Jean Marsh good-show (about bad-old-days).

30 Dec

Simon Cable is Showbusiness Reporter for Daily Mail. Jay handed me the 18 December 2010 issue. I now know that I missed a re-creation, over Xmas, of Upstairs Downstairs, the weekly 1970s BBC drama series about middle and upper class employers and working class servants, set in Edwardian London.

I also now know that Jean Marsh, who played the parlourmaid, was a co-creator of  Upstairs. I am astonished by that revelation. I always liked the production, whilst being ready every minute to make with the dialectical affront on behalf of the six million in service before World War 1.

This was reduced to two million after the war, in context of the war-perfected car and aircraft industries’ generating many new jobs.

The Simon Cable piece has also updated me to the fact that ITV, it seems, built an audience of ten million in 2010 for its new series, Downton Abbey, in the same Servants/Masters genre.

Many plays in Stage, Movie, Radio, and Television media are set in that same frame, with servants walking into and out of scene, but the major success of a whole TV series of the world of three bags full (and raped country girls out on the street) was never so well used and received before.

The second house my parents had on mortgage with Halifax Building Society (a company of honour and integrity back then) is the double fronted property in the Google-Earth Street-View capture above. We were there 1950-1952, with perhaps one small black Austin on the whole square.

In the semi-basement, the servant bells were in situ dangling on coil springs mounted on boards. There was a butlers pantry, a meat room with stone table and ceiling hooks,  a butlers room near the front door, a big work room with Yorkist range, a scullery, a loo, and a coal store under the stone steps from the front door to the central hall…

…off which: large dining room, large drawing room, serving kitchen, smaller room, and a loo. A fine, wide U-shape stairway rose to a landing…

…off which, a loo, a bathroom, two large front bedrooms, smaller bedroom, narrow stair case to…

…the attic with central utility space, a bedroom each side, three dormer windows viewed out back to the poor terraces and railway.

I was able to imagine the life of the serving class, out of which some of my grandparents arose, rushed off their feet answering the bells and tending the fires, in the six rooms on the two levels above, until finally excused to sleep for a few hours in the roof.

Jean Marsh, now 76, provided a hook for this industry story when she was drawn into revealing the natural nervousness everybody feels about competition.

She was asked one of those negative leading questions (of which the dishonourable type of journalist is so fond). Was it a co-incidence (expectant pause) that ITV started Downton Abbey in the same year that Upstairs came back after 35 years?

Some person on Twitter has burbled back “…Ms Marsh needs a big huggie in the friendly chair…” He plays some sort of role in the Downton universe. Oh: Hugh Bonneville. Actor. Done well. Never heard of him.

Simon also reported that ITV was given the chance to carry forth Upstairs Downstairs but opted instead to “commission Oscar-winning scriptwriter Julian Fellowes to work on Downton Abbey.” Good for them!

Allow me to repeat my family history snippet that one of my four sets of great-grandparents (parents of my father’s mother) were, respectively, Housekeeper and horsekeeper in a big house in Devon.

After Harry died of a kick in the head, his daughter (mother of my father) married my father’s father and they set up a business in York, laundering linen for big houses.

The upper class, aka land-owners, are offspring of gangsters, going back to Norman roots, nothing more. They, and their partners in exploitation-crime, priest-perverts with their Hell-sell, have become marginally less vile. (This is me speaking for the Militant Middle, neither loony Left nor rabid Right.)

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One Response to “Jean Marsh good-show (about bad-old-days).”

  1. Vincent December 30, 2010 at 4:24 pm #

    It’s funny how, in the Sixties and Seventies, women who played weak ineffectual characters often WROTE and/or DIRECTED them.

    In addition to Jean Marsh (who was MUCH more than the character she portrayed in “Upstairs, Downstairs” – she did indeed WRITE and co-CREATE the show – AND she played a major role in a segment of “The Twilight Zone”, written by Serling) I recall Elaine May.

    In “A New Leaf”, May played a MESS of a woman who was manipulated by the great Walter Matthau – but in fact, she had WRITTEN the film and was DIRECTING Matthau.

    Fings ain’t always what they seem…

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