06. June 2014 · Comments Off on Last Thoughts on Upstairs, Downstairs · Categories: Random Book and Media Musings · Tags: ,

We watched the final episode this week; the last of the season that I had never seen, even though I knew perfectly well what was supposed to happen during it. Still, it has been rather interesting, looking at the series, so many years later, charting the lives of an upper-class political family from the turn of the last century to the 1929 crash of the stock markets … and picking out, with a merciless eye, things like inauthentic costumes, hairstyles and attitudes. The fortunes of the series changed almost in reverse of the Bellamy fortunes; very much on a budget at first, then expanding; better and more historically correct costuming, more scenes shot out of doors, the characters jelled … well, some of them did. Others were just adjusted according to the needs of drama. Like Georgina, the ingénue turned battlefield nurse, who … turned into a frivolous flapper for the entire decade after the war in which she served? Just don’t see that; no matter how much she would have wanted to get back to something resembling normality after three years of hard and responsible work as a nurse … I just can’t see going on ten years of pleasure-seeking arrested development. A year or two to decompress, and then back to pursuing something, something earnest and useful, even marrying might have been more true to character and history … but the story arc dictated that Georgina be a Bright Young Thing for the duration of the season. And side note – my, did Anthony Andrews ever look so young! My daughter always loved the series with Jane Seymour where he played the Scarlet Pimpernel. Edward and Daisy – that was a bit more real, I think; she developing a spine of steel sufficient for both, but tactfully letting him take the lead publically, in most circumstances. Edward would have been a bit fragile, always – but Daisy would have looked after him in a way that wouldn’t have reminded him of that … except when it was the right time and in private.

Lord Bellamy was stalwart, and so was Hudson, in the tradition of Englishmen of that generation … of whom I can honestly say that I knew one example, very, very well – my paternal grandfather, a child and teenager of the Edwardian upper level working-class. (They were those who wore a proper 3-piece suit and polished shoes to do their work, of course – not the equivalent of boots with jeans and t-shirt.) Of course, his father – my great-grandfather, the gentleman’s gentleman, a valet and butler both –was thrusting into the middle class, thanks to a generous inheritance from his employer. The employer was fabulously wealthy, and left £600 to Great-Grandfather George in his will, sometime in the 1880s. GG-George must have been as treasured every bit as much as Hudson – and twice as canny, for he parlayed that inheritance into a society catering business and real estate, and eventually relocated to the New World. And Grandpa Alf reflected the values of his age, faultlessly, even down to the mustache and general bearing.

Anyway, back to Upstairs and Downstairs, and the world at the beginning of the last century: James – sigh. Self-involved to the end; a prime example of the truism that suicide is a hostile and passive-aggressive dagger directed at the heart of close kin and loved ones. I’ll show you – I’ll be dead and you’ll be sorry that you weren’t nicer to me, and didn’t live up to all my expectations of you! Impatient, unthinkingly, casually cruel – he was the sort of man, as my daughter observed – who was always after the next glittery, shiny object which attracted his interest, or the next glittery, shiny woman. Oh, charm and savoir-fair with bells on … but once achieved, he lost interest. Considerate of him to do the deed offstage and elsewhere than Eaton Place, but still … there still is something nastily passive-aggressive about his suicide.

Anyway – being done with this series, we are going on to watch Deadwood. Contrast much?

16. May 2014 · Comments Off on Continued Assorted Musings on Upstairs, Downstairs · Categories: Domestic, Random Book and Media Musings · Tags: , ,

We have carried on with watching Upstairs, Downstairs – warming up to it every evening with a half-hour palate cleanser of Blandings … which reminds me, I must steer my daughter towards those copies of PG Wodehouse which I have on the shelves, and my volume of the collected works of Saki, otherwise HH Munro … a writer of short stories only equal in my estimation to Rudyard Kipling … whose collections I also have on the shelves. Yes, HH Munro died in WWI, and so did Kipling’s only son, John. One was in his forties and over-aged for the military combat duties, the other seventeen and a trifle young for it … but they both rushed to join the forces, such was the tone of the time. (Munro turned down a commission and served in the ranks, John Kipling’s influential father wrangled his near-sighted son a commission in the Irish Guards.)

This once-proud and forward-thinking world and it’s brutal disillusion is reflected in the current series of Upstairs, Downstairs – first, the tenor of the time, of optimistic patriotism, outrage at German brutality in Belgium and France, the honestly-felt obligation to serve King and country … and then shading into war-weariness and despair, as the casualties mounted, up and up and up. England, France, Germany and Russia were gutted of a whole generation of men – some time in college (or maybe it was a grad school course) there was reason in one of my textbooks for a couple of tables of statistics for males by age in certain Western European countries. There was a considerable divot when it came to the male population of certain countries who would have been of an age to serve in WWI. That was statistics on a page; brought home now and again by the local war memorials in various towns all across Britain, France and Germany – a small stone obelisk in a corner of the town square, or a panel let into the side of a wall, with fifteen or twenty names on it. Heartbreakingly – especially in smaller places – there would be a couple or three identical surnames. Brothers, fathers and sons, cousins … the only wartime losses in the US to equal the English toll in WWI had happened fifty years before, in the Civil War, when local companies went down in sheaves like wheat under the scythe, in a storm of shot where the minie balls came down like hail, and there went just all about the fit men of age from some small town in Illinois, or Virginia, Vermont or Ohio, in some contested field – a sunken road, a wheat-field, a peach orchard or an angle of trench.

In Upstairs, Downstairs, this carnage all happens off-stage. It was a television program after all – and even if by Season Four it was a winner in the popularity stakes, additional budget largess went to more scenes set on location, rather than the studio set, and rather better costuming for the female characters. I have not noticed so many eye-blindingly awful selections with obvious zippers up the back as there were in the first two seasons. It is telling, though – that the fashion for rather more practical and shorter skirts for every-day wear is quite obvious, although the older generation, exemplified by Lady Pru resolutely keeps to toe-length, and Mrs. Bridges holds on to the old-style of dress, apron and cap. The sun will never set on Mrs. Bridges in a hair-net and a knee-length dress.

James is a total and self-centered jerk … but there must have been something to him, else why would Hazel ever have seen something to him, and stuck around? Perhaps she was just out of her mind for a couple of months in 1912 or so. Poor Rose missed her chance of domestic happiness – kick and scream as she must, she’ll be the rest of her life in service. Hudson still holds up his end – although as blind as a bat himself, he had a go at volunteering for the Army. And there we stand, with four or five more episodes and the final season – the one which I never actually saw, since I was in the military myself and overseas when it aired on PBS the first time around.