Upstairs Downstairs Series 5 (final season)

  • Series Title: Upstairs Downstairs
  • Season: Series 5 (Season 5)
  • Episodes: 16
  • Discs: 5
  • Cast: Gordon Jackson, Jean Marsh, Angela Baddeley, David Langton, Simon Williams, Hannah Gordon, Christopher Beeny, Jenny Tomasin, Lesley-Anne Down, Jacqueline Tong
  • Network: ITV (UK) – Granada

Series 5 of Upstairs Downstairs is longer (16 episodes) and much more episodic. The season tackles individual “topics” rather than focusing on a continuing story either upstairs or downstairs, and covers the entire time period from the end of World War I to 1930.

In one episode, James buys an airplane (a left-over from the war) and takes his new step-mother, Virginia, for a spin – then the plane goes missing. As happens in the days before cell phones, they had gotten lost in the fog, and started to run out of fuel, but James lands the plane safely – then he couldn’t find a phone to tell anyone he and Virginia were OK, and by the way – Could someone come with a trailer and pick up the plane? The story is told entirely in Eaton Place.

Another story takes place during the general strike of 1925. Suddenly, we find out that Ruby (the somewhat dim, but not as dumb as she appears, kitchen maid) has an uncle who’s a coal miner. (A coal strike had started the general strike.) Hudson airs his extremely conservative, and uninformed views (calling the strikers “reds” out to ‘destroy the country” by “making war on the government”). When we meet Ruby’s uncle, who’s starving, he states that “every five hours boy or man dies in the mines, and we’re still finding the skeletons.” He also talks about the mine owners cutting already low wages, and that he can’t afford to feed his family on the new wages. Hudson throws the man out, and burns his newsletter that Edward, the Chauffeur had started to read.

Another episode about Ruby, has her getting into a tiff with Mrs. Bridges, and quitting, then getting a new job immediately as a maid-of-all-work (the phrase isn’t used, but when she describes her job, that’s precisely what it is) – since she had applied for the job of cook (only), being told to make the beds, scrub the front door, stoke and care for the fires, scrub the kitchen, in addition to cooking and cleaning was a case of the job she applied for not being the job she got. Her employer is also a right biddy – and a bully to boot. When Ruby sends a letter to Daisy, she tells Mrs. Bridges – who goes to see Ruby, discovers the situation is worse than the letters, takes her out of there and brings her back to Eaton Place.

Meanwhile, Mr., now, Lord Bellamy, has Virginia entertain a friend of his, Sir Guy Paynter, hoping to get some political advantage. Sir Guy is played deliciously and slimeily by Robert Hardy (All Creatures Great and Small, Harry Potter). Virginia becomes increasingly frustrated by his advances, and Lord Bellamy isn’t worried as he believes Sir Guy is gay. Eventually, Virginia turns Sir Guy down flat – as his mother is pressuring him to marry. Lord Bellamy has the last laugh, as he gets his political appointment when the PM (or was it the Admiralty?) anyway, when the politician receives a letter from Sir Guy recommended the appointment of anyone but Lord Bellamy – so he appoints Bellamy because “he didn’t want someone in Sir Guy’s pocket.” Welcome to British politics!

Another episode takes place at a Scottish fishing lodge – with the weirdest game keeper and housekeeper ever! It’s somewhat scary and spooky – though Hudson comes to the rescue and figures things out.

Georgina has her own problems, falling in with a wild group of “Bright Young Things” who lead her into a number of misadventures (and costing the Bellamys a footman). But when one wild night ends in Georgina striking and killing a farm worker with her car on a lonely rural road, she realises the party is over. She also finds a new man – Robert, the Marquis of Stockbridge.

James admits his love for Georgina (his much younger first cousin, and his father’s ward). She turns him down flat. James, heartbroken, goes to America (throughout the entire series, characters that leave the series “go to America”, which I found amusing and a bit non-specific). In the second to last episode, James returns to England having made his fortune in the stock market. Unfortunately, it’s 1929 and he doesn’t take his money out of the stock market. James loses everything, including Rose’s nest egg (which James invests) from her Australian boyfriend in the war.

After losing everything, James fights with his father, tells Georgina he’s sorry he can’t pay for her wedding and disappears in the night. The police arrive at Eaton Place to tell Virginia and Lord Bellamy, James committed suicide in a London hotel room.

However, Robert, the Marquis, returns and re-proposes to Georgina, telling her his parents now approve (after taking him on a grand tour – and away from Georgina). Georgina, however, is in a funk over James’ death (remember she had, had another man propose to her and then kill himself when she turned him down). Virginia solves the issue, creatively, but slightly illegally (she manages to accidentally invent money laundering – but it’s in a good cause.)

In the final episode, Georgina marries Robert in a grade style – and all goes well. Mr. Hudson finally marries Mrs. Bridges, and the two retire to a seaside cottage. Eaton Place is sold and all its contents are auctioned to pay James’ debts. Rose goes to live (and work for) the Bellamy’s at their smaller country estate. Daisy and Edward are hired by Georgina and Robert, with a cottage on their estate of their own, and Edward even gets a promotion to butler.  Ruby is taken in by Mrs. Bridges and Hudson, and she quietly remarks to Rose, “They’re old – and when they’re gone, I’ll have the place all to my self!”

The series ends with Rose in the empty Eaton Place, hearing the voices of other servants through the years, and she closes windows and takes a last look around. It was actually quite creepy to me – like the house was filled with ghosts. It reminded me of Sapphire and Steel as well as the Doctor Who audio play Chimes of Midnight from Big Finish. It was just, creepy.

Overall, Upstairs Downstairs was much slower paced, more episodic ( had less connected storylines), and had a smaller cast than Downton Abbey. But it was made in the 1970s and was largely studio-bound. But what Upstairs Downstairs did, and often did well, was contrast the lives of the Upper Crust upstairs and their servants downstairs. Sometimes this was very direct – Georgina spends £1,700.00 – £2,000.00 pounds on her wedding. Hudson and Mrs. Bridges spend practically nothing – getting married at the local registry office (which is like getting married at the courthouse or by a justice of the peace in the US). And both the Bellamy family and their servants have their problems. Upstairs Downstairs did portray being “In Service” as a noble profession, and often the only choice (or a better choice), for particularly women in service. However, the series didn’t shy away from showing people other than the Bellamys treating their servants horribly. And even the Bellamys fired pregnant maids and gay footmen.

Servants in Victorian and Edwardian England were not, as some seem to think, “the same as slaves”. For one thing – they were paid. True, not much, but what do you think a worker at McDonald’s or Wal-Mart makes as a wage? And live-in servants also received room, board, and fabric to make their uniforms. And, although Upstairs Downstairs, makes a big deal about servants needing “a reference” to get a new job, in the memoir, Below Stairs, the cook describes there were about a million ways to get around that, from having a friend write a phony reference to telling a potential new employer their previous one had died. (No, seriously, that apparently worked.) Servants also had mobility – both within a household and by moving to a better position in another household. Footmen became valets or under-butlers, then butler and an ambitious butler could aim to be majordomo of a larger household. Women started as scullery maids and moved up to either kitchen maid then cook or housemaid, parlour maid, housekeeper. Lady’s maid was one of the highest levels of for a female servant, her main duties were to help her lady dress, and take care of her clothes, jewelry, gloves, shoes, and boudoir. The Nanny and the Governess were separate and often ‘neither above nor below’ spending all their time with the children, even meals. Once World War I began (for the UK in 1914) women began to work at other jobs outside the home for both the middle classes and servants. Though some noble (and upper class) women merely volunteered their time, others worked in paid labor. And, after the war, because the UK had lost an entire male generation, more women (regardless of class) were able to work in the 1920s, unlike in the US where women still were not allowed to work. Overall, it’s an excellent series, and I recommend it.

Read my Review of Upstairs Downstairs Series 1.

Read my Review of Upstairs Downstairs Series 2.

Read my Review of Upstairs Downstairs Series 3.

Read my Review of Upstairs Downstairs Series 4.