Upstairs, Downstairs: The Complete Third Series


Reviewed by: Tim Bryant

Upstairs, Downstairs is a highly respected TV institution from the Seventies, spanning 30 years of English life from 1903 - 1930. It covers the social spectrum from the family "upstairs" to the various servant classes "downstairs." It won nine Emmys, a Golden Globe, a Peabody Award and many other accolades.

The series famously balances its attention half on the Bellamy family and half on their servants, providing a strong insight into the social order of the period and its portrayal of life in an upper-class household that mirrors the cultural changes of those tempestuous times.

Series Three moves out of the reign of Edward VII to the years immediately preceeding The Great War. In the first episode Captain James (Simon Williams) is at a loose end after returning from serving in the Far East. He listlessly plays the latest ragtime records on his phonogram before chatting up his father's typist (Meg Wynn Owen). The courting of this independent, middle-class woman causes great distress to Hudson (Gordon Jackson), the very proper Scottish butler, whose sureness in the social order is a cornerstone of the drama. He is outraged by Captain James's request for an impromptu luncheon with the young lady, served with the Bellamy's finest claret, and later threatens to leave.

The show accurately reflects technological developments of the early 20th century. Hazel, the typist, owes her independence to the typewriter, characters often communicate by Marconi gram and in Episode Two we are informed that Lady Marjorie (Rachel Gurney), star of the earlier seasons, has been tragically drowned on the unsinkable Titanic. In its character developement and observation of manners, the show is faultless.

Its epic scope is like that of a grand sprawling novel, although, unlike other great TV costume dramas, it is based on its own source material, created from an idea by Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh, who plays the maid Rose.

The season features 13 hour-long episodes over the course of which one observes the characters grow and change, as well as a nation subtly, but surely, shift in the background. In this regard, Upstairs, Downstairs is peerless as TV drama.

Attention to detail and performance are strong points, but you need to be in the right mood to step back into this languid pre-war world. Lack of interior lighting, outside locations and cheap costumes are, at times, yawn-inducing for today's viewer. Powerful acting and accurate social commentary keep it compelling, however, if as much for cultural studies enthusiasts as casual viewers.

Fans of the serious TV drama will not be disappointed.

Reviewed on: 05 Jul 2006
Share this with others on...
Upstairs, Downstairs: The Complete Third Series packshot
National and social changes amongst the privileged and servant classes in London during tempestuous times before The Great War.
Amazon link

Director: Bill Bean, Derek Bennett, Christopher Hodson, Raymond Menmuir, Cyril Coke, Lionel Harris

Writer: John Hawkesworth, Jeremy Paul, Alfred Shaughnessy, Rosemary Anne Sisson, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Anthony Skene, Fay Weldon

Starring: David Langton, Gordon Jackson, Simon Williams, Jean Marsh, Meg Wynn Owen, Jenny Tomasin, Lesley Anne Down, Angela Baddeley, Rachel Gurney, Christopher Beeny, Celia Bannerman, Jacqueline Tong, John Quayle, George Innes

Year: 1973

Runtime: 650 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted


Search database: