Upstairs Downstairs: The Complete Series DVD Box Set
Upstairs, Downstairs was originally an idea by two actress friends, Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, for a comedy called Behind the Green Baize Door. It would focus on two housemaids, played by Marsh and Atkins, in a large country house in the Victorian era. They soon added a family upstairs, as Marsh recognised "Servants have to serve somebody". In summer 1969, they took this idea to Sagitta Productions, which was run by John Hawkesworth and John Whitney. They soon removed the comedy element, changed the setting to a large townhouse in Edwardian London and the title became Below Stairs. It was first offered to Granada Television in Manchester, but they declined as they already had a period drama, called A Family at War, about to start. However, Stella Richman, the Controller of Programmes at London Weekend Television, saw potential, and in April 1970, the first series was commissioned.
Characters were then developed, but when Alfred Shaughnessy, an old friend of John Hawkesworth, was called in as script editor, he changed much of the detail to make the characters more realistic. Honor Blackman was short-listed for the role of Lady Marjorie and George Cole for that of the butler, Hudson. Eileen Atkins, who was to play the other maid opposite Jean Marsh, was playing Queen Victoria in a stage show at the time, so Pauline Collins took the role, and Gordon Jackson was offered the role of Hudson after it was decided that Londoner George Cole would not be suitable to play a Scotsman. The programme took many names, including Two Little Maids in Town, The Servants' Hall and That House in Eaton Square. It was called 165 Eaton Place until just before the production of the first episode when it was changed to Upstairs, Downstairs, following a suggestion from John Hawkesworth.
Despite having a champion in Stella Richman, the show suffered from internal politics at the station, most notably from the sales department who could not see the attraction of a period drama, and master tapes of the programme spent nearly a year in storage awaiting a transmission date. Eventually the network had a space in its schedule at the unfashionable time of Sunday nights at 10:15 and called upon LWT to fill it. They chose Upstairs, Downstairs, and with no promotion of the show, there was little expectation of success. However, audiences steadily grew and the series became a hit.
24 episode commentaries
25th anniversary retrospective
Interview with the stars
ALternative plot episode
Essay by star and cocreator Jean MArsh
And much more...