O'Drama

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Series Three
Desirous Of Change



In hindsight (and partly while watching) Desirious For Change is one of those episodes that feels rather disposable and “skippable”. There are two key stories, each of which is neatly resolved by the episode’s end with characters brought in apparently just for this episode to help the arcs play out, before departing within the hour.

Even more curious is that both stories feel a little like reprises of earlier stories.

The story with the fraudsters attempting to dine out on the Bellamys’ riches arguably has echoes of (shudder) The Swedish Tiger. Fortunately, it does improve upon this story considerably while throwing in some ill-fated romance stuff (again, rather familiar from a number of previous episodes).

It’s kind of amusing that Richard’s dalliance with a younger countess proves far less controversial within the household than Hazel’s choice to economise by having cottage pie served for dinner, which sees much eyebrow raising and pearl clutching (and rightly so, given that it’s also the more entertaining storyline of the two).

Incidentally, I’d either not realised or had forgotten that Hazel was now Mrs James Bellamy. There’s a bit of proto-Krystle Carrington stuff with her grappling with arranging menus and managing staff and whatnot, but the “cottage pie for dinner” scene with Hazel’s more ordinary background shining through in the economical-but-efficient touches made me think of Susan Palmer-Hamilton’s cheerful Eighties Dural makeover over in Sons and Daughters. With sarcastic, slightly petulant husband James and supportive, appreciative father-in-law Richard analogous to Wayne and Gordon respectively.

This episode’s downstairs arc has a touch of the familiar with the arrival of the eccentric new under housemaid who has a penchant for making up grandiose and dramatic stories about her past and who quickly gets into trouble for taking items that don’t belong to her. In these regards, Miss Gwyneth Davies is a Welsh version of Sarah.

This story - right down to Gwyneth’s choice to depart abruptly, even after being let off for the thefts and accepted by the downstairs staff after dropping the facade and making herself vulnerable - is effectively a retelling of the original “Sarah leaves” version of On Trial. It’s notable, then, that this is only the second episode Fay Weldon has written since that very first episode.

While my comments on Desirous… could be read as critical or negative, that’s not my overall feeling about it. It was entertaining enough, and Janet Lees Price made Gwyneth herself a really nice tragicomic and quirky character who immediately got a crackling energy going with the other characters who had strong opinions about her. Once again, Rose’s empathy shone through which is always a good thing (even though I wish she still had a bit more of the brittle edge we saw in early episodes).

The humour was especially fun, particularly Gwyneth’s tales of being sexually harassed by her former employer with a wistful dreamy look as she nostalgically described him him undressing her “poor female body” with his eyes: a description that cropped up at least twice, threatening to become one of several catchphrases for Gwyneth (the Welsh accent, period setting and lustful longing reminded me of Rachel "I have my own apartment" Harris from The Magnificent Evans). Despite the rather patchy Welsh accent she could have become a fun regular if written well. I was rather sorry to see her depart.
 

Mel O'Drama

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Series Three
Word Of Honour



Moral dilemmas are frequently hugely worthy of investment and this was no exception. Here, as a result of innocently taking up an investment tip from a fellow MP without knowing the reasons behind it, Richard faces the choice of living with both his political career and the family name in ruins or of breaking his word to reveal his friend’s name.

The situation itself is high stakes and we visit such grandiose environments as Richard’s wood panelled gentlemen’s club and the rooms and halls of the House Of Lords, but it’s the themes of loyalty and integrity which make this one gripping and entirely relatable no matter what the situation.

Once again, Richard is shown to be a man of principle, refusing to - in modern parlance - throw his acquaintance under the bus to save his skin even though (as Hazel points out) said acquaintance has shown no sign of coming forward to support Richard, despite Richard’s disgrace being plastered all over the newspapers.

It’s easy to see why Richard’s refusal to give up the name can be perceived by those around him as bloody-minded or even self-sabotage, but I found myself admiring him for it all the more. He doesn’t bow to pressure or put his own interests first. It’s not even really about the acquaintance. To Richard, his word is sacred, even though it was given before he was fully aware of the implications or full circumstances, his view is that if he goes back on his word then it will never mean anything again. As he says to Hazel, this would be worse for him than prison.

This is one of those assertive, initiative-taking Hazel episodes, where she ropes Hudson into going to the gentlemen’s club to do some sleuthing about the identity of the man who had spoken with Richard (a faulty soda siphon being the Chekov’s Gun of the piece since wetting the man’s trousers was lodged in the mind of someone working at the club).

While assertive Hazel is all good and well, it’s the fallout from her assertiveness that makes it so compelling. Richard is aghast at what he considers her betrayal (and what she considers to be family loyalty) and lets her know in no uncertain terms. He gives the kind of “women should know their place” diatribe which used to be reserved for Marjorie, throwing in how gentlemen’s clubs exist so that women and servants and other people who know no better cannot interfere. It’s all delivered with such passion and sincerity that he quite sells the concept.

Hazel’s role in things being similar to that Richard’s late wife would have played doesn’t help the feeling that she is an ersatz Marjorie in so many ways, and that doesn’t help me feel any more sure of the character. Things have happened so quickly that I simply haven’t had time to accept Hazel. But this is accounted for in the writing, with Hazel still being in many ways the outsider, and Richard viewing this as a key reason why Hazel needs to quickly learn their ways and lose those ways she had been used to before being a Bellamy. And that degree of conflict can only be a good thing.
 

Mel O'Drama

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Series Three
The Bolter



Or A Change Of Scene II: The Return To Somerby. Episode Two of the “spinoff” was shot back-to-back with the earlier visit (tenth and eleventh by studio shooting numbers this year, with The Bolter’s location scenes shot on the following consecutive two days from A Change Of Scene’s outdoor stuff).

The location work is indeed one of this episode’s strengths. Once again, we’re in the great outdoors, basking in the golden autumnal hues as we roam the grand country estate with the characters on the hunt for an unsuspecting fox to watch ripped apart by their hounds.

Fortunately, there’s not a fox to be seen on screen. As well as the upper class grandiosity represented by the hunting pinks, horses and hounds, the toffs cheerfully enjoying the sport of watching a “lesser” animal suffer is simply a metaphoric extension of this entire episode’s main story in which the nasty, bitchy hooray Henry set from A Change Of Scene find their cruel bloodsport in keeping middle class Hazel firmly in her place through a combination of intellectual snobbery and knowing little remarks paired with the advantage of the bond formed within the clique.

This is demonstrated perfectly by the scene in which James and Hazel arrive while conversation is in full flow. The conversation halts, frosty perfunctory greetings are exchanged, then the conversation immediately becomes codish, full of shorthands and references to people and situations that are completely unfamiliar to Hazel. It’s textbook primary school exclusion: there are concessions to James’s presence and social niceties, but Hazel is as good as sent to Coventry and the “Unwelcome” mat placed at her feet.

The gang’s all here from last time round (plus a couple of new faces downstairs) with the “guest stars” in addition to James and Hazel being Rose and Edward (the latter has what I believe is his first on-screen kiss).

The etiquette proves fascinating from the very opening scene in which Hazel is at Eaton Place running herself through the language James has been teaching her in order not to embarrass herself (and more importantly, it’s implied, him). It’s “hounds”, not “dogs”, she observes. And animals don’t have tails: hounds have “sterns” and foxes have “brushes”. I’ve already forgotten what horses have so I’m sure I wouldn’t fare too well at Somerby Park.

And on top of coping with all this, Hazel has James’s old flame Diana Newbury, blatantly flirting with James and kissing him in front of her (and her own husband, Bunny) in the name of fun, with the implicit, unspoken suggestion that this is upper class etiquette that Hazel is too uneducated to understand. And then there’s the letchy old Major, telling Hazel that Diana and James are playing “bed games” in order to make her vulnerable to his own advances.

The scene where the clique persuades Hazel to “surprise” James by mounting a horse and catching up with the hunt against his “orders” is fascinating. They seem genuine and - taken on face value - even supportive. But they know James, and they surely know that this will cause nothing but trouble for Hazel. Diana goes the extra step of switching Hazel’s planned horse for a wilder, friskier one in order to double Hazel’s shame factor.

I find it really difficult to tell which - if any - of the friends are genuine. Bunny seems rather nice (but that could be my Terry & June watching bias), and there’s some genuine anger towards Diana for the horse-switching. But after spending a great deal of time with these characters, I still don’t know what motivates them and I don’t quite get them. That frustrates me, but in the best way possible. I’m intrigued enough to want to see what they do next, and I’m sure I haven’t seen the last of them.

It’s also enjoyable to see James “lapsing” into his more caddish old ways under the influence of his longtime friends. The friction between he and Hazel is great, and James comes across as quite unlikeable and unsympathetic at times, which I really appreciate.

Hazel, by the way, looked great in her riding gear, complete with black veil which gave her a mysterious and almost gothic air. Given her treatment at the hands of the Somerby set (and James) Hazel has become a more sympathetic and fleshed-out character and I feel more connected to her. This could be the episode that sold me on her.

The “bookend” scenes at Eaton Place and featuring Richard were great. His support of Hazel at episode’s end upon learning of the cruel treatment she’s received created a great energy between Richard, Hazel and James. Even better was the opening scene where Hazel confided her worry that she’d make a fool of herself and let James down and he spoke of his first visits to the Southwold estate, reminding her (and us) of his own middle class background and the anxieties that come from changing social strata and the bizarre new “rules” that accompany such a leap. His bitter remembrance that his Oxford education carried no weight in the billiard room perfectly summed up the closed attitudes that made it very difficult to become part of this world.
 

Mel O'Drama

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Series Three
Goodwill To All Men / What The Footman Saw / A Perfect Stranger / Distant Thunder / The Sudden Storm



While it’s not unusual for an UpDown episode to focus on a new arrival to the fold, it felt rather a bold move to have an episode primarily focussing on TWO new characters. And two younger characters to boot. As it turns out, both girls bonding over their status as the newbies - one upstairs, one downstairs - works very well and we spent enough time with them in that first episode for me to feel I “got” them and wanted to know more.

Both characters are filling a gap left by series departures. Georgina Worsley feels like the most obvious replacement. As a young, strong-minded, mildly rebellious brunette young debutante, she’s very similar indeed to the Elizabeth we first met back in Series One.

Georgina doesn’t feel as confident, worldly or independent as Elizabeth, though. She’s a little more whimsical and overwhelmed by it all. Lesley Anne Down gets this across wordlessly in the moment where Georgina is left alone in her room (Elizabeth’s old room, of course) and walks to the window as tentatively as one would approach a land mine. The cynical soap viewer in me wasn’t sure what to make of this and thought it might be a sign that Georgina was about to show her true evil self, when she was simply a young woman looking out of a window to see the view from her new room.

Georgina is very likeable. Rather like a reverse-Hazel, she’s not au fait with the “rules” of this world because as an orphan (she was the stepdaughter of Marjorie’s brother, who went down alongside Marjorie on the Titanic), and in this, her coming out year, she’s still learning. Not being used to servants, it’s natural for her to reach out to the new houseparlourmaid, Daisy - a young woman her own age who is similarly new and overwhelmed.

While Daisy, too, is effectively replacing Sarah (and her short-lived replacements), the character is wisely taken in a very different direction, albeit a less inspired one. Daisy feels like a more generic vision of a houseparlourmaid. Which is perfectly serviceable, since they can’t all be compulsive liars, petty thieves and once-and-future actresses. There’s something a little Dickensian about Daisy, reinforced when she and Georgina steal away (not to mention steal half the contents of Mrs Bridges’ larder) to make a Christmas day visit to Daisy’s impoverished family.

I appreciate that over a century ago the poor were really poor, and I’m sure what’s on screen is a reasonably accurate portrayal. All the same, there’s something about this scene that feels rather too much like a Victoria Wood or French & Saunders spoof of a period drama. There’s one of Daisy’s young brothers running about in rags and she has to guess which one it might be. There’s her mother, breastfeeding the latest little sibling, a vacant look on her face. There’s a strange man in the bed and when Daisy asks where her father is, the mother casually says that he died the previous year. The strange man sees the hampers and starts scoffing all the poultry in the hampers that have been brought. He blocks the kids from getting any, throwing the crumbs onto the floor where the children start scavenging round for what they can get. And to really prove he’s a bad ‘un, he speaks with his mouth full. His name’s Bill, and I think I filled in the gap and heard “Sykes”.

While Daisy came across as a very sympathetic character in this episode, I’ve felt less sure about who she is as the episodes have gone by. There’s a lot of overwrought crying as she’s triggered by situations such as people arguing that seem designed to make her more sympathetic, yet come across as someone trying to edge in on the drama and make it all about them. There’s a romance with Edward and now talk of marriage, though even this makes her seem a little like someone with a game plan. It’s only been a matter of months, after all. Perhaps I’m being harsh. We’ll see.

Speaking of Edward, there follows a third instalment in the Somerby saga, this time with the drama coming home to roost as Edward is overheard speaking in a pub about an extramarital tryst he witnessed there and draws unwanted attention to Eaton Place for his indiscretion when there’s talk of him being called as a witness in messy divorce proceedings involving one of the Somerby toffs - Lord Charles Gilmour - and the powerful Tory associate of Richard’s he’s cuckolded. Initially the episode seems rather disposable, but it ends up connecting things up so well that the continuity is greatly appreciated. It really plays up the themes integral to this series - the upstairs/downstairs rules and etiquette, loyalty, discretion, politics - and utilises them wonderfully to the point of being one of the year’s better episodes. Helping greatly is the fact that it gives David Langton something to get his teeth into.



continued...​
 

Mel O'Drama

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Goodwill To All Men / What The Footman Saw / A Perfect Stranger / Distant Thunder / The Sudden Storm
continued

Rose’s character seems to have changed greatly this year. She’s far more assertive - stridently so at times. More than once she does the unthinkable and raises her voice at Hudson (“You’re not my bleedin’ father” she shouts at him at one point), and she's even rather cold about Lady Marjorie's memory when it's invoked by Hudson (I found this fascinating given the almost universal reverence Marjorie commanded in life and death up to this point). There have been steps in this direction for some time, of course. Certainly her time in Greenwich with Elizabeth, Lawrence and Thomas saw her outlook change. All the same, it still feels rather shocking and almost out of character. Bizarrely, her almost accepting marriage to David from Duty Free (Keith Barron doing a very plausible Antipodean accent as the son of a Yorkshire sheep farmer who has emigrated to Australia. Even more pleasingly, he refers to his “station” which, thanks to The Man From Snowy River, I know to be correct) feels rather more in character, given her romantic side, even if her final choice to turn him down because she panics at the through of leaving service feels inevitable.

Wedding bells are in the air, too, for Mrs Bridges who is taken with a fishmonger. It’s never going to work. Apart from him being uncouth and full of himself, there’s that annoying lip-smacking habit in between every other sentence (well… it certainly put me off him, anyway). Of course, he turns out to be a man who can’t hold his drink and who very publicly blasts poor, smitten Mrs B. with his nasty tongue, spelling the end. But not before some good things come out of it: there’s the servants’ trip to Herne Bay - a sequence which must have cost a bomb in getting all the costuming and seaside dressings correct. And not just the cast, mind you - there are huge crowd scenes on the beach, the pier and at the park with everyone period-correct. Very impressive.

The best thing to come from this episode is a direct reference to something that’s been unspoken since Series One. When things begin to get serious between Mrs Bridges and Albert Lyons the lip smacking fishmonger, Mrs Bridges has a chat with Hudson where she addresses the marriage pact revealed back in Why Is Her Door Locked? She even makes a passing reference to her “troubles” of the time. It’s a wonderful, warm scene for them slipping into using one another’s first names as the conversation becomes more real over their nightcaps. Hudson’s response, that he’ll miss her greatly but nothing must stand in the way of her happiness is very touching indeed, with just an underlying hint of the sacrifice he’s making in that moment and the depth of feeling behind it.

Hazel has emerged as a very sympathetic character in the latter part of Series Two. The strained marriage between she and James has been the backdrop to other ongoing dramas and it’s been surprisingly effective this way. Rather than telling us, her inner sadness has been held entirely behind her eyes. Even Hazel’s miscarriage felt rather like a B-story due to it taking place in a period of time between episodes and us learning about it piecemeal through dialogue.

James’s return to cadville has taken a borderline incestuous turn with him clearly having designs on Georgina. And what better way for him to initiate a potential affair than putting her over his knee and smacking her bottom? I like that I’m not clear on whether Georgina is so naïve she doesn’t realise she’s being seduced or she’s too frightened to say no to his various demands or she’s actually enjoying it all. I suspect the truth is somewhere in between all three.

This incestuousness has in turn got Richard looking at daughter-in-law Hazel with some kind of “oh, but I must fight this” longing and her not appearing altogether horrified by the idea. I do wonder where this is all going to go.

As with the death of King Edward VII in the final episode of Series Two, Britain’s entry into The Great War in the final episode of Series Three feels like a game changer. I really like that instead of an overt cliffhanger, there’s a simple need created for the viewer to come back and see how such a dramatic change to the world around them will affect the characters, and it’s all based on our knowledge of history. It’s certainly been effective with me, since I need to see what turns Series Four will take.
 

Mel O'Drama

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The documentary bonus feature The Story Of Upstairs Downstairs is proving absolutely fascinating. Knowing next to nothing about the background of the series and having actively avoided digging round while watching it's proved informative and I really appreciate how open - even critical at times - the actors and creative team are in their interviews.

While The Story... for the first two series had a little background and then what felt like a quick rundown of most episodes that year, Part Three spent around half its running time on the exit of Rachel Gurney as Lady Marjorie and the arrival of Meg Wynn Owen as Hazel. It was good to see that Meg herself was interviewed.

It's also fascinating to hear the background on the decision to put Lady Marjorie on board RMS Titanic and Rachel Gurney changing her mind about wanting to leave even as they filmed her final episodes. Especially pleasing was to get the background of the terrific scene where we learn the ship's name through David Langton's dialogue as Richard dictates his Marconigram to Hazel. It was actually based on a similar reveal in the Noël Coward play Cavalcade (which I haven't seen but now want to), where two characters are speaking on the deck of a ship and at the end a jacket is picked up from a lifeboat behind them to reveal the legend "RMS Titanic". It was so effective in UpDown, any intellectual theft is forgiven.

Jean Marsh is as open as ever about her views on the series and its topics. She (among others) had thought the return of Roberts, soaking wet in the thunderstorm at night, just too obvious and melodramatic and fought against it. But it was admitted that it worked. It was also great to hear her views against capital punishment spoken even more passionately than Rose as she discussed the hanging of poor Alfred.

It's a little sad, actually, to think that The Story Of... is itself now a period piece, with many participants in the 2006 documentary - including Meg; Christopher Beeny; Nicola Paget and Jenny Tomasin - having died in the relatively short time since it was made. We're extremely lucky to have this time capsule with the voices of the people who were there.
 

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Series Four
A Patriotic Offering / News From The Front / The Beastly Hun / Women Shall Not Weep



The Great War has brought with it a change of tone.

Most notably - for this viewer, at least - we’re turning our view outwards: Eaton Place feels significantly less insular than it has in previous series.

Right from the start, this series has brought the consequences of the war to Eaton Place. First comes the arrival of the asylum seeking immigrants, fleeing the Rape Of Belgium, giving a human face to what up to this point has been viewed by almost all characters as a war that is geographically so far away that it has no bearing at all on their lives.

This is followed by the civil war being fought in the streets of Belgravia, on the doorstep of 165 itself, as friendly neighbourhood bakers the Schoenfelds - suppliers to the household and good friends with Rose and Daisy - seek refuge after anti-German sentiment stirred up by propaganda and press hyperbole sees them driven out of their home which is set alight.

Interestingly, it’s the latter example which really shines a light on Hudson’s characteristic xenophobia. Naturally, he’s not thrilled about the Belgians invading his territory in A Patriotic Offering, but this is greatly diffused by other characters such as Richard and Mrs Bridges who are far more outraged by it than him. If anything, Hudson is the voice of reason here and quick to break bread and offer his compassion to the visitors. But cut to The Beastly Hun, and he is so disgusted by Mr Schoenfeld setting foot in the house that he does the unthinkable and wordlessly departs. Neither feels out of character, thanks to good writing and the information in The Beastly Hun that he’s been consuming - and believing - propaganda magazines filled with conspiracy theories (many of which, I imagine, weren’t untrue given what we now know).

What does seem almost contradictory is Hazel’s response to Hudson’s black and white attitude. Not so much her distaste at his lack of empathy, but her loud protestations to both Hudson and Richard that the Germans are no more capable of such atrocities “than we are”. Given heard first hand accounts of death, rape and horror directly from the Belgians, it seems rather blinkered of her, though I can easily put this down to Hazel desperately wanting to believe the best of people. Throughout this episode Hazel’s response was so strong (at one point she raised her voice in anger while delivering an angry diatribe at her father-in-law for his own attitudes - a concept which would have been almost unthinkable beforehand) that I was awaiting the revelation that her family came from German stock. It was almost a surprise when it never came.

We’ve taken excursions, of course, with previous stop-offs at the Somerby estate and Elizabeth’s marital home, but 165 has generally been a relative haven for its occupants where the routines and the intricate hierarchy within have provided a stability that’s almost timeless. It was established in the very first episode where Rose told Sarah of the safety she feels there. But as more than one character has said, times are changing and things are very different. War has a way of levelling more than just buildings, and that’s beginning to happen here.

Now that we’ve passed the dismissals and denials (one episode saw Hudson sneering at the very idea that London could ever be bombed; in the next episode, shelling could be heard from within the house), we’re beginning - through the characters themselves - to look outwards as never before. We’ve spent time with James on the front line (albeit from the relative safely of his officers’ quarters), and now seem set to do the same with Georgina who has signed up to become a nurse. To date, Georgina’s nursing has been off-screen and - to her - disappointingly mundane (she’s tended old women and cleaned wards), but this could change.


continued...​
 

Mel O'Drama

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A Patriotic Offering / News From The Front / The Beastly Hun / Women Shall Not Weep
continued​

While the entire series so far been extremely watchable (even if I must confess my relieve when the flea-ridden family left the kitchen at the end of the first episode) most effective for me has simply been the sense of the war taking place around them. There’s a dread in the air and it’s becoming more difficult to distinguish which reality is “real”. This was brought home wonderfully in scenes where James returned to 165 for weekend leave but found he could not settle or buy into the more manicured civilian life. He spoke of the clean streets and air, the people going about their business and the umbrellas as things which now seemed quite alien to him.

Coming at this from a different angle has been Edward’s decision to sign up. As pressure was weighing more heavily on him to do so - demonstrated most effectively by an acquaintance of the Bellamys who kept eyeing him up while reminding Hazel that it’s her duty to send an able-bodied man or two to sign up - Edward’s feelings were difficult to read. He appeared understandably nervous and twitchy at the prospect, but this didn’t stop him going and signing up for himself. It could be viewed that he did this before the choice was taken away from him, but there’s also a quiet nobility to his decision. Among all this, he’s also married Daisy, so there’s a Mills & Boon element as well.

The biggest threat to the series’ raison d’être isn’t the threat of gunfire and artillery shells, but that of changing roles. Edward, Georgina and James are but three of the characters who have elected to join the war effort. Hudson himself attempted to sign up. He was turned down due to his poor eyesight, which wasn’t surprising. What was surprising was him saying he was only 38 (though I’m not sure if he was meant to be deliberately lying here in an attempt to ensure he was listed for service). He’s managed to do his bit by instead becoming a Special Constable.

In terms of changing roles, the one that’s potentially even more shocking than Georgina’s desire to change her role is Ruby signing up to work in a munitions factory. I’m saddened to learn this means she can no longer work in the household (has she thought about where she’s to live?), but I hope it’s only temporary. A close up of Hudson’s face mouthing “Oh my God” at the very idea of inept Ruby handling gunpowder gave a lovely moment of levity.

Already, death has visited our characters, and it’s two Georgina-related examples that have resonated and given her a nice journey of growth as a character. First came the death of a young man she was casually dating, with Hazel horrified (again) at Georgina’s lack of care upon hearing the news. The young man had been smitten, and his family believed it serious, but Georgina was continuing to date others, believing that sending young men off with a mile and some hope was doing her bit for the home front. Then came the badly injured man she saw being brought off the train as she insouciantly waved off two of her male friends as they returned to their posts. It was the injured, prostrate soldier's thanks for her offer of a cup of tea (which he was too injured to take) and cigarette (which she helped him drag on) and his immediate death which inspired her to sign up for nursing. I found his death - his gurgling, almost incoherent thanks to her turned out to be his last words - a powerful and surprising moment that really sold Georgina’s immediate change of outlook. I mean, if looking death in the eye doesn’t change one’s perception then nothing will.

Thrown into this whole mix has been politics. Not least James losing face with his superior officer after Sir Geoffrey (boo, hiss) took information James had given him informally over a meal and had it plastered over the headlines for political gain. It’s always done well on this series.

The references to real events - from the sinking of the Lusitania to the sacking of Winston Churchill - are making this a fascinating social document for me, enlightening me and creating interest in some events and facts with which I wasn’t previously au fait. A happy and unexpected bonus of UpDown viewing.
 

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Series Four
Tug Of War / Home Fires / If You Were The Only Girl In The World



The outward view prevails in these episodes and we’ve now travelled further than ever in more than one sense of the word. Now that the war has brought overseas to us there is no turning back. By necessity, even the downstairs world has opened up.

Rose - previously the most passionate advocate of staying within the safe, comfortable walls of 165 - has expanded her horizons, beginning with the decision to take a second job as an omnibus conductress. The very notion would have been beyond belief a short time ago, surprising us and horrifying Rose. As it is, this potentially monumental change has felt perfectly natural.

The biggest shockwave from this decision wasn’t that Rose was stepping out (though the idea, naturally, brought horrified gasps and disapproving scowls from Mrs Bridges and Hudson), but that Rose deliberately betrayed her friend in order to get the job. She’d been shown the advertisement for the post by Daisy who planned to apply for the position herself in order to build a nest egg now that she’s married. And while Rose showed little indication of being interested herself, she later announced that she had signed up to do just that without notifying even Hudson.

Most surprising of all to me was how unapologetic Rose was towards Daisy (“What if I did?”, she haughtily retorted when Daisy accused her of effectively throwing her under the omnibus). This aspect has invested me for several episodes, with Daisy’s anger towards Rose feeling perfectly reasonable. Rose’s edges have softened as the series has progressed and this has been a flash of the character we first saw through Sarah’s eyes, taking the opportunity to remind her colleague that Rose is higher up the pecking order, which comes with some privileges. I’ve been waiting for a dialogue between them, perhaps even an apology of some sort from Rose, but it hasn’t come. Instead there’s now been a thaw between them without any real form of discussion. In short, Daisy has simply had to accept the situation and work with what is given her relatively lowly status. Probably the most truthful outcome.

Rose’s mind has been opened by her own life experiences - something that’s brought vividly to life when a face from her past returns in the shape of Gregory Wilmot, giving us a sequel to Series Three’s A Perfect Stranger. Other faces from that episode return with Gregory’s pal and the old girlfriend who is now married to said pal but clearly still possessive of Gregory and jealous of Rose. Once again, her bitchy comments and obvious contempt for Rose are a bit on the nose, but they help move the arc along so that’s fine. Being most used to him from sitcoms, it’s a little surprising to see that Keith Barron is actually a decent dramatic actor and a surprisingly effective romantic fantasy figure for Rose.

Other returning dynamics for this sequel include the atmosphere between Hudson and Gregory who fell out over political differences in the earlier episodes (something directly referenced here with Rose assuring them that they won’t be talking politics this time). The uncomfortable energy between the two men is fleshed out wonderfully here in a number of one-to-ones, with Hudson initially dismissing Gregory outright, informing him that Rose is busy for the duration of Gregory’s short stay in London and sending him on his way (ironically, given the ongoing troubles between the two houseparlourmaids at this point, it’s Daisy who sneaks after Gregory to direct him to Rose’s omnibus, showing she may be angry but she still cares).

There’s a warm nice moment where Hudson softens towards Gregory when Rose says Gregory wants to see Hudson’s maps of the area where Gregory was in battle, and as the episode progresses it becomes clear that Hudson may remain wary of Gregory, but his approach is out of concern towards Rose. Even Hudson engineering a goodbye letter from Gregory to Rose Katherine Wentworth style (the difference here being he gets Gregory’s agreement by convincing him it’s for the best) can be viewed as coming from some kind of good intention.

The episode, of course, is really about the unfinished business between Gregory and Rose, and Jean Marsh gets some terrific scenes, including a scene of great anger and hurt which - adding to the vulnerability and humiliation - plays out within earshot of Gregory’s nasty little ex. But the conclusion that really comes is that Rose regrets turning down Gregory’s earlier proposal and won’t make the same mistake twice. Meanwhile, Gregory’s lack of emotional investment in the relationship this time round is viewed to contemporary eyes as stemming from a fear of being hurt again. Long story short, the proposal is made and accepted, and Gregory returns to the front (he’s now a Sergeant with the Anzacs) as a fiancé. I can’t help feeling it’s not going to have a happy ending, but we’ll see.

Rose’s line about not wanting to be in service forever is perhaps the most telling about her growth and expanded horizons, since it seems early Rose did want to be in service until the end of her days.



continued​
 

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Tug Of War / Home Fires / If You Were The Only Girl In The World
continued​


Further opening up the series, there’s now a medical-spinoff-within-the-series taking place as we follow Georgina to the hospital to begin her medical career. On paper, lengthy scenes (in some cases almost entire acts) devoted to day-to-day hospital procedures such as bathing sores with iodine and pottering about the sluice don’t sound particularly thrilling. And thrilling they’re probably not. They have been absolutely compelling, though. The ward setting and the sluice with its subway tiles and metallic coldness have provided a delightfully drab backdrop. Most of these scenes taking place during the dark evenings mean they’re full of atmosphere. And there’s lots of dialogue between Georgina and her fellow nurses.

Georgina has broken the rules - being persuaded by her Sloane Ranger nurse friend (who thinks the whole thing a lark) to sneak out to a party during a short break - and it’s come not only with consequences to her career, but to her conscience, since a patient who had come to trust and depend on Georgina died during the night when Georgina had returned late to find herself locked out. It seems death is following Georgina everywhere this year. The stern-but-fair Matron was played by Valerie Lush - best known to me from And Mother Makes Three/Five and French Fields. She’s a terrific character and I was sorry this appears to have been her sole episode since we’ve now followed Georgina to pastures new.

Up to this point in the series we’ve had a “downstairs” view of the world, with overseas an exotic, elusive mystery. Foreign climes are teasingly mentioned with privileged ease by those upstairs upon departing for or returning from their latest little change of scene, or in reference to an absent character (and to explain an actor’s short break or even complete departure from the series. Most notably of late, we’ve had a few little updates on Elizabeth who appears to have remarried and borne a couple of new little heirs). Indeed, it’s been a relatively rare event to see life beyond the walls of 165 Eaton Place.

Now, though, we travel to France with Georgina as she nurses on the front line. The best part, though, isn’t getting to “visit” different places, but watching Georgina grow as both a nurse and person. Ever the English rose, Lesley-Anne Down has proved to be an asset to the series this year, crying real tears and showing genuine grit as Georgina’s ingenuous innocence has given way to a more self-assured adult as she’s blossomed. Oh, and one of her new colleagues in France is none other than Miss Babs herself: Celia Imrie. Never a bad thing.

There's also been a little more of the incestuous frisson between Georgina and James, with an underlying sense that she has come to France specifically to be near him. Their hungry looks and close physical contact upon embracing make me wonder what's still to come with these two.

Back in Belgravia, Hazel’s dalliance with a young airman feels rather like a spiritual remake of Lady Marjorie’s affair with Captain Hammond back in Series One’s Magic Casements. This time round, though, it appears to be a far more chaste affair, with a passionate kiss seeming to be the extent of Hazel’s infidelity. It is still a betrayal, though, and this being a case of emotional infidelity makes this perhaps even more fascinating. Hazel and James’s marriage has always been rather strained and James’s caddish nature makes this feel almost understandable. In true soapy style, word got to Lady Prudence who spoke to Hazel about her indiscretion and how this looks from a lady whose husband is overseas. As always it was Hazel’s almost transparent response that made this so watchable.

It has to be said that Prudence steals every scene in which she appears and she’s become a favourite character of mine. I particularly enjoyed the battle of wills between Prudence and Hazel over the use of Eaton Place to entertain returning officers (Prudence wanted it. Hazel didn’t). Richard was caught in the middle and - to her credit - Hazel even rebutted Prudence invoking Marjorie’s ghost to try and garner points. In the end, Lady Prudence won her round by appealing to Hudson’s pride in front of Hazel, her phrasing suggesting that Hazel thought it would be something the overworked servants could’t manage, which guaranteed his response that it would be their pleasure. Hazel gained some ground by refusing use of the drawing room. And since she got herself a young airman out of the deal, it could well be checkmate. But I can't see Prudence letting the game end here.
 

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Series Four
The Glorious Dead / Another Year


The ongoing war gives this series a chance to have its cake and eat it, dramatically speaking. These two episodes have been incredibly eventful, with an on-screen explosion, a number of key characters directly affected by death, significant changes in status and emotions running incredibly high.

Because it’s wartime, however, such events are part of the new normal. Everyone in Europe is living through circumstances that range from similar to identical, meaning that situations which would have seemed outrageously melodramatic in Series One or Two feel rather prosaic here.

Helping greatly is the grounded “roll up your sleeves and get on with it” attitude present much of the time within the household. Regarding the war itself, one of the most overt remonstrances has come from Mrs Bridges who railed not against death and destruction but against the lowering standards coming from food shortages forcing her to cut corners, and against the selfishness of other people. This brings the consequences firmly to a domestic - and therefore immediately relatable - situation. It reminded me of how, when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its most devastating, what drove home the global effect for many was when they were affected by shortages of toilet rolls and hand sanitiser (on a related note, when the war was kicking off, Mrs Bridges was among the first to start hoarding - dismissing Hudson’s protestations about the potential impact of such behaviour on the country as a whole. Her later complaint about others' selfishness, then, perfectly epitomises the hypocrisy of those who regard these suggestions in such a selfish and parochial way).

Death itself has remained off-screen in these episodes, which drives home the lack of closure or even acceptance for those receiving the news.

The Glorious Dead sees Rose and Hazel both experiencing the death of someone they care for who we’ve met on-screen in recent times.

First, Rose receives a telegram telling her of her fiancé Gregory's death by shooting. She immediately goes into deep shock, later railing against the unfairness of losing the only man she’s ever loved (I’m not sure if it’s she or the writers who have forgotten the fiancé also killed at war she spoke of to Sarah back at the beginning of the series. Either way, let’s put it down to being temporarily caught up in the moment). Jean Marsh gives a wonderful performance throughout, and those around her respond and match her. Frankly, I’m fine with the understated brilliance she’s brought to Rose week after week. All the same, with Rose getting into the emotional minefield of love then loss, it’s great to see that Jean can equally deal with the more overstated performance required by such an overtly dramatic situation

In stark contrast to Rose - who goes with her feelings and receives support and sympathy in abundance - Hazel is left to deal with the news of the death of her young airman privately and quietly. She reads about it in the newspaper, but has no time to process or deal with it since doing so would mean revealing her extramarital dalliance.

Ironically, the most understanding person in this situation becomes James who puts the pieces together after opening a bureau drawer to find a note and airman’s badge Jack Dyson had sent Hazel. I love the further irony that he, too, is now processing this news internally since Hazel is present when he finds it (her back is turned) and he chooses to keep it to himself. The situation, then, becomes incredibly similar to that of Richard and Marjorie following his realisation of her affair back in Series One. Once again, the response of the aggrieved man (James’s immediate reaction is to offer an olive branch by asking Hazel if she’d like to go out for a meal and to spent time together) gives the viewer sympathy for his pain and isolation, and shows a quiet dignity that invites a new respect for him. It’s a wonderful way of presenting things.

This isn’t the last of the ironies. As one of the faces of those who know the full horror of life on the front, James has ranted to Hazel about the lies he is forced to tell every day, not least the force-mandated stock lines he is required to use in his letters to bereaved families (as he tells Hazel, he’s not supposed to discuss the stark truth of war with civilians out of the fear it might lower morale). One of the lines he reels off is “He died instantly and did not suffer”… the exact wording used in the latter Rose has received. There’s a terrific moment where he goes to the servants’ hall to speak to Rose and she recites the line to him from memory. With Rose facing us in the foreground and James in the background, also facing us, we see that the very words which bring Rose comfort are the same ones which burden and haunt James for their dishonesty. Just as he allowed Hazel her own fantasy by keeping his knowledge of her indiscretion entirely to himself, so does he do the same with Rose, choosing his words very carefully. Once again, he’s added to his own burden for someone else’s peace of mind.

continued...​
 

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The Glorious Dead / Another Year
continued​

James isn’t the only returnee haunted and changed forever by the realities of battle. Edward returns home, doing his best to hide his new fragility as he struggles to process everything he’s seen. Until he can’t hide it anymore and breaks down as saucepans are bashed to ring in 1917.

His condition is picked up by others and surprisingly quickly for the time and named as shell-shock. Nowadays, of course, it would be not just recognised but expected. He’d have been diagnosed before he even got home, and the condition’s current name so widely known it’s described shorthand in a universally-understood initialism: PTSD (indeed, today it’s so well-known that the term is regularly misused and trivialised).

In a nice touch, it’s Richard who is first to spot Edward’s anguish, giving us a wonderful scene in Richard’s study as he offers Edward a stiff drink and as sympathetic ear as the social hierarchy allows.

Once again, a graphic remembrance of a wartime scenario brings the horror to life in all its stark brutality. Most recently, Gregory talked about being at the front and stepping on something green and black that felt like a mango as it squished underfoot which he then realised was a man’s face. This time round, Edward talks about being present when a shell went off and seeing his colleague - and best man - literally blown upwards onto barbed wire having lost an arm. Unable to retrieve him, they’d had to leave him up there overnight, quietly moaning for most of the night until the morning when, as Edward remembers, “he wasn’t moaning no more”.

As he remembers the horror, the camera becomes the tightest of close-ups on Edward’s face, with Christopher Beeny quietly giving a nuanced dramatic performance as powerful as anything yet seen in the entire series. It’s an unforgettable moment that took me by surprise.*

This sad, almost pathetic, nervy Edward is in such contrast to the cheeky chappy we've mostly seen up to this point. And very different, too, from the lighthearted letters Daisy has been receiving from him. Which is exactly the point. He's hidden who he's become until he can hide it no longer.

Following their talk, Richard’s first act as a Viscount (he was given the peerage in the New Year Honours 1917) is to ask Sir Geoffrey to pull some strings and have Edward excused from his post and given medical help. This, too, happens incredibly quickly. So quickly, in fact, that the very next scene has Edward “returning” to hospital, presumably already having been there for a time.

There’s shell-shock closer to home when Ruby returns, her face yellow from chemicals, having survived the Silvertown Explosion which took place at the munitions factory where she worked. This is another fascinating tragedy about which I had no previous knowledge and as Ruby describes seeing the bodies scattered around her in the factory I felt almost guilty at finding this all so dramatically satisfying.

The latest sequence of events brings a top-notch little reflection on the series’ very premise. As Richard and Hazel sit together in the early hours, having spent time downstairs with “poor, simple” Ruby, Hazel reflects that - in contrast to her initial fear that the Bellamys owned a lot of poor slaves - there are two families in the home, which she hopes one day will become one family. And as Richard remarks, in many ways they already are.

In spoilerville, I did find out something I would prefer not to know yet regarding new arrival Mrs Hamilton from Inverness. Given that I found Hannah Gordon extremely magnetic in this episode (there was something of Stephanie Beacham about the way she presented) and actually hoped she would return one day, I’m not altogether disappointed at what I learnt.





* So profound an experience was it to watch this scene that last night I actually dreamt I was seated at a table with Christopher Beeny and some other friends (apparently he was an acquaintance of mine, and looked around the same age as he was in the series). The subject turned to filming the series and he mentioned his character's shell-shock before stopping to ask me if he should be talking about it since he knew I didn't want spoilers. I mentioned I'd watched that episode just the evening before and took the moment to casually commend his performance which seemed to please him.
 

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Series Four
The Hero’s Farewell / Missing Believed Killed / Facing Fearful Odds


Once again it’s been an eventful series of episodes, covering some seven months’ worth of on-screen time and much melodrama.

Ironically, the more that happens, the less I find I have to comment. This is a series where the nuance and the small, character moments are what really speak to me. These are certainly still present, though rather less noticeable when there is so much happening.

The telegram telling of James being “missing, believed killed” at the end of The Hero’s Farewell is up there as one of the most cliffhanger-y episode endings. While I’m sure it’s very much an accurate representation of the uncertainty facing many families with loved ones enlisted overseas, the fact that it’s temporary, with the reveal of James in his overseas hospital bed in the very next episode makes the entire arc feel conventionally soapy (albeit a far less cliche scenario by the standards of 1974). Reinforcing this feeling, he has a mild case of soapy amnesia and in his first scene post-absence is reunited with the step-cousin who has a major - and reciprocal - crush on him.

Georgina’s crush seems at this point to be common knowledge. Her emotional pleas on discovering James is to be returned to England leave so little doubt that even WASPs Richard and Hazel later pass comment on it (the former saying something along the lines of “Oh, it’s just a cousinly infatuation”). The fleeting awkwardness between Hazel and Georgina is enjoyable, particularly with Georgina silently rebuffing Hazel’s goodbye peck on the cheek. It will be interesting to see how Georgina interacts with both Hazel and James once the war is over, though a lot will happen between then and now (and indeed, a lot has happened in the episode since).

Hazel can be incredibly difficult to read. At times there’s quite an entitled air that makes me question her motives (and think James would probably be better off with his step-cousin). Following her extramarital dalliance and the death of her airman, she gravely announced to Richard that she’d decided she loved James as though it was something virtuous (“That’s as it should be”, he said, marvellously understating things). Then there was all the angst and hand-wringing when James was missing (she was quick to decide he was dead). And then her drive to return James to Eaton Place, even though his surgeon in France made clear it could kill James (perhaps she felt the loss was worth risking since she was already envisaging life without him). It’s plain that going to get James, returning him home and tending to his needs is driven by guilt, and I’m curious to see where it goes.

Virginia Hamilton has returned to acquire Richard’s help with her son’s court martial. He puts her in touch with Sir Geoffrey, leading to a courtroom drama with a difference (the charge of cowardice is brought by none other than General Von Klinkerhoffen). It’s a tense episode, that drives home the pressure the very young soldiers were under, and feels genuinely sad - and a little shocking - when, having been sentenced to just a reprimand, he ends up being killed in battle by episode’s end. It’s tantalisingly oblique, leaving the possibilities to resonate: it could have come through him over-compensating to make up for his previous shell-shock; or because he was put in harm’s way by colleagues who viewed him as cowardly. Perhaps he even wanted to die. It’s suggested from the report that his death is a simple, inevitable accident of war, and there’s every chance this is the case. But we already know from James that what’s written about a soldier’s death in battle can be extremely unreliable.

Also facing military problems is Edward, now AWOL as he was due to be posted back to France. Daisy only gives him up on learning that Edward could face a firing squad. Let it not be said the stakes aren’t high.

Gareth “Nescafé” Hunt has made his debut as James’s footman, returning the then-presumed-dead soldier’s effects to his family. I know that he becomes a regular and having seen his debut I’m looking forward to this.
 

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Series Four
Peace Out Of Pain



Poor Virginia Hamilton does seem to make a habit of getting off to a bad start with the Bellamy men. Her first encounter with Richard wasn’t so much a meet cute as a meet rude, with Richard at his most delightfully brusque and Hazel mildly disgusted at his lack of courtesy. In this, Virginia’s third episode, she is now engaged to Richard (did I mention how fast-moving events in this series are?) and Virginia now has to win over sullen, depressed James. It’s just as well she’s so charming, since both men are won over with ease.

The rest of the household - even downstairs - seems to like Virginia on sight. Perhaps most crucially upstairs, Hazel makes an instant connection with Virginia to the point that, when Hazel is unwell with a fever, Virginia sits at her bedside and reads from Thomas Hardy’s The Wessex Tales.

While at this point it’s expected by all that Hazel will remain mistress of the house, since Richard plans to set up home with Virginia and her young children near Hyde Park, Virginia is still to become Mrs Richard Bellamy and so there are echoes of the passing of the flame that occurred when Hazel’s arrival overlapped with Marjorie’s death. I don’t recall Marjorie and Hazel having any scenes together, but I do recall that Marjorie didn’t approve of Hazel accepting James’s offer of a formal luncheon in the house. The warm relationship between Hazel and Virginia is quite a contrast to this and a reflection of changing times and eras as well as the less aristocratic background of the two women here.

Even during James’s initial sulk over his father’s engagement, it’s Hazel who gets it in the neck from him, with them ending up having a row, James effectively telling her to go away if she’s going to turn on the waterworks, and this is their last conversation before Hazel becomes ill and feverish.

Hazel having Spanish Flu drew my attention to a pandemic I’d heard of in passing and probably studied at some point in my schooling, but which naturally feels more relatable in 2022 with COVID-19’s similarly devastating consequences still very much in the public consciousness (with COVID’s currency, one can be forgiven for feeling it’s the most deadly pandemic or epidemic in history when the numbers killed by “Spanish” influenza in the space of just two years was significantly higher at a time when the world’s population was only around 25% of today’s).

UpDown delivered perhaps its biggest shock so far at the end of the second act, when Rose popped up from the servants’ hall to ask after Hazel’s wellbeing, only to be told that Hazel had died in her sleep ten minutes earlier.

Despite the potentially deadly effects of the virus and the fact that UpDown hasn’t shied away from suddenly disposing of its characters, the timing of this coming with the end of the war lulled me into a false sense of security. Even as I watched her sweating with delirium on-screen, it simply hadn’t occurred to me that Hazel could die. I felt quite sure I’d read that she remained on-screen until the final episode, and this is an occasion where I feel glad to be quite mistaken. It’s always pleasing to get a physical reaction to something onscreen, even though these moments are so rare as to be unicorns. But that’s exactly what happened here. My stomach physically lurched in much the same way it would when hearing some shocking news in real life, creating the kind of connection to events onscreen that can’t be defined or explained. And I applaud it.

Just as Edward VII’s death followed in close succession by Marjorie’s death signalled that nothing could ever be the same again, so does the Armistice followed in close succession by Hazel’s death suggest that Series Five will be a clearly defined new era. If - as I suspect - Richard remains at Eaton Place with Virginia, then perhaps UpDown as a whole can be clearly sliced into three definite “acts” defined by the mistress of the house. I know of at least two additions to the cast for the fifth series (one of whom we’ve already met in passing), both of which I’m looking forward to seeing.

All that’s left now is for me to anticipate my viewing being rewarded with a satisfying - and perhaps surprising - final outing.
 

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The Story Of Upstairs, Downstairs is another highlight of my series viewing. It's a small detail, but I'm so glad I took the risk and chose to watch each instalment alongside the year it covers, as it really brings the series background and history to life. It's a wonderful document of a series and among the best of its kind. I wish all my favourite series came with such a perfect companion.

The Russell Harty interviews are also proving nice little cherries on a cake worthy of Mrs Bridges. It was a natural choice, of course, since both Harty and UpDown were LWT productions, and there really is a feeling of keeping it in the family.

Gordon Jackson's interview was eloquent and humble. I was really glad to see it since I don't recall seeing him speak offscreen before, yet I've read so much about him (all glowing) from Kenneth Williams's diaries.

Angela Baddeley was as expected, with some theatrically grandiose airs and stories but still very warm and charismatic and clearly up for a bit of a giggle.

Jean Marsh's interview was the biggest surprise. Apart from Rose in UpDown and a few episodes of Give Us A Clue I've only seen the older Jean in The Story Of UpDown where she comes across as very focussed and serious. In the Harty interview she's a complete surprise in how lively and off-the-wall she seems. She makes her entrance with a glass of champers brought from backstage (because "I didn't know I was on first" and "everyone else has had a drink and I haven't"). Then she tells everyone that she's brought her bag on stage because she works in this studio and knows not to trust anyone! Pretty early on she announces that she doesn't believe in wearing underwear because it takes too long to get dressed ("And undressed", quips Harty). She also talks of accepting two men's proposals in one night during her tour of the States to promote UpDown (one chap accepted her change of heart very easily the next morning, she says with some disappointment, but the other didn't and ended up following her to other States which she says was awkward). Watching her in action it's easy to see why she's someone who would make herself heard when pitching UpDown. Watching the series, I've felt that Jean's features and smile are very similar to those of a young Joan Van Ark. The fact that she knows her character inside out and can be quite intense in her focus doubled that. Discovering that she's also such a live wire and a little quirky with it only reinforces the similarities. She has just got off the plane here, having barely slept in weeks of her whistle stop tour of every state, so perhaps that and the champagne both mean she's all buzzed up which might influence how she comes across. Whatever the case, it's a highly entertaining interview.
 

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Series Five
On With The Dance / A Place In The World / Laugh A Little Louder Please / The Joy Ride

There’s a welcome return for the caption showing the dates, shown onscreen for the first time since Series One ended. Back then we were in June 1909. Now, it’s clearly shown to be Summer 1919 with the first episode, progressing through to Autumn 1921 by the fourth.

It’s fascinating to see the different sides of post-war life brought to life, contrasting starkly between Edward and Daisy’s life of grim, dank poverty and the hedonistic joie de vivre enjoyed by Georgina and her friends as they dance the shimmy shake while dressed as nymphs, satyrs and - in Georgina’s case - The Statue Of Liberty.

Edward and Daisy’s less-than-sparkling life after service has given us some compelling scenes, primarily due to Hudson’s extreme disappointment in them for leaving 165. On their return visits there’s a warm welcome from all their old friends and colleagues, and then Hudson enters the room and the warmth is sucked out entirely to be replaced by an atmosphere that’s strained and unwelcoming. All the actors present do a great job at reacting to this, but in particular these powerful scenes are a testament to the commanding screen presence of Gordon Jackson who makes these moments crackle with tense energy.

The inevitable blow-up between Edward and Hudson really delivers because it’s easy to understand both perspectives. Hudson comments that Edward and Daisy - now struggling to make ends meet and bitterly regretting leaving 165 - made their own bed. Edward ends up shouting that Hudson is just an old man whose only contribution to the war effort was serving sherries. Both comments hit their targets hard, and once again we know that neither is fully true and much of what is said is probably done so out of pride or hurt.

Hudson has always been an extremely proud character, and it’s an aspect of Edward’s character that emerged during his efforts to hide his shell-shock in Series Four and is pushed even further in the opening episodes of Series Five as he initially tries to convince his former colleagues that his and Daisy’s new life is a good one and - when it’s obvious that everyone knows this to be untrue - attempts to reject any gesture of goodwill as charity. On reflection, despite their many differences, I realise that Hudson’s disappointment and Edward’s defensiveness could well be due to this shared characteristic, even if they themselves don’t realise this.

Something UpDown does incredibly well is to surprise the audience a little with a character’s unexpected reaction to a situation of high drama or heightened emotion, which allows us to feel even greater empathy for a sacrifice they make in an effort to smooth things over. In general, it’s reticent men who benefit most from this approach: think Richard and James’s responses to their wives’ affairs with a man in uniform. In this case, Edward and Daisy are summoned to see the new Lady Bellamy who offers them a return to service. With promotions, no less, and an apparent increase in salary. Since Edward is now to be chauffeur as well as valet, this comes with their very own accommodation in the mews flat over the garage formerly occupied by Sarah and Thomas. Naturally, both virtually snatch Virginia’s hand off and overflow with gratitude. It’s then that Virginia turns to Hudson to thank him for his good idea.

There’s no clear line drawn in the sand in terms of a detente between Hudson and Edward. None is needed, because we understand them. And so it’s business as usual.


continued​
 

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On With The Dance / A Place In The World / Laugh A Little Louder Please / The Joy Ride
continued

Adding another layer to the earlier scenes of disharmony are the fact that both Edward and Daisy initially seem threatened by their successors. Daisy is slightly frosty towards young new houseparlourmaid Lily, while Edward gives new footman (and James’s wartime batman) Frederick Norton verbal stick by commenting that darning socks used to be the “girls’” job (to which Frederick retorts words to the effect that such skills were learnt because there weren’t too many of ladies when the real men were fighting at the front). This seems to resolve itself somewhat quickly, and before the new positions are offered, though there’s still a welcome hint of rivalry between Edward and Frederick.

Both Frederick and Lily are shown to be competent at their jobs. Mrs Bridges comments that Lily is quicker than Daisy was (I think she meant quicker of mind as well as speed of performance). Frederick is, if anything, over competent, which threatens Hudson who is shown to be slowing down a little with age and making a few little errors. While it’s only minor things, such as initially thinking a bell is coming from one room when it’s actually from another, I feel these little mistakes do Hudson’s character a disservice. Frankly I find it hard to believe he’d make some of these errors, even accounting for him being under pressure and getting up there in years. He’s lived this for so long it’s part of the fibre of his being. But I appreciate we need something tangible to show the audience that his age is a factor in him feeling threatened. It’s not as though he’s likely to tell anyone, after all.

Frederick is enjoyable and Gareth Hunt very convincing as the former soldier used to being kept busy. He brings quite a different energy to the servants’ hall, and it’s interesting to see Hudson telling someone off for using his initiative and doing too much (which makes sense given the intricate and delicate balance he feels the house needs).

Lily is also wonderful. Karen Dotrice (whom I initially mis-recognised as her sister Michele "Betty" Dotrice) gives her a visual that’s immediately interesting: long, lean and wispy - she looks almost like a Charles Addams-esque caricature. We know very little about her background - it’s been quite a different entrance from, say, Daisy or Sarah - and she feels rather peripheral so far. But that’s fine. Ruby works great for this reason and with the staff being suddenly so abundant (and so soon after the smaller staff was almost dismissed due to James needing to downsize) it’s fine to have a character who simply does their thing. I particularly enjoy her tendency to gab when she’s nervous, often overstepping the boundaries of what’s acceptable within the house, and I look forward to seeing more of her as the final series progresses.

Richard and Virginia’s inevitable move into 165 has been fine. Now that Virginia is glammed up for the Roaring Twenties she’s more Stephanie Beachamesque than ever as she purrs her lines, which is wonderful. I expect her to be more compliant and agreeable than she actually is, but she’s spoken out against Richard more than once - and in front of other people as well, which would have been unthinkable in Lady Marjorie’s day when a united front was everything.

James’s brief foray into politics gave us some agonising scenes, particularly his outdoor speech with him blathering on ineffectually as ambient noises intruded. I realise it was meant to be painful, but it felt like a chore to watch as well. At least in his later speech his key heckler was none other than Dolly from Widows (Enders’ Charlie Slater was there as well), and Virginia responded in kind with a raised voice and a rousing speech which made it more interesting.

Three full years before Dallas gave us Survival, there’s been the obligatory “characters go missing when a private aeroplane goes down” episode. We even got gutter journalism in what seems to be a very quick moving press (the headline - and story implying an affair between stepson and stepmother - was printed the very day James’s plane went missing). It felt a somewhat workaday story, the saving grace of which was the wonderful Lady Prudence giving Richard solid support and being an all-round good egg.

We’ve also had a second suicide in the house. This time a suitor of Georgina’s, who shot himself in 165’s nursery (now a school room once again, since Virginia’s children are now living there) after she rejected his marriage proposal. It was dramatic enough, though I felt the character wasn’t developed enough for it to matter as much as it could have done. Georgina’s return to the party girl, not investing in relationships and out to have a good time does work since it’s explained by her losses during the war. For me, though, this is the very reason it also feels disappointing. Her wartime experiences are what moved her away from this and so this feels like a retrogression for her character. She is now neither the ingenue from Series Three or the substantial Georgina of Series Four, and I’m not quite sure what to make of who’s left.

Most interesting in this episode was Hudson’s discrete disposal of the suicide note. It’s all perfectly in character for him to protect Georgina from added guilt as well as the Bellamy name. All the same, this small act feels rather shocking and unpleasant to watch.
 

Mel O'Drama

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Series Five
Wanted: A Good Home / An Old Flame / Disillusion


After some fairly solid serialisation in Series Four, the return to a somewhat simpler episodic format seems on the surface a little retrogressive. There is, however, also something very comfortable about it that suits the series’ tone. And with the knowledge that this is the final year it’s one of the things that suggests the series is coming full circle. Whatever circumstances brought this change about, in execution it feels planned in as part of the greater whole rather than a whim of the creative team or the network.

Two of these episodes feature stories that feel very much one-offs, even if one of them - Wanted: A Good Home - technically picks up the thread introduced with Miss Treadwell’s arrival in Laugh A Little Louder. Indeed, Miss Treadwell is so unpleasant (almost one-dimensionally so), that she could possibly only exist in such self-containment. As is commented, she’s a governess who doesn’t like children. Or servants. Or people in general. Or animals. Feeding poor young Alice Hamilton is one thing, but animal abuse is a big no-no in television, and so Miss Treadwell’s fate is sealed once she strikes the poor little dog (not to mention following this up with her announcement that she intends to have him put to sleep in moments so broad it feels like she's channelling the Wicked Witch from The Wizard Of Oz).

Treadwell’s character is interesting as being in the middle of the hierarchy. She’s an employee, but an upstairs one and so above the downstairs servants (as she’s quick to remind them). Sending all the Bellamys away on various trips for a period of time in order to give this new character what amounts to the run of the house is a bit of a contrivance, but an entirely credible one. In fact, given their busy work and social lives and their penchant for travel it’s almost surprising that the Bellamys are seen in the house as much as they are. It’s a situation that nicely throws off the usual dynamics. When Rose talks back to Miss Treadwell, it seems almost shocking because I’m not quite sure if this is permitted (though Rose does helpfully remind us that as Lady’s maid she, too, is now an upstairs servant).

Long story short, Miss Treadwell is sent on her way and everyone’s happy again. Thimble the Cairn Terrier hasn’t been seen in the two episodes since, but we’re led to believe he’s none the worse for wear. And besides, everyone’s been rather busy.

An Old Flame is the episode which feels most connected to a serialised thread, and a very long term one, since it goes back to the Somerby episodes of Series Three (and way before that, since those earlier episode firmly established James’s history with Diana Newbury going back to childhood). Series Five has been, in several respects, about taking slow-burning threads (or characters) full of potential and seeing how far they can go with it. And so James and Diana end up having a soapy affair which, naturally, is quickly discovered by… everyone. From Diana’s husband - and James’s old friend - Bunny to Richard.

While things post-discovery are interesting enough, there’s a great deal of time spent of Diana and James in unfamiliar surroundings (a cottage James has borrowed from a friend as a bolthole) as they navel gaze. I found many of these scenes rather slow and lacklustre, with little energy or chemistry to interest, though there were flashes of moments of greatness with the writing (James at one point laments the fact that he’d married Hazel when he should have married Diana. It’s a statement that feels as delightfully sacrilegious as it is truthful).

At the same time, Edward finds himself pursued by Diana’s Lady’s Maid, played by Georgina Hale (who I must confess I only really know as the less-watchable T-Bag). It’s another of those which ultimately quietly proves his integrity, which is quite satisfying. In the next episode, however, his wife Daisy flirts with Frederick after she has cross words with Edward (Frederick couldn’t be less interested). It does feel rather obvious for this series.

Speaking of obvious, there have been a couple of moments in recent episodes that have been too knowing. They’re not quite breaking the fourth wall, nor are they (technically) anachronistic, but they’re clearly written by contemporary writers in an attempt to give a little wink to the audience.

One such scene comes in An Old Flame. We see the downstairs characters listening to the wireless for the first time, with Mrs Bridges perplexed at how the voice can travel into the house through the solid brick wall and someone suggesting it might come in through a crack under the door. It’s silly stuff, penned by John Hawkesworth, but acceptable. But then, when Edward predicts that one day everyone will have a wireless, Hudson poo-poos the idea of every house in London one day having aerials on the roof. And to drive that home, all the characters then fall about laughing at the very idea. It just takes the little wink to the audience too far and comes off feeling rather clunky and smug.

Sometimes, though, the very Twenties outlook pays off beautifully. In Disillusion, Alfred Shaughnessy gives Georgina some dialogue in which she tells a confused servant (I think Lily, but I couldn’t swear to it) that she’s waiting for her American “date” and then has to explain that the Yanks say “You wanna be my date?”. It hadn’t occurred to me that the term “date” - used romantically - was an Americanism (and indeed, it’s not easy for me to think of what term would have been used before this) so I found this fascinating.

We haven’t finished with the extremes, though. This episode’s main storyline comes out of nowhere. When Hudson had been seen holding Lily’s hand in public on their day off, I assumed there’d be a twist: he was supporting her through some crisis; or they were somehow related. Anything, but what the characters are assuming.

It’s creditable, I suppose, that his confirmation of his crush on her took me by surprise, but it was for all the wrong reasons. It seemed so out of character that I’m afraid I failed to buy it. And that’s a shame because it gave some great moments for Angela Baddeley (once again recalling their Series One pact, though seeming to forget that she’s since been engaged to another man) and it also showed us some more of Lily as she’s essentially MeTooed by her superior (complaining that she has never explicitly rebuffed his interest, Hudson actually asks if he should not be able to assume her consent).

It’s a shame to see Lily go after so few episodes, since I’ve really enjoyed the little I’ve seen.

Gordon Jackson was terrific as always, but I did find myself wondering how he felt about this turn of events which made his character seem alternately naïve and predatory. Not to mention over-emotional. I could accept him crying alone. But in front of his subordinates?! Never.
 

Mel O'Drama

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A day or so ago I found myself with an unexpected bit of free time and thought I'd start watching the UpDown audio commentaries (my reasoning being that once I finish the series I'll be more or less ready to dive deep into another series and may feel less-inclined to do the bonus features, which would be a shame when they're so comprehensive).

I managed to fit in the first three chronologically, which were...

  • On Trial with Jean Marsh (Rose), Evin Crowley (Emily) and Fay Weldon (writer)
  • Board Wages with Terence Brady, Charlotte Bingham (writers) and Evin Crowley
  • A Suitable Marriage with by George Innes (Alfred)
All proved informative and entertaining in different ways. Evin Crowley proved to be the perfect companion in hers because she was essentially "us", asking the questions I'd wanted to know. For instance, she asked Fay Weldon whether she was able to create most of the characters herself or they were given to her complete (it was the former. She was told which members of staff were to be present and that they mustn't be stereotypes. Beyond that she had free reign). Jean Marsh's Mum - a cockney - felt that playing Rose was a comedown for her after playing ladies. Fay expanded on the dispute that ended with her taking her name off a script (and losing residuals as a result), and Terence expanded on the near punch up he had when one of his scripts was altered. They're all quite fascinating and I hope to watch more in time.
 

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Series Five
Such A Lovely Man / The Nine Days Wonder / The Understudy / Alberto


Series Five feels nicely long due to a combination of the episode count and frequent time lapses.

All the same, there’s much I feel I don’t know and I’m frequently left wanting more. Falling nicely into both these categories is Virginia. At this point it feels she’s been part of the series far longer than the relatively small of episodes it’s actually been. I feel I should know her well, but I’m frequently reminded that I don’t. Already there have been questions asked about her fidelity to Richard, but it seems to come from a misunderstanding over her fiercely independent spirit. Her dalliance with Sir Guy Paynter is yet another example of this.

I really enjoy how un-Marjorie like Virginia is in many ways. She’s got the velvety voice and upmarket air, but it’s delightful to be reminded that Virginia is very much her own person. Like Hazel, her middle-class background allows her to question and threaten things within the house, and it’s refreshing to see her openly admit that she neither understands nor likes some of the political game-playing in which Richard is involved. The tension when she pushes back at Sir Guy for a flippant remark which touches a nerve since it relates to her son’s death is palpable. To Richard she lacks restraint, but to us - and to Sir Guy, as it turns out - she’s standing up for what she believes.

The layers to this story are enjoyable. Sir Guy pursues her. Richard encourages this for two reasons: he wants Virginia to help secure him a certain Governmental position, and knows Sir Guy is gay anyway. Not that he tells Virginia the latter. There are two ironies with this: firstly, Virginia knows (as we find out later). Secondly, Sir Guy genuinely is after a wife for appearances’ sake.

The moment where the “friendship” ends, with Sir Guy coming to collect the book he gave to Virginia as a gift earlier in the episode, now claiming he loaned it to her is rife with cold passive-aggression and bile. It’s wonderful. And Virginia’s grace under fire shows she really is the one with the class (“Thank you for lending it to me”, she politely smiles, her tone almost piteous as she hands him the book).

I like that I still don’t know Virginia all that well, and the rotating characters keeps that alive. Virginia hasn’t been in the last couple of episodes, and so she never outstays her welcome.

Once again happenings onscreen have held up a mirror to present day events. Virginia’s absence has been largely explained by her inability to return from Scotland due to rail strikes, and The Nine Days Wonder focusses heavily on the reasons for and consequences of various workers’ strikes in the UK… currently something affecting the majority of Brits, whether we’re using transport, waiting for Christmas cards that haven’t arrived or seeking out medical care.

Edward gets a bit of a beating for being in public in his chauffeur’s uniform during the strike. Poor Edward, if he’s not getting it from striking workers, Hudson or Frederick he’s getting it in the neck from Daisy.

I really do enjoy how unsympathetically Jacqueline Tong plays Daisy. It’s easy to work out she’s the person who previously pushed Edward into leaving service and then persuaded him to return. Now she’s pushing him to better himself, but I can’t help feeling he’d be happier left to be a chauffeur. Following Hudson’s heart attack, she’s the one pushing him into taking on Hudson’s role, griping about how she won’t let “them” push Edward and her out and choose Frederick while conveniently forgetting that since they left and returned, Frederick has now been in continuous service with the Bellamys longer than they have themselves.

It can be read that she’s the fierce lioness, protecting her own, but it feels more self-centred than that. It’s not about Edward bettering himself, but about him elevating her. And if there’s any doubt, after spending most of The Understudy hissing and grousing at Frederick, in Alberto she’s flirting with him once again the moment Edward has left the house for a few days. Adding insult to injury, she’s also “made it her business” to know that the house to which Edward has gone has old, unattractive staff to ensure he will be loyal to her. She’s a nasty, controlling nightmare, which makes her fascinating to watch.

Frederick, understandably, has tired of the household and decided he can better himself by acting as a full-time escort with some acting on the side. As with Lily, I’m sorry to see him leave since he’s been a fascinating character with hidden depths as yet unexplored. Rather like Thomas Watkins he was shown to be extremely ambitious and so doomed to not stay for long. Unlike Thomas, though, one really feels Frederick is extremely hardworking and - if anything - too competent. He was never going to have the patience to wait for his turn at running the house when it’s plain to all that he was already on top of everything.

Gareth Hunt had a great little series of scenes in The Understudy after Edward was chosen over Frederick to step into Hudson’s shoes (with Christopher Beeny also doing a wonderful job of being overwhelmed by the new set or responsibilities). I found myself, like Daisy, questioning Frederick’s motive in helpfully directing Edward to decant the claret. It was great fun that Frederick then bided his time before telling James about Edward’s faux pas.

Just as this whole series of events reinforced why the hierarchy of servants in the household is so important, so did Frederick’s venture into acting where he was given a scene with Georgina, playing a “lady of ill-repute” and thus throwing the order of things into turmoil. Worse still, the filming was being covertly watched by James who kicked off. This brought to a head James and Georgina’s whole incestuous thing.

The writing, at times, in Series Five feels more urgent, as though it needs to address things more directly to give a kind of closure. However, it feels rather malapropos at times. It’s one thing for Lady Prudence to prompt James by asking knowingly-but-obliquely if he was angry because of Georgina. It’s quite another for her to go on to observe that he’s had a crush on Georgina for a long time. It felt too much. Too soapily cliched.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times onscreen. We’re no longer in the Edwardian era with its Victorian hangover. Fashions are certainly very different and so are some attitudes. Perhaps people are simply more open - even Lady Prudence. Whatever the case, I miss the internalised, unspoken secret nuance of Edwardian-era Bellamys, so it feels right that the series should end before too long.
 
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