Upstairs, Downstairs Returns!

Over the past four decades, the original series of Upstairs, Downstairs has been watched by more than one billion people in more than 40 countries, inspiring a whole new generation of period dramas, including the recent PBS series Downton Abbey. Seemingly the whole of England sat round their tellies on Sunday nights following the fortunes of the Bellamy Family. When the series ended in 1977, Alistair Cooke, the program’s host, declared that there should be a national day of mourning. This Sunday night, for the first time since it went off the air, Upstairs, Downstairs will debut three new episodes (with more to follow in 2012), providing a long-awaited sequel to the original series, which followed the aristocratic Bellamys and their below-stairs help from the pre-First World War era to the 1930 market crash.

Co-produced by the BBC and Masterpiece on PBS, the latest Upstairs, Downstairs picks up in 1936 with an all-new cast joining the series’ co-creator and star Jean Marsh, who plays Rose once again. Series co-creator Eileen Atkins (Cranford) also stars, as do Keeley Hawes, Ed Stoppard and Art Malik (The Jewel in the Crown).

The new series opens with a new couple moving into 165 Eaton Place, requiring the help of Rose, who’s now the proprietor of a domestic employment agency, with the hiring of servants. Their privileged lives are soon threatened by world affairs, including the abdication crisis of Edward VIII and the rise of fascism at home and abroad.

As the British series returns to the U.S. Sunday on PBS' "Masterpiece," only six years have passed since the day in 1930 when the last of the Bellamys and their servants vacated 165 Eaton Place, and yet Jean Marsh, who last starred as Rose 35 years ago, is still very much Rose.

"Thank you very much," Marsh replied when told so in a PBS news conference this past January.

"But the problem was when we were talking about it, I said, 'I'll need some help. You know, because it's 35 years, not six years.'

"And they said, 'Oh, yes, everything will be easy and wonderful and you look good,' and then it's on HD, which is so ferocious. I wasn't allowed to wear real makeup and the lighting was ferocious. And I looked and I thought, 'Oh, they'll all think that I'm 120."

Having already seen the new series when I was in London in December, I can heartily recommend it and am confident you won't be disappointed in this new production, airing in three parts on April 10, 17 and 24, 2011 at 9 p.m. A second series of Upstairs, Downstairs is in the works. Joy!

Of course, nothing can take the place of the original cast and the original series.

The original cast. (Poor Helen! Poor Captain James - the cad. And Ruby . . . no doubt still single. If only she'd put on a dab of lipstick . . . What's Mrs. Bridges cooking/baking? Smells lovely. And that Sarah, oh! Cheeky girl. Up to no good, she is. Has Miss Elizabeth returned yet from the States? And Lady Prudence, no doubt still dropping round for glasses of sherry . . . . )

You may recall that I made my own pilgrimage to (1)65 Eaton Place in December, when I took this photo -

Really, the cab driver thought I was mad. We were on our way to Paddington Station and I asked to stop in Eaton Place first so that I could take a picture of a certain house. Usually unfappable, this particular cabby couldn't hold his tongue as curiosity got the better of him. "What's so special about that address, then?" he asked. And I told him as I took a last look at the Bellamy house, hoping for a fleeting glimpse of Richard Bellamy. Or Mr. Hudson. Or even Rose herself. I'm happy to tell you that now we can all catch glimpses of the original characters whenever we like, as a special 40th Anniversary edition of the original series is now available for $130.99 ($50 - $60 less than at other sites) at Amazon. Click on the picture below for details. The set includes a bonus 25 hours of commentaries, interviews and extras. I ordered my copy yesterday, along with a DVD of the spin-off series, Thomas and Sarah.