the next in the series of small screen masterworks…
by Allan Fish
(UK 1971-1975 3,172m) DVD1/2
What are we going to do with Uncle Arthur?
p John Hawkesworth d Bill Bain, Derek Bennett, Raymond Menmuir Simon Langton, Herbert Wise, James Ormerod, Cyril Coke, Lionel Harris, Christopher Hodson, Joan Kemp-Welch, Brian Parker w Alfred Shaughnessy, Jeremy Paul, Charlotte Bingham, Julian Bond, Raymond Bowers, Terence Brady, Maureen Brady, Joan Harrison, John Hawkesworth, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Deborah Mortimer, Rosemary Anne Sisson, Anthony Skene, Fay Weldon, Peter Wildblood created by Jean Marsh, Eileen Atkins m Alexander Faris art John Clements, John Emery, Roger Hall
Gordon Jackson (Angus Hudson), Angela Baddeley (Mrs Kate Bridges), Jean Marsh (Rose Buck), David Langton (Richard Bellamy), Simon Williams (James Bellamy), Rachel Gurney (Lady Marjorie Bellamy), Hannah Gordon (Lady Virginia Bellamy), Meg Wynn Owen (Hazel Forrest), Nicola Pagett (Elizabeth Bellamy), Lesley-Anne Down (Georgina Worsley), Christopher Beeny (Edward Barnes), Jenny Tomasin (Ruby Finch), Pauline Collins (Sarah Moffat), John Alderton (Thomas Watkins), Jacqueline Tong (Daisy Peel), Raymond Huntley (Sir Geoffrey Dillon), Karen Dotrice (Lily Hawkins), Joan Benham (Lady Prudence Fairfax), Anthony Andrews (Lord Robert Stockbridge), Ian Ogilvy (Lawrence Kirbridge), Gareth Hunt (Frederick Norton), Anthony Ainley (Lord Charles Gilmour), Charles Gray (Sir Edwin Partridge), Cathleen Nesbitt (Lady Mabel Southwald), Keith Barron (Gregory Wilmot), George Innes (Alfred), Nigel Havers (Peter Dinmont), Celia Imrie, Freda Dowie, Ursula Howells, Robert Hardy, Georgina Hale,
If ever a series came to define prestige British television in the seventies, it must surely be Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins’ extended variation on Noël Coward’s Cavalcade. It tells the fortunes of the inhabitants, both masters and servants, of 165 Eaton Place, London, from 1904 to 1930, encompassing the Edwardian era, the Titanic sinking, World War I, the roaring twenties and the Wall Street Crash. It encompasses every form of drama and melodrama, played out in an inimitably reserved fashion. In many ways, 165 became a microcosm not just for the period of British history it related, but for the audiences of British television of its era. Even now, it is profitably reshown on satellite TV in the UK and on Masterpiece Theatre in the US, not to mention on DVD. It became a byword for quality and, thirty years on, that quality remains basically undiminished.
Not that it was entirely without faults; it did suffer from being made in that era of British TV when camerawork was so theatrical as to defy reality, and the sets and costumes were cheap indeed. The final series, also, went forward far too quickly through the twenties and it almost seemed as if they had to wrap it all up quickly to get the Wall Street Crash that was always going to prove the series’ end. By 1974 the demand was more for serials than series that ran for years, and such classics as Jennie and Edward the Seventh became the new requirements. Yet Upstairs lost little of its quality in that final year, and the performances stayed powerful to the end. Langton was perfectly noble as the father of the family, Pagett was impressive for the year or so she was seen, while Williams was very touching as the son doomed to failure and a most miserable, lonely end. Everybody remembers Alderton and Collins as Thomas and Sarah, who got their own short lived spin-off, Andrews looked forward to another TV epic, while Tomasin was unforgettable as the truly unforgettably useless Ruby and the imperiously supercilious Huntley was magnificent as the family friend and lawyer. At its heart, however, it was three imperishable servants who dominated. Co-writer Marsh as poor Rose, Baddeley – sister of Hermione – as the indomitable, often unbearable but basically gold-hearted Mrs Bridges (who sadly died only a few months after filming her final scene), and the truly stunning Jackson as Hudson, a role he despised but never showed it on screen. I guarantee that in the scene in the final episode where he hands Beeny his black book, there will not be a dry eye in the house. Not to mention Rose’s final memories as she leaves Eaton Place. You’ll be as reluctant to leave as she was.