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Upstairs, Downstairs started life as an idea dreamed up by two actress friends, Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins. Their idea concerned a comedy series, called Behind the Green Baize Door, which followed the exploits of two housemaids (to be played by Marsh and Atkins) who worked in a Victorian country house. Originally the format concerned just the downstairs staff but the upstairs people were gradually incorporated: "Servants have to serve somebody," said Jean Marsh.
In the summer of 1969, the two actresses took their idea to a development company called Sagitta, run jointly by John Hawkesworth and John Whitney, two experienced TV producers. Hawkesworth had spent his childhood among servants and thus had a good idea of the complex relationships and protocols which existed between master and servant. Hawkesworth and Whitney saw the dramatic possibilities of the show and immediately removed the comedy element and relocated the settings both in time and place - to an Edwardian town house in London. The idea - by this time renamed Below Stairs - was first offered to Granada TV in Manchester who turned it down as they had their own period drama (A Family At War, 1970-72) about to enter production. The next stop was London Weekend Television whose Controller of Programmes, Stella Richman, immediately saw the potential. In April 1970, Richman commissioned a series of thirteen plays with an option for a second.
In the original series’ format, the 'upstairs' household would consist of an MP, Richard Bellamy, who, according to the character outline, had a German mistress in St John’s Wood as well as "other less conventional vices and strange appetites which make him vulnerable to a blackmailer." The outline also informs us that "a matter of continual speculation is his relationship with his butler…of whom he is fonder than anyone else in the world." Bellamy’s wife was called Gail, an actress and dancer whose name was once linked with the Prince of Wales and who "has many lovers but conducts her affairs with tact." The upstairs family was completed by the Bellamy’s son and daughter, James and Elizabeth, who even at this early stage resembled their final characters as seen in the finished programme.
Downstairs would be the butler, Frank Hudson, who "drinks his master’s port and smokes his cigars" and "has a vast fund of risqué stories". The servants were completed by a tippling cook, Mrs. Bridges, and the two central maid characters, Mary Buck and Rosie Mimms.
An old friend of Hawkesworth’s, Alfred Shaughnessy, was called into the fold as script-editor. He immediately set about making major changes to the format of the show. The general tone of the series was made more realistic and the characters less stereotyped - so gone were the German mistress, the tipsy cook and the advantage-taking butler. Richard Bellamy’s wife was now the somewhat more aristocratic Lady Marjorie, the rich daughter of an earl.
The actors short listed for the roles originally included some famous names: Honor Blackman (of The Avengers fame) was originally considered for Lady Marjorie, and George Cole (later to play Arthur Daley in Minder) was up for Hudson. Though Jean Marsh was to play one of the maids, Eileen Atkins was busy playing Queen Victoria in a stage show, Vivat Vivat Regina, and, at the suggestion of John Hawkesworth, Pauline Collins replaced her. The series title went through changes too, being variously known as Two Little Maids in Town, The Servants' Hall and That House in Eaton Square. The show was known as 165 Eaton Place almost up until the production of the first episode when the title was changed to Upstairs, Downstairs, a suggestion from John Hawkesworth.
During production of the first season, the LWT hierarchy changed, with Cyril Bennett being employed as LWT's new Drama Controller. Bennett was not keen on the series: "It's very pretty but it's just not commercial television. They'll switch off in their thousands." The series was left lying around for six months before eventually being scheduled for 10.15pm on a Sunday night. Jean Marsh remarked: "It could have been the kiss of death, but never in the history of TV has anything taken off so quickly." Ratings climbed as the word caught on and the critics were impressed. During its life the series would go on to win many prestigious awards, including seven Emmys and a Golden Globe. The show even won an Ivor Novello award for its theme tune, Alexander Faris’ The Edwardians! Upstairs, Downstairs would go on to be shown in over 70 countries to an audience of over one billion - everybody was sure of one thing: Upstairs, Downstairs certainly was "commercial" television!
Regular cast: Gordon Jackson (Hudson), Jean Marsh (Rose),
Rachel Gurney (Lady Marjorie Bellamy), David Langton (Richard Bellamy),
Angela Baddeley (Mrs Bridges), Christopher Beeny (Edward), Pauline Collins (Sarah),
Evin Crowley (Emily), Simon Williams (James Bellamy), Nicola Pagett (Elizabeth Bellamy),
George Innes (Alfred), Patsy Smart (Roberts), Jenifer Armitage (Henrietta Winchmore),
Brian Osborne (Pearce), Maggie Wells (Doris), Joan Benham (Lady Prudence),
Ian Ogilvy (Lawrence Kirbridge), Susan Porrett (Alice)
Episode 9 - Why is Her Door Locked? UK: 6 February 1972 US: 1988
Full of guilt over Emily's suicide, the cook, Mrs. Bridges, gets into considerable
trouble with the police when she steals a baby from outside a shop on the eve of an
important dinner party.
Writer: Alfred Shaughnessy
Designer: John Clements
Director: Brian Parker
Regular cast: Rose, Hudson, Richard Bellamy, Lady Marjorie Bellamy, Mrs Bridges,
Guest cast: Michael Guest (The Milkman), Janie Booth (Lily), David Strong (Webber),
John Malcolm (Inspector Cape), Philip Lennard (the Magistrate), Bill Horsley (Perry),
John Scott Martin (the Usher) [Uncredited: Charlotte Simmonds (Baby),
Ken Helliwell (Uniformed PC), Charles Shaw Hesketh, Jimmy Mac (Magistrates),
Bill Gossling (Clerk of the Court), Leonard Kingston (Magistrate's Clerk),
Bill Prentice (Solicitor)]
This episode had a working title of Mrs Bridges' Baby.
Episode 10 - A Voice from the Past UK: 13 February 1972 US: 13 January 1974
Elizabeth and James discover Sarah, the Bellamys' former under-housemaid,
starving in the East End of London. Elizabeth decides to re-install the girl
in the household, but, once again, Sarah causes trouble and turmoil -
upstairs and downstairs.
Writer: Jeremy Paul
Designer: John Clements
Director: Raymond Menmuir
Regular cast: Rose, Mrs Bridges, Hudson, Elizabeth Bellamy, Sarah, Alice, Edward,
Doris, James Bellamy, Henrietta Winchmore
Guest cast: Martin Gordon (the Beggar), Winifred Sabine (the Beggarwoman),
Amanda Walker (Mrs Pinkerton)
Episode 11 - The Swedish Tiger UK: 20 February 1972 US: 1988 #
James has a Swedish army officer, Capt. Ryttsen, to stay as guest at Eaton Place.
Then valuble objects begin to disappear, and suspicion falls on Sarah, who is under
the spell of the officer's handsome batman, Thorkil Kraft.
Writer: Raymond Bowers
Designer: Barbara Bates
Director: Brian Parker
Regular cast: Sarah, Elizabeth Bellamy, James Bellamy, Edward
Guest cast: Sven-Bertil Taube (Kraft), Peter Clay (the Jeweller),
Geoffrey Whitehead (Captain Ryttsen), Gillian Lind (Flossie), Dorothy Black (Flo),
Veronica Lang (the Jeweller's Wife), Colin Rix (the Policeman),
Rex Robinson (Inspector Hurst), Doel Luscombe (the Art Dealer)
[Uncredited: John Slavid (Card Player)]
This episode had a working title of The Danish Tiger
Episode 12 - The Key of the Door UK: 27 February 1972 US: 1988 #
In November 1908, Elizabeth comes under the influence of a woman with radical
views which leads her to meet a young poet, Lawrence Kirbridge.
Writers: John Hawkesworth and Alfred Shaughnessy [and Fay Weldon]*
Designer: John Clements
Director: Raymond Menmuir
Regular cast: Rose, Elizabeth Bellamy, Mrs Bridges, Hudson, Lady Marjorie Bellamy,
Richard Bellamy, Edward, Doris, Lawrence Kirbridge, Henrietta Winchmore
Guest cast: Georgia Brown (Evelyn Larkin), Tutte Lemkow (Gustave), Tom Owen (Stanley),
Jon Delmar (the Guitarist), Pat Nye (Perdita), John Rapley (Mr Summers)
* Fay Weldon wrote the original script for this episode which was then partly
rewritten by producer Hawkesworth and script-editor Shaughnessy. Weldon asked
for her name to be removed.
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