(The above episode is taken from the opening series made in 1971)
I was bought the 5th series of ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ as one of my Christmas presents. I love this period drama about the life of the Bellamy family and their servants. Set in Eaton Square London in the Edwardian and Georgian period, the idea for the series was written by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins. and started off as a rather more racier story centring on two maids (to be played by Marsh and Atkins). The Eaton Place character’s were very different to the ones we get to know (see here)
There are 5 DVDs in series 5 and so far I have watched the first one. It’s so exciting because I hadn’t seen any of these episodes before. I can’t wait to see the rest, but I am going to eke them out because this is the last series – which is a great shame. As the series progresses, the War changes everything. Big houses who depended on servants suffer. The emancipation of the working person get their first taste of freedom and for a lot of people (scary though this is) it does not include servitude.
When I started watching the series, I always thought that I would sooner be one of the Upstairs women. I could swan around in lovely dresses, devise menus, go out for luncheon, have lavish dinner parties, live in a fabulous house and be waited on hand and foot by servants and generally have a carefree wonderful life.
But I’ve changed my mind. The Downstairs servants seem to have a better time of it really, plus they have a kind of comradeship and seem more like a real family, looking out for each other and having to make allowances for each other. There’s still a hierarchy though, with the formidable Mr Hudson (Butler) and Mrs Bridges (Cook) being the head of this family – and little Ruby, the skivvy bringing up the rear as the eternal child.
The responsibility of the Upstairs family is to look after the Downstairs servants – and vice versa and both sets take their responsibilities very seriously (in the Bellamy household at least). Even when there are only two people left Upstairs, James Bellamy does much soul-searching before he gives the full complement of servants notice. All turns out well in the end, as MP Richard Bellamy returns to live back in Eaton Square with his new wife and his stepchildren making it a happy home again. From watching earlier episodes which include some of the Late Lady Marjorie’s friends, it would seem that not all households respected their servants as much as the Bellamy’s did though.
So then, if I had to make a choice (and for some it wasn’t a choice, but a necessity), I would rather be a servant, with set hours, set rules, live in a big beautiful comfortable house without the responsibility of the bills. I would be happy with my day off, probably save some money (no bills and hardly any leisure to spend it) eat as well as those upstairs, get loads of exercise and sleep better in my bed than I do now.