Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Upstairs Downstairs: When 'downstairs' pretend they're 'up'

The revival of Upstairs Downstairs has got everyone wishing they were oh so terribly, terribly posh.

Who wouldn't like to act like a lord or a lady, taking tea served in fine china and whatnot while others take care of the toil.

But wishing is as far as it goes, I'd wager. If we were indeed living in 1936 - when this BBC One three part 're-imaging' of the original 1970's produced ITV series is set - then the reality is that most of us would be below stairs.

The curious world of privilege, where nothing more than a haughty attitude, being born into the 'right' family, and an in-bred sense of entitlement, enables one to get one's own way because you simply just expect it, appears to not be too far removed from some of the attitudes we've seen on TV in 2010, and miles away from any period costume drama.

We call it 'reality TV'. Just look at the BBC Three brat-fest horror-child-correctional process programme The World's Strictest Parents, or some of the self-awareness-free types on The Jeremy Kyle Show, and other programmes of its ilk.

Not that I'm saying Upstairs Downstairs is like The Jeremy Kyle Show set in a Belgravia town house - of course not.

It's just maybe some of us aren't too far removed from that 'Upstairs' attitude, even if we're distinctly 'downstairs' in our - let's say - 'breeding'.

Anyone can, in theory, possess the superiority that comes with being a lady of the house in upper middle class London in 1936, like Lady Agnes Holland.

Or, even worse, her spoilt younger sister Lady Persephone Towyn - complete with a fondness for fascism and for Harry, the house's driver and a below stairs bit of rough and a 'cockernee' love interest for the programme.

Both Agnes and Persie are, to different degrees, unlikeable, but their utter conviction and self-belief that they are 'better' than the people they require to serve them shows just a lack of self-awareness or humility as some of the types on Jeremy Kyle.

But the difference is that today they probably wouldn't get very far. The cleaner would quit, the cook would tell her to 'f**k off', the servant would be on day release.

And then, before you'd know it, the whole lot would be taking part in a reality TV to address their 'attitude problem': "She made me clean the scullery with a tooth-brush, miss".

But no matter, period costume drama on TV is back in fashion, and that, I guess, is the main thing.

And without mentioning Downton Abbey, or Downton Abbey and the made-up rivalry between it and Upstairs Downstairs, it is clearly a good time for actors to be getting dressed up 'in period' costume and speaking in clipped accents and looking agog as they react to something terribly terribly - but actually really rather mildly - awful (known as 'the plot').

Even so, Upstairs Downstairs was great telly. Who didn't furtively dab their moistening eyes as that ne'er do well Johnny the servant popped the star on the Christmas tree at the end of part three.

The whole family - both uppers and downers - gathered in the hall of 165 Eaton Place, complete with the little Jewish orphan girl, and the given-up-at-birth disabled sister, all reunited as one - but strictly divided by status and class mind you, er - family.

Love it.


  1. I think Lady Agnes and Persie are both likeable as are the rest of the cast.

  2. I think the storyline with Lady Persie and Sir Hallam is very exciting, but of course will end in tears!