21. April 2014 · Comments Off on Upstairs, Downstairs – Original Version Revisited · Categories: Domestic, Random Book and Media Musings

OK – so, since we are now almost a year into giving the heave-ho to cable TV, and busily exploring the delights available through Hulu/Amazon Prime/Acorn, I took it into my head that I should like to watch the original Upstairs, Downstairs series. The very first season of this, which aired on Masterpiece Theater when it was hosted by Alistair Cooke, was seriously truncated when it showed on PBS … which was when I was in college, umpty-umph years ago. Not only did I miss seeing most of the first season, but I also missed absolutely all of the last season,  through having enlisted in the Air Force and promptly been assigned overseas. That was the season which romped through the post WWI decade. Very likely I missed other episodes throughout the run of the program. Although I regretted this, I have always declined to spend however much it would cost to buy the entire series of Upstairs, Downstairs, no matter how much I wanted to watch it and no matter how much it is marked down through Amazon specials, or considered in comparison to How Much It Would Have Cost When First Made Available. (Yes, I laid out an ungodly sum of money for the VHS set of Jewel In The Crown, which I watched again and again and thoroughly enjoyed, but never again shall I spend more than I did then for a costume mini-series. So, bite me, vendors of classic TV series – I will wait and wait and wait until the ones that I want are available in slightly-used DVD editions. Or on streaming internet … yes, where was I? Oh – Upstairs, Downstairs.)

First off, my daughter says that she hopes that producers, writers and show-runners for Downton Abbey are paying a mint, or at least giving the original producers miles and miles of artistic credit and acknowledgements. Downton has re-used sooooo many characters and situations. They’re probably in public domain these days, though – so never mind.

Yes, it is screamingly obvious that the first season was produced on the cheap – and very obviously on a set; outdoor shots were at a bare, bare, bare and almost daily soap-opera minimum. My daughter even noticed the walls shivering slightly, whenever a door slams. Outdoor scenes only begin occurring in the second season, wherein Miss Lizzie’s marriage is turning to dust and ashes. There’s a lot more indoor-to-outdoor scenes at that point; obviously there’s more in the budget, and the producers pretty much established the cast below-stairs that would carry on for the next four.

But dear god – what they had to do for the female leads’ costumes. Not so much for downstairs; plain black or pastel-colored long-sleeved dresses with elaborate aprons – hard to mess up the working costumes of the female working class way back then. Their get-up was obviously uniform and practical. But for Upstairs, they obviously, went into some vast internal closet for long dresses that at a squint appeared vaguely Edwardian. A good few of Lady Marjorie’s costumes look as if the costume department had cornered a herd of wild 1960s upholstered furniture, slaughtered them whole-sale, skinned them, and made her dresses from their pelts.  It’s bad. How bad? I frequently spotted my own particular bête noir when it comes to period pieces; obvious zippers up the back. No – in my admittedly less than expert study of female costume, circa 18th-19th-early 20th centuries … zippers did most emphatically not figure. They fastened in just about every other way and in every other place than a zipper up the center-back seam. Trust me, when I tell you this. Let this particular book – Nancy Bradfield’s Costume in Detail be a guide, should you wish further enlightenment.  I leaned on it rather heavily, in working out Lady Isobel’s wardrobe in Quivera Trail; my own take on the perils and challenges of Upstairs and Downstairs. Otherwise – I am enjoying renewing my acquaintance with the series, and if memory serves, the latter seasons did get very much better as popularity of the series grew.

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