Upstairs Downstairs – the beginning


Belgravia, 10 April: Thankfully, 165 Eaton Place recently took down the “To Let” signage and opened it’s doors once again after some 40 years of being on the market. The BBC signed a long-term lease on the newest incarnation of a television classic with the commissioning of a second series for a late Fall 2011 UK transmission.

With Upstairs Downstairs 2.0 set to air premiere on PBS’ Masterpiece series beginning Sunday, April 10 on public television stations nationwide, it’s important to understand a bit of history when it comes to the original London Weekend Television series which dealt with daily drama (and all that implies) above and below the stairs.

1970’s LWT: “Drama on commercial television….you’re kidding, right?”

Interestingly, this was a series that almost wasn’t. As the story goes, the two creators of the series, Jean Marsh and Eileen Aitkens, had parents that worked in domestic service causing them to wonder if this would translate to ‘make good television’. The good news is that the show was acquired by LWT. The bad news was it was delayed by a strike and then faced the need to convince a new programming exec of its’ merits. It was the new boss that admitted he wasn’t keen on the idea and then buried it in the death slot of late Sunday evenings commenting, “…they’ll switch off in the thousands. It’s just not commercial TV“. Fortunately for him, and for audiences worldwide, he was wrong.

Click “more” for 40th Anniversary Edition Upstairs Downstairs 21-DVD boxed set giveaway tease (57 hours, 68 episodes, behind-the-scenes)….

The series was sold in some 70 countries and reached a worldwide audience in excess of 1 billion viewers. It had everything that seems tame in today’s television landscape, but it was groundbreaking television in the early 70’s.

One thing that always set it apart was the brilliant scripting of real events and real people interwoven into everyday life at Eaton Place. One particular incident that spells this out perfectly was the way Lady Marjorie Bellamy was written out of the script due to the actress wanting to ‘move on to something more serious’. Nothing with the flare of today’s television, just a simple telegram written by her television husband addressed to “Lady Marjorie Bellamy, Stateroom Number Six, White Star liner RMS Titanic”. Pretty much seals your fate for changing your mind and wanting to come back. Not as flexible as the classic Bobby Ewing shower/dream sequence since that wouldn’t be invented until the 80’s.

The series ended after 5 seasons of taking viewers on a trip, along the way, through the first World War, the Twenties and, finally, the Wall Street Crash of 1929. At that point, the originally skeptical head of London Weekend (remember him?) pleaded for more episodes. Unfortunately, for him and for us, those new episodes didn’t come until 2010.

Need to catch up on the original classic before the April 10 premiere on PBS? Come back tomorrow for information on a 40th Anniversary Edition Upstairs Downstairs 21-DVD boxed set giveaway. Remember, as The Great One, Wayne Gretsky, always said, you can score if you don’t shoot…..i.e. you can’t win if you don’t enter. Fear not, if you don’t win, you can still get this incredible DVD set when its released 29, March 2011.