The similarities between the two shows didn't go unnoticed in the world of Upstairs Downstairs either. Upstairs co-creator Jean Marsh told BBC 1's The One Show that Downton Abbey was a thinly disguised “facsimile” of Upstairs Downstairs. Jean Marsh’s take on Downton Abbey as a copy of Upstairs Downstairs may not simply have been a question of historical influence. It may have had something to do television competition since the BBC was in the process of reviving Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey was receiving all the critical and viewer attention Marsh and the BBC presumably hoped the new Up Down would receive.
Upstairs Downstairs, which ran on British commercial network ITV from 1971 to 1975,  was the brainchild of actors Jean Marsh, who would go on to play Rose the downstairs parlour or house maid in the show, and Eileen Atkins, who was supposed to play the downstairs cook but was unable to because of other commitments. The show became, to the surprise of many of those involved with it including many at London Weekend Television (LWT), the ITV franchise holder for Greater London and the Home Counties that commissioned the show, and John Whitney’s and John Hawksworth’s Sagitta Productions company, the production company that produced the show, not only a hit in the United Kingdom, where it garnered some 15 million viewers in its second week on the air in the 10:15 pm Sunday graveyard shift, but also in the United States, where it was broadcast on PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre, and in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Somewhere between 300 million to one billion viewers tuned in to the show worldwide in its heyday in the 1970s making Upstairs Downstairs one of the most popular shows in the world at the time.
Upstairs Downstairs was not only a popular success it was also a success within the entertainment industry. By 1977 he show had garnered 26 British and international awards including BAFTA awards for Best Drama in 1972 and 1974 and Emmy awards for Outstanding Drama Series in 1974, 1975, and 1977. Perhaps most importantly the programme brought around £1 million pounds to struggling London Weekend Television thanks, in large part, to sales of the show to some 70 countries worldwide.
Beyond the world of television Upstairs Downstairs spawned novelisations (as did the Upstairs Downstairs spin off Thomas and Sarah) by Up Down producer John Hawksworth, Mollie Hardwick, and Michael Hardwick, fictional books about series characters Rose, Mr. Hudson, Sarah, Mrs. Bridges, Richard Bellamy, and the Bellamy's in general, a cookbook, Mrs. Bridges Upstairs, Downstairs Cookery Book written by Adrian Bailey (1974), and a book on the historical and sociological background of the series written by Mollie Hardwick, The World of Upstairs, Downstairs (1976). It also spawned a number of television clones including the short lived Beacon Hill (1975) on the US CBS network, Upstairs Downstairs producer John Hawksworth's The Duchess of Duke Street (BBC, 1976-1977), Upstairs's story editor’s Alfred Shaughnessy’s The Cedar Tree (ATV/ITV, 1976-1979), the Up Down spin-off Thomas and Sarah (LWT/ITV, 1979), The Grand (ITV, 1997-1998), and, more recently, Downton Abbey.
Downton Abbey is the creation of British actor, writer, and director Julian Fellowes. Downton was developed by Carnival Films and premiered on the same network Upstairs Downstairs had been broadcast on in the 1970’s, ITV. In the United States Downton was broadcast on, Masterpiece Theatre on PBS, the same franchise Up Down had been broadcast on almost forty years before.
Like Upstairs Downstairs, Downton has proved to be a popular success around the globe. Downton Abbey is shown in over 200 national markets around the world. In the UK the series attracted some nine to twelve million viewers per episode. In the US the first episode of the second series was watched by more than four million viewers, up 18% from the first series, while the premiere of the third series was watched by 7.9 million. In Australia, where Downton is broadcast on Seven, the series attracted a “mammoth audience” of almost two million viewers. In New Zealand, where it is broadcast on Prime TV, the Downton premiere garnered almost 340,000 viewers. Globally close to 120 million viewers are estimated to have tuned into Downton Abbey.
Like Upstairs Downstairs before it Downton Abbey has also proven to be a critical success within the television industry. Downton’s first series was awarded three BAFTA’s, four Emmy’s, and two Golden Globes. Its second series was nominated for sixteen Emmy’s, winning one. Like Upstairs Downstairs Downton Abbey has become something of a cultural phenomenon beyond the television screen stimulating the publication of a book, The World of Downton Abbey authored by creator Fellowes’s niece Jessica, leading American bookstores to offer book suggestions to its customers on Edwardian social and cultural life and World War I, stimulated viewers to hold Downton themed viewer parties, moved PBS to offer Downton themed jewellry, and stimulated much discussion on Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere.
Interest in Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey within the ivy halls of the academy, however, has trailed far behind that of institutional and popular interest. Despite Upstairs Downstairs being the first upstairs downstairs television show in television history, despite it being one of the most popular shows in the world in the 1970s, and despite its impact on later television programmes, all things that one would think would make Upstairs Downstairs a candidate for a scholarly attention, little in the way of academic exploration of the series has appeared since the 1970s.  There is no mention of the Up Down in such key books in the burgeoning field of television studies as Glen Creeber’s collection Fifty Key Television Programmes, Toby Miller’s collection The Television Studies Book, Creeber’s collection The Television Genre Book, or Michelle Hilmes’s collection The Television History Book. Nor is there a monograph, at least at the moment, devoted to Up Down in either of the leading book series devoted to “television classics”, the British Film Institute’s (BFI) TV Classics series or Wayne State University’s Presses TV Milestones series.
When Up Down is mentioned in what little academic literature on the show there is, it is usually to bury it for its role as a defender of the political and economic status quo in 1970’s Britain. Colin McArthur, for instance, argues that the Upstairs Downstairs episode set during the 1926 General Strike, “The Nine Day Wonder” (5:9), represents the strike in dominant ideological terms, as, in other words, an illegal action that sought to undermine the British nation and British society. Like McArthur Carl Freedman reads Upstairs Downstairs as a defender of the status quo. For Freedman Up Down is reflective of the yearnings or desires of mostly middle class viewers living in a 1970s Britain experiencing change, for a world in which everyone knew their place and all was right with Great Britain and its Empire. A few academics have come not to condemn but to explore Upstairs Downstairs. Charles Barr, James Hillier and V.F. Perkins and Catherine Itzin, for instance, focus on how the show came to be made and on those who made it.
Though Downton Abbey, like Upstairs Downstairs, hasn’t generated much in the way of scholarly analysis it has generated and continues to generate a healthy amount of journalistic criticism, some of it critical, and a significant amount of media attention from old and new media, so much, in fact, during the third series that Downton mania seemed to almost achieve cultural phenomenon status in the United States. For Rachel Cook Downton Abbey is “status quo television” filled to the brim with nostalgia for the days when people knew their place and knew the difference between a duke and an earl. For Tanya Gold Downton gives viewers a sanitized portrait of the British aristocracy, a compassionate aristocracy that sends their cooks to London for cataract operations (1:7) and who forgive their butlers their music hall indiscretions (1:2). Gold makes much of the fact that Downton’s creator, Julian Fellowes, was made a peer of the realm by that new New Tory leader and Conservative prime minister of Great Britain, David Cameron, an aristocratic something Gold apparently finds particularly telling in Fellowes ideological biography. For Simon Schama, never one to mince words when in his more popular guise, Downton Abbey is snob and nostalgia television that wallows in cultural necrophilia and appeals to Americans stuck in the age of paranoid Tea Party fantasies about the evils of socialism and the absence of birth certificates. What is so interesting about so much of this condemnation of Downton as conservative status quo television is that it is very much like the criticism aimed at Upstairs Downstairs in the 1970’s. Even academic criticism apparently gets rerun sometimes.
Beyond being possibly status quo television there are a number of other things Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey share. They share a genre, drama. They share subgenres, the family drama, the historical drama, the costume drama, and the upstairs downstairs drama. They share seriality. Stories in Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey are not tidily wrapped up in the space of around fifty minutes so character traits that exist and events that happen in earlier episodes impact events and characters in later episodes. They share a context, the Edwardian age, the Great War, and that era after the Great War in which the hierarchical modern world was on the verge of even greater historical change than that which preceded it. But perhaps more than anything else they share a setting, a family setting.
Both Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey are largely set in Edwardian aristocratic homes, Up Down in London’s posh Belgravia at 135 Easton Place, Downton Abbey in a manor house in the Yorkshire countryside, Downton Abbey. Both share a focus on the trials and travails, loves, hoped for loves, loves lost, scandals and intrigues, and triumphs and tragedies of the Bellamy and Crawley clans, the somewhat unhappy Bellamy and Crawley clans upstairs (shades of Tolstoy’s interesting in their own way unhappy families?), and their servants downstairs. And both focus, at least in part, on the interaction between these upstairs and downstairs families with each other within the confines of a set of ritualized behaviours and manners determined by tradition, class, and status. It is these family sagas which are at the heart of both Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey.
165 Eaton Place, Belgravia, is home to the Bellamy clan upstairs, Lady Bellamy (Rachel Gurney), her husband Richard Bellamy (David Langton), Lady Bellamy’s and Richard’s oldest son James (Simon Williams), and their daughter Lady Elizabeth (Nicola Pagett). Downstairs are butler Mr. Hudson (Gordon Jackson), cook Mrs. Bridges (Angela Baddeley), parlour maid Rose (Jean Marsh), lady’s maid Mrs. Roberts (Patsy Smart), under housemaid Sarah (Pauline Collins), footman Alfred (George Innis), driver Pearce (Brian Osborne), and scullery maid Emily (Evin Crowley).
Masters and servants came and went throughout Upstairs Downstairs five series. Upstairs middle class Hazel (Meg Wynn Owen) became James’s wife in series three and died of influenza in series four. Lady Georgina (Lesley-Anne Down), daughter of Lady Marjorie’s brother Hugo, arrived as Richard’s ward in series three. Richard married Virginia Hamilton (Hannah Gordon) who brought her two children Alice (Anne Yarker) and William (Jonathan Seely) from a previous marriage with her in series five. Alfred and Pearce left service in series one to be replaced by Edward (Christopher Beeney) and Thomas (John Aldington). Emily committed suicide in series one and was replaced by Ruby (Jenny Tomasin). Sarah left service in series one to return in series two at the end of which she left along with Thomas, her new husband. Parlour maid Daisy (Jacqueline Tong) arrived in series three. Footman Frederick (Gareth Hunt) came to Eaton Place in series four while parlour maid Lily (Karen Dotrice) arrived in series five.
Like Upstairs Downstairs Downton Abbey has its family of masters upstairs and “family” of servants downstairs. Downton Abbey is the home of the Crawley clan upstairs, the Earl of Grantham, Robert (Hugh Bonneville), his American born wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), and their three daughters Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), and Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay). Downstairs are butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), head housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), and their squabbling “children” Lord Grantham’s valet Mr. Bates (Brendon Coyle), footman Thomas (Rob James-Collier), second footman William (Thomas Howes), Irish chauffeur Branson (Allen Leech), Lady’s maid O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran), house maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt), housemaid Gwen (Rose Leslie), cook Mrs. Patmore (Leslie Nichol), and kitchen maid Daisy (Sophie McShera).
Servants come and go at Downton Abbey just as they did at Eaton Place. Gwen leaves Downton to become a secretary (1:7) and is replaced by Ethel (Amy Nuttall) (2:1) until she is forced to leave service after a scandal (2:4). Jane (Clare Calbraith) replaces Ethel (2:5) but leaves service toward the end of series two (2:7). Mr. Lang (Cal Macaninch) becomes Robert’s valet after Bates leaves service in the first episode of series two only to return after Mr. Lang leaves service as a result of his shell shock (2:3 and 2:4). Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle), Matthew’s butler/valet, becomes Matthew’s valet at Downton Abbey in series three after Matthew and Mary marry and Matthew moves into the manor house (3:3). Alfred (Matt Milne), a relative of O’Brien, becomes a footman at the beginning of series three (3:1). James “Jimmy” Kent (Ed Speelers) is taken on as second footman once Downton’s finances are put back on a sound footing after the war (3:4). Ivy Stuart (Cara Theobold) replaces Daisy as kitchen maid allowing Daisy to become Mrs. Patmore’s assistant cook (3:4).
Other members of the aristocratic Crawley family reside near to the estate. The Dowager Countess Violet (Maggie Smith) lives in the Dower house on the estate itself. The male heir to the estate, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), until he moves to the Abbey after he marries Lady Mary in series three (3:2), and his mother Isobel (Penelope Wilton) reside in the Crawley House in nearby Downton village.
Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey share more than just genre, setting, seriality, and an emphasis on masters upstairs and their servants downstairs. Both Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey begin with new downstairs arrivals. In Upstairs Downstairs Sarah arrives at Eaton Place for an interview and eventually gets the job of under parlour maid ("On Trial", 1:1). In Downton Abbey Bates arrives at the Abbey to begin work as Lord Grantham's new valet (1:1)). The arrivals of Sarah and Bates allow the writers of the first episodes of Upstairs and Downton, Fay Weldon and Julian Fellowes respectively, to introduce viewers to the main characters, master and servant dynamics, and leisure and work at 165 Eaton Place and Downton Abbey. Both Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey have downstairs run by generally tradition bound, prim, proper, snobby, and devoted to service and its rules and rituals butlers, Mr. Hudson in Upstairs and Mr. Carson in Downton. Both have mature and crusty cooks, Mrs. Bridges in Upstairs and Mrs. Patmore in Downton. Both have somewhat dim and occasionally clumsy kitchen maids, Emily in Upstairs and Daisy in Downton. Both have scheming and rather “sinister” footmen, Alfred in Upstairs and Thomas in Downton. Both footmen, by the way, engage in homosexual relationships with aristocratic visitors to Eaton Place and Downton Abbey in the first series of each show. (Upstairs, "A Suitable Marriage", 1:5, Downton 1:3). Both have aristocratic daughters who become involved in radical causes, Miss Elizabeth in Up Down and Lady Sybil in Downton (Upstairs Downstairs "The Key of the Door", 1:12, "For Love of Love, 1:13, and "Special Mischief”, 2:10, Downton 1:6). Both have aristocratic radical daughters who marry scandalously, Miss Elizabeth in Up Down and Lady Sybil in Downton (Upstairs 1:10 and 1:13, Downton 2:7 and 2:8). Both have aristocratic or soon to be aristocratic men who go missing in action during the Great War, James in Upstairs Downstairs (“Missing Believed Killed”, 4:11) and Matthew in Downton Abbey (2:4). Both have ladies of the house who become nurses during World War I, Lady Georgina in Up Down (Series Four) and Lady Sybil in Downton (Series Two). Both have ladies of the house affected by Spanish flu after the end of the Great War, Hazel in Up Down and Cora in Downton (Up Down 4:13, Downton 2:8). Both have young female Twenties rebels come to live in their great houses well into the series, Lady Georgina the step-daughter of Lady Marjorie's brother Hugo, arrives at Eaton Place in Series Three (“Goodwill to All Men”, 3:9) while Violet’s great niece Lady Rose (Lily James) arrives at Downtown Abbey the end of Series Three (3:8). In both the sinking of the RMS Titanic play critical roles in the plot. In Upstairs Downstairs Lady Marjorie Bellamy dies while sailing on the Titanic to New York to visit daughter Elizabeth in the United States and her brother in Canada ("Miss Forrest", 3:1 and "A House Divided", 3:2) while in Downton Abbey Lord Grantham’s cousin and heir presumptive James Crawley and his son Patrick, the latter the fiancée of Lady Mary, die when the Titanic sinks in the North Atlantic setting in motion the chain of events related to the entail, the tying of the land, the basis of aristocratic wealth, and titles to primogeniture, that will dominate the first and second series of the show.
Though there are significant similarities between Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey, similarities that while circumstantial cannot be ascribed solely to shared genre, shared general setting, shared seriality, and a shared emphasis on masters upstairs and their servants downstairs and as a result must be ascribed to the influence of Upstairs Downstairs on Downton Abbey, there are also significant differences between the two dramas which distinguish them from one another. Downton Abbey is set in a much larger house with many more servants than the Belgrave home of the Bellamy clan. Upstairs Downstairs is, as was the case with British television and particularly British “quality” television costume dramas throughout much of the 1960s and 1970s,  a kind of "electronic theatre". It was, for the most part, shot live in the studio over a three-hour period on Friday after a week of rehearsal and recorded largely on videotape. Its pace, like the pace of most television programmes at the time, is leisurely, particularly when compared to today’s much faster film and television rhythm. Downton Abbey, on the other hand, as has become increasingly common in British television since the 1980s and 1990s, bears the increasing imprint of film and American television, itself, at least by the late 1950’s, the child of Hollywood cinema. It is filmed at Ealing Studios and on location at Highclere Castle, Bampton in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, and London with digital cameras. As a result it takes much more time to make an episode of Downton than it took to make an episode of Upstairs Downstairs. Camera setups and lighting for filmed dramas like Downton alone can and often do take hours, as long or longer, in other words, as it took to record a single episode of Upstairs Downstairs.
As a contemporary filmed drama Downton is characterized by much more editing than was Up Down. While some scenes in Upstairs Downstairs last close to ten minutes and contain healthy amounts of dialogue Downton Abbey’s scenes generally last less than five minutes, some less than even a minute, with much less dialogue. Even history runs at a faster pace in Downton that it did in Upstairs Downstairs. It took two series of thirteen episodes each for Upstairs Downstairs to get from the Titanic to World War I. It has taken Downton Abbey one series of seven episodes to cover the same historical terrain.
Though Helen Wheatley argues, without any empirical audience analysis evidence for support, that viewers in the 1970s derived pleasure from Upstairs Downstairs domestic space with its period detail of Edwardian manners, language, routines, food, and costumes, Up Down, given that it was largely recorded on videotape, is nowhere near as lush as Downton Abbey. The studio sets of Upstairs Downstairs with their aristocratic material culture may exude aristocracy but the cinematography of Up Down is no where near as rich as that of Downton Abbey with its lush and elegant depictions of nature, the estate, its aristocrats upstairs, Downton village, and upstairs itself in its stately camera movements. Camera movements downstairs, by the way, are far less rich, much more energetic and shaky thanks to more extensive camera movement, and much faster in pace exuding an almost documentary like quality, something quite common, perhaps too common, in the post The Office (Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, BBC, 2001-2003) television world.
Downton and Upstairs Downstairs differ in their mise-en-scène in other ways as well. Downton’s use of music is quite different from that of Upstairs Downstairs. Orchestral music in Downton is quite extensive and punctuates, underlines, and reflects the narrative in each episode, as was common in classical cinema. Music in Upstairs Downstairs, on the other hand, music scored by Alexander Faris, music which nicely captures the Elgarian and Edwardian music hall spirit of the age, was generally only used during the opening title sequence, during act breaks (before and after commercial breaks), and during closing credit sequences, making it more akin to the limited use of music in non-musical theatre.
The differences between Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey aren't simply differences of film style or mise-en-scène. Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey are also somewhat different in their narrative themes. Piers Wenger argues that while Upstairs’ plots centre around history Downton’s centre around class. And it is true both dramas are inherently about class and the complexities of class-consciousness given the upstairs downstairs, masters and servants, upper class and working class, structure of each show. But what really makes Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey different from each other is the differing roles the narrative themes of scandal, history, intrigue, deception, and romance play in each show.
Scandal and attempts to contain scandals is one of the narrative themes at the heart of Upstairs Downstairs. And there is a lot of scandal (only a few of which are noted here) in Up Down. James flirts with and has an affair with downstairs maid Sarah, an affair that ends in Sarah’s pregnancy, acts beastly toward his wife Hazel after she has a miscarriage, has an affair with the wife of his "longest friend" Bunny Newbury (John Quayle), and commits suicide after losing his and now lady’s maid Rose's savings during the stock market crash leading to the sale of 165 Eaton Place ("Board Wages", 1:3, "A Pair of Exiles", 2:2, "Distant Thunder", 3:12, "An Old Flame", 5:6, "All the King's Horses", 5:13, "Whither Shall I Wander". 5:14). Lady Elizabeth refuses to conform to custom and involves herself in "radical” causes and bohemian practises, has a failed marriage, has an affair that ends in pregnancy, and has an affair with a rich publisher on the make ("The Path of Duty", 1:4, "The Key of the Door", 1:12, "For Love of Love", 1:13, "The New Man", 2:1, "Married Love", 2:3, "Whom God Hath Joined", 2:4, "A Special Mischief", 2:10, "The Fruits of Love", 2:11). Lady Bellamy has an affair with a British officer home from the Indian subcontinent ("Magic Casements", 1:7, "The Property of a Lady", 2:6). Miss Georgina spurns the advances of a paramour who ends up taking his life at a wild Twenties party at the Bellamy home, scandalously plays a prostitute in a film in which she is paired with 165’s footman Frederick (Gareth Hunt) moonlighting, and accidentally kills a biker after a drink soaked scavenger hunt ("Laugh a Little Louder", 5:3, "Alberto", 5:11, "Joke Over", 5:13). Upstairs’s downstairs has its share of "unsuitable" scandals as well whether its the scullery maid Emily committing suicide when her relationship with a footman from another house is forbidden ("I Dies from Love", 1:8), Mrs. Bridges taking a baby from its perambulator on the street while distraught over the death of Emily ("Why is Her Door Locked?", 1:8), Sarah taking part in a plan to steal valuables from the Bellamy household ("The Swedish Tiger", 1:9), unmarried Sarah getting pregnant, twice ("A Pair of Exiles", 2:2, "The Wages of Sin", 2:12), Thomas's questionable scheming to better his position downstairs, to better his financial position, or getting Sarah pregnant, without revealing to those upstairs that he is the father ("The Property of a Lady", 2:6, "The Wages of Sin", 2:12), Alfred having a homosexual relationship with a visiting German aristocrat and spy and returning to Eaton Place after murdering his brutal aristocratic lover ("A Suitable Marriage", 1:5, "Rose's Pigeon", 3:5), Mr. Hudson falling in love with house maid Lily ("Disillusion", 5:7), Frederick trying to undermine Edward's position as acting butler in the wake of Hudson's heart attack ("The Understudy", 5:10) or becoming the "kept man" of Lady Dorothy "Dolly" Hale (Madeleine Cannon) ("Alberto", 5:11). The Bellamy’s spend considerable time and energy trying to contain these scandals, mostly successfully, over the course of the show.
History and historical change (the death of a monarch, the coming of war, increasing industrialization, the rise of labour) is another narrative theme at the heart of Upstairs Downstairs. Up Down uses history, in fact, in such a way that it recalls the Reithian remit and the use of science and history in Doctor Who, as opportunities for teaching moments Over five series Upstairs Downstairs took viewers back to the Edwardian age, the age of jazz, the flapper, phonographs, the wireless, the king's speech, tabloids, the rise of labour, the general strike, the age of cinema, the American age, and the stock market crash of 1929. And it took viewers back to World War I.
For many critics and for many of the Upstairs Downstairs cast and crew themselves, Series Four centring on the Great War, was the high point of the series. Series Four really begins with the final two episodes of Series Three. "Distant Thunder" (3:12) and "A Sudden Storm" (3:13), place the Bellamy family saga in the context of rising tensions in Europe. “A Sudden Storm” ends with the declaration of war between Great Britain and Germany and captures superbly the patriotic mania that gripped Great Britain at the time along with the common belief that the Britain and her allies would win the war in a few months.
Series Four uses history in the same way that Upstairs Downstairs always has used history since its inception. It weaves important aspects of World War I into the Bellamy family saga upstairs and servant life downstairs. In "A Patriotic Offering" (4:1) the Bellamy's take in a Belgian refugee family which, since they turn out to be Belgian peasants, are moved downstairs for the servants to take care of while James is off to the Western Front. In "News from the Front" (4:2) James, home from the front, inadvertently reveals important information about the war to Sir Richard's Tory colleagues who use it to further Tory attempts to force the Liberals into a coalition government. As a result James is posted, against his will, to general staff behind battle lines. In "The Beastly Hun" (4:3) Hudson’s xenophobia about the beastly Huns and their rape and brutalisation of poor Belgium, rears its ugly head—Hudson rails against foreigners on occasion in Upstairs often in scripts authored by Jeremy Paul. Meanwhile outside the Bellamy home British anti-German xenophobia reaches its zenith with an attack on a German born baker and his family, a baker from whom the Bellamys buy goods, and their establishment. In "Women Shall Not Weep" (4:4) Edward goes off to war after marrying under housemaid Daisy, scullery maid Ruby, goes off to make munitions at Silverton along the Thames, and Lady Georgina takes her first steps to becoming a volunteer war nurse. In "Tug of War" (4:5) Georgina begins working in a hospital on the home front while James returns from the front depressed about the real war that those on the home front know little to nothing about thanks to government propaganda. In the eighth episode, "The Glorious Dead" (4:8) Rose learns that her fiancée, Gregory Wilmot (Keith Barron) has died "quickly" and "without pain" on the Western Front. In "Another Year" (4:9) Edward returns home suffering from shell shock. In "The Heroes Farewell" (4:10) Ruby returns to Eaton Place after the munitions factory she works in is bombed by a German zeppelins. In episode eleven, "Missing Believed Killed", James, who was sent back to the front after Hazel, James's wife, pleads his case to his colonel, is missing and presumed dead. He is eventually found in a hospital on the Western Front in which Georgina is working and is brought home by the Bellamy's, one of the perks of privilege apparently. In "Peace out of Pain" (4:13) the war ends but the Bellamy saga continues as Hazel is killed by the Spanish influenza, the flu that killed more men and women than the Great War.
Though the war is over by the end of Upstairs Downstairs series four the war is neither out of sight nor out of mind in Series Five. In "On With the Dance" (5:1), James continues to suffer from the trauma of the Great War specifically shell shock. In "A Place in the World" (5:2) Edward, who has left service, for the moment at least, along with his wife downstairs maid Daisy, is, like so many other former British soldiers, out of work.
The Great War, and history in general, play a much less central and far more peripheral role in Downton Abbey and the Grantham Saga than it does in Upstairs Downstairs. The sinking of the Titanic is there but its function is more to move the narrative about the entail along than about the Titanic itself. World War I is there but it is more a narrative prop to, thanks to Matthew’s frequent leaves back to England and visits to Downton Abbey and the injury that leaves him likely unable to walk and have children in the future (2:5), move Matthew’s and Mary’s will they, won’t they relationship along. The Great War serves a similar function in the Thomas narrative strand. Thomas may be serving in the medical corps in the trenches, the same trenches Matthew is serving in during the War, but the focus of the narrative is less on what Thomas does during the war than on Thomas’s schemes to get out of the trenches and return to Downton Abbey, schemes that come to fruition when Thomas successfully engineers having his hand shot so can return to England (2:2) so that the Thomas and O’Brien versus Bates and Anna narrative thread can continue.
It is not history or scandal and attempts to contain these scandals that are at the heart of the first three series of Downton Abbey. Yes Downton Abbey does, like Upstairs Downstairs, have its share of scandals. Lady Mary, for instance, has a premarital affair with a “Turkish” embassy attaché visiting Downton, Kemal Pamuk (Theo James), resulting in his death and necessitating that Cora and Anna help Mary move the body out of Mary’s bedroom (1:3), housemaid Ethel has an affair with a wounded officer convalescing at Downton and ends up pregnant (2:4), Lord Grantham loses the family fortune (3:1), Branson shows up at dinner without tails (3:1). And yes the show does have its share of trying to contai these scandals. Cora and the Dowager Countess Violet, for instance, intrigue to keep Lady Mary’s affair with Mr. Pamuk secret (1:6), Robert initially keeps his financial problems hidden from his daughters and those downstairs (3:1, 3:2, 3:3, 3:4). Rather it is intrigues, schemings, deceptions, secrets, romance, and change that are at the narrative heart of the first three series of Downton Abbey.
Throughout Downton’s first series Lady Cora and the Dowager Countess intrigue to break the entail which means that the Grantham estate, including the dowry monies Cora brought with her when she married Robert, have to go to distant male heirs rather than to Lady Mary. Cora and the Dowager Countess intrigue to marry Mary off to Matthew and if not to Matthew than to some other appropriate suitor (even a rich Italian) particularly after whispers of Mary’s illicit affair with Mr. Pamuk begin to circulate throughout British polite aristocratic society (1:6). Lady Mary and Lady Edith constantly conspire against each other. Stung by Lady Mary’s sharp tongue telling her that she can take any man Lady Edith wants, Lady Edith writes to the “Turkish” ambassador informing him of Lady Mary’s illicit affair with Mr. Pamuk. When Lady Mary learns that Lady Edith has written the letter she pays Lady Edith back by successfully scheming to keep Sir Anthony Strallan (Robert Bathurst) from asking Lady Edith to marry him (1:5, 1:6). The family intrigues to make Branson, the radical Irish chauffeur Lady Sybil marries, into someone of Lady Sybil’s status (2:7). Lady Mary and Violet conspire to obtain money from Cora’s mother Violet to save the estate after Robert’s investments in Canadian rail fail (3:1 and 3:2).
Intrigues and deceptions don’t occur only upstairs. Servants Thomas and O’Brien, scheme to get Bates fired so that Thomas can become the Lord Grantham’s valet (1:4, 1:5, 1:6). Bates and Anna scheme to turn the tables on Thomas and O’Brien, or at least to make them think they turned the tables (1:5). Thomas intrigues to turn his sexual relationship with a visiting duke into a change of status and home. He wants to be the Duke of Crowborough’s (Charlie Cox) valet (1:2). The duke, however, refuses to take him on and doesn’t have to since he has secretly stolen the love letters he wrote to Thomas while wondering with Lady Mary through the servant’s quarters (1:1). Thomas schemes to steal wine from the wine cellar and to blame it on Bates (1:5, 1:6). O’Brien intrigues to revenge herself on Cora because she thinks Cora is about to replace her as her lady’s maid. O’Brien places soap on the floor where she knows Cora will step when she gets out of the bathtub. Cora slips on the soap as O’Brien intended, an injury that ends in the miscarriage of Cora’s child. The miscarried child, it turns out, was the male heir that Lord Grantham had been hoping for, a male heir that Lord Grantham had long wanted, the male heir who would have inherited Downton Abbey keeping the estate in the immediate Crawley family (1:7). Thomas and O’Brien scheme to use Cora to bring Thomas to the Downton village hospital and then to put Thomas in charge of the convalescent centre for officers housed in the Abbey (2:2, 2:3). Daisy intrigues to make Mrs. Bird’s cooking less than edible while Mrs. Patmore is away in London having an operation on her eyes (1:7). Bates’s wife Vera (Maria Doyle Kennedy) schemes to get him back and does so, at least for while, by threatening to reveal Lady Mary’s illicit affair to the tabloid press (2:2). O’Brien schemes to get her nephew Alfred a position at Downton and intrigues against Thomas when Thomas schemes against Alfred to keep him from moving up the hierarchical servant ladder to valet (3:1 and 3:2). Thomas intrigues against O’Brien by telling Mr. Molesley that O’Brien is leaving and Molesley, in turn, informs the family upstairs as he has a replacement for her in mind (3:2). O’Brien schemes against Thomas by manipulating new footman James’s discomfort with Thomas’s close attentions and by manipulating Thomas by telling him that “Jimmy” has told her how much he likes him (3:5, 3:7, 3:8).
Deceptions and secrets are another narrative thread that is at the heart of Downton Abbey. There is the secret about Lady Mary’s indiscretion with Mr. Pamuk. There is Cora’s and the Dowager Countesses’s secret that they know about Mary’s “indiscretion”. There is Lord Grantham’s secret that Thomas is a thief (1:6). There is Lady Sybil’s secret that she is attending “radical” political rallies. There is Bates’s secret that he is married, was an alcoholic, and was a thief. There is O’Brien’s secret that she plotted to injure Cora (1:7). There is Thomas’s secret that he is gay. There is Lavinia’s, Matthew’s fiancée, secret, that she stole government documents that reveal governmental corruption in order to save her father from the blackmailing schemes of tabloid newspaper magnate Sir Richard Carlisle (2:3). There is Robert’s attempts to hide his money loss from his daughters and the servants downstairs (3:1, 3:2, 3:3, 3:4).
Romance is another theme, the theme that most resonates with viewers if viewer comments, mostly from women, at the PBS Facebook Masterpiece page are a guide, that is at the narrative heart of Downton Abbey. At the heart of Downton’s romances are the parallel romances between Mary and Matthew, Sybil and Branson, Anna and Bates, and Daisy and William, parallel romances that are sometimes reflected in the editing of the show as in episode 4 of Series Two where each of the relationships are touched on in succession in the last several minutes of the episode. At the heart of these parallel romances is that seemingly endless eternal literary, film, and television question of will they or won’t they, will they or won’t they be able find ways to surmount the problems they face—bad timing and war wounds, wicked wives and intrigues by other servants, class barriers, and does she really love him or is she just doing her wartime duty respectively—and find true love and happiness together. Downton’s romances are, in particular, at the heart of Series Two. In episode 5 Daisy marries a dying William but feels guilt for doing so for she didn’t love him like, as she says, he loved her (2:5). She comes to grips with her love for and marriage to William and her relationship to William’s father (Paul Copley) in the Christmas episode of series two. In episodes 7 and 8 Sybil decides to marry Branson and, after much gnashing of teeth, the Grantham’s finally accept, if tenuously, Branson into the family. After a flirtation with Patrick (2:6) Lady Edith renews her relationship with Sir Anthony Strallan in the Christmas episode of series two. In episode 8 Bates and Anna finally marry just before Bates is arrested for murdering his wife Vera. At the end of series two Robert and Cora are apparently reconciled after their respective flings with the housemaid Jane and the running of Downton Abbey in war and all that entails. In the Christmas episode Bates is tried and convicted of murder, Robert and Matthew are finally told Mary’s secret about Mr. Pamuk, and Matthew finally proposes to Mary.
Romance continues to be a major theme in Series Three. Matthew and Mary marry early in series three (3:2) and their relationships has ups and downs throughout series three, including downs over Matthew’s refusal, at first, to use his inheritance from Reggie Swire to save Mary’s beloved Downton Abbey (3:1, 3:2, 3:3). Edith’s relationship with Strallan ends when Sir Anthony leaves Edith at the altar (3:3). Lady Edith takes up with her married publisher, Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards), in the 2012 Christmas episode. Anna continues to try to prove Bates’s innocence and their relationship, though it has some tense moments as when both think that each has given up on the other as a result of prison authorities stopping the flow of Bates’s letters to Anna and Anna’s to Bates (3:4), is renewed when Bates is released from prison after detective Anna uncovers the truth, that Vera has killed herself in order to put the blame on Bates (3:6).
Change, change as a plot device rather than as an almost pedagogical strategy as in Upstairs Downstairs, is another important theme at the narrative heart of Downton Abbey. Downton begins with change, the death of Patrick, heir to Downton on the Titanic in 1912, and the impact of that dramatic and tragic change particularly on the masters upstairs. Change continues to impact Downton Abbey throughout series one and two whether it is Sybil’s relationship and eventual marriage to the chauffeur Branson or Mary’s relationship with Sir Richard Carlisle (Iain Glen), a self made tabloid magnate who plans to buy an old manor house from a family that has fallen on hard times and modernize it after he and Mary are married.
While change has been important in earlier series' of Downton Abbey it is in the Third Series that change and its impact on Downton Abbey’s masters, particularly Robert upstairs, and servants, particularly Carson downstairs, becomes central to Downton Abbey. Series Three begins in March of 1920, an era of change, thanks, in part, to the Great War, economic change, social movements like the suffragette movement, the Irish Republican movement, greater job opportunities for lower class men and women outside of service, and the motor car. The winds of financial change blow across Downton Abbey as Robert learns that the money, he invested in a railroad in Canada, Cora’s money, has been lost putting the Crawley’s future and the Crawley ownership of Downton Abbey itself in peril. Downton is conveniently saved when Matthew receives an inheritance from Reggie Swire in Downton, the father of his former fiancée Lavinia (3:3), but his “modern” management style and that of his ally Tom, clashes with that of Robert (3:4, 3:5, 3:6, 3:6, 3:7). After Sybil’s death Robert becomes more open to changes at Downton and he eventually comes to see the changes in the management of the estate that Matthew and Tom bring as Downton Abbey’s salvation. As Hugh “Shrimpy” MacClaire (Peter Egan), who loses his Scottish Highlands home because he didn’t modernize his estate, says to Robert in the third series Christmas special, it was Matthew’s and Tom’s changes that saved Downton Abbey and by this time Robert knows that.
Change isn’t something that impacts only the Crawley estate. It also impacts the Crawley family itself. Branson, who has come to Downton with Sybil to attend Lady Mary’s wedding, and his lack of proper formal dinner wear, his attitudes toward British rule in Ireland, attitudes Robert finds wrongheaded, and his arguments for changes in Ireland are out of place in the traditional world of Downton Abbey (3:1 and 3:4). Cora’s mother, Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine), who like Branson has come to Downton for Lady Mary’s and Matthew’s wedding and who has brought with her an American attitude to openness and promotion of some of the winds of change, is out of place in tradition drenched Downton Abbey (3:1 and 3:2). Edith becomes a reporter over Robert’s objections (3:5, 2012 Christmas Special) that her editor wants not for her skills but because she has a title. Sybil’s death is caused, at least in part, by Robert’s decision to have obstetrician to England’s elite, Sir Philip Tapsel (Tim Pigott-Smith), replace family doctor Doctor Clarkson (David Robb) (3:5). Matthew dies in an AS motor car, perhaps the most dramatic symbol of change after the Great War, that he purchases after his and Mary’s honeymoon (3:2). Even the clothes, or at least the servants, seem to conspiring to bring change to the Abbey. Matthew and Robert dress improperly for dinner (3:2) thanks to the continuing battle between Thomas and O’Brien.
Bittersweet Series Three leaves us viewers with a lot of questions to ponder as we await for series four. What is going to happen to Downton Abbey now that Matthew is dead and Tom is still in mourning after the death of Lady Sybil? What is to happen to Lady Mary now that Matthew is dead? What will happen to Tom and Sybil? Where is Edith’s relationship with her married editor heading?? Will Thomas’s feud with Bates end now that he is under butler to Bates’s valet or will power go to Thomas’s head? Will Thomas’s and O’Brien’s war of intrigue against each other heat up again? Will Thomas find true love with Jimmy? Will Daisy leave Downton to help Mr. Mason run his farm? Will O’Brien take revenge on Bates somehow?
In her essay on Up Down Helen Wheatley decries the lack of critical attention paid to textual aspects of British studio historical dramas of the past like Upstairs Downstairs. Unfortunately this lack of critical attention has continued into the present with filmed historical dramas like Downton Abbey receiving as little attention behind the ivy covered walls of academe as Up Down did. This paper attempts to redress this critical inattention by attempting to explore the similarities and differences, particularly the narrative similarities and differences, between Upstairs and Downstairs and Downton Abbey. As I have tried to make clear there are a number of similarities between the two dramas—genre, subgenres, seriality, settings, the fact that Downton was heavily influenced by Upstairs in several ways—and differences between the two shows. Downton, as I have tried to show, is much less centred around history and scandal, the central narrative themes of Upstairs Down while Downton plays extensively with narrative themes of intrigue, deceit and romance.
I don’t want to suggest that my focus in this paper on specific narrative themes in both Up Down and Downton is the be all and end all of Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey criticism and studies. My brief list of central narrative themes is intended to be introductory rather than exhaustive. One could, for instance, profitably explore the theme of death and loss in Upstairs Downstairs, Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey as soap operas,  and narrative parallels between what is happening upstairs and what is happening downstairs. Going beyond narrative one could explore further aspects of mise-en-scène than I have in this paper, including, for example, the role of photographs play in maintaining memory in Up Down, the increased amount of filming outside of the studio that was done in series five of Upstairs Downstairs, the fascinating conjunction between theatricality and historical verisimilitude in Up Down, 165 Eaton Place and Downton Abbey as characters in Up Down and Downton Abbey, the importance of costumes and food and the look of clothes and food, upstairs and downstairs, in both shows, the importance of sound in Upstairs Downstairs, the sound of expensively dressed masters upstairs sitting down on expensive leather couches upstairs in Upstairs Downstairs, the sound of aristocrats pouring sherry from decanters into exquisite glasses in the morning room upstairs in Upstairs Downstairs, and the sound of servants leather shoes as they go about their daily routines in Upstairs Downstairs, or the role of mirrors in Downton Abbey. All of these deserve far more critical attention than they have received thus far.
So too do the obsessions with the politics of class, gender, colonialism, and history that impacts so much of the research and writing in the intellectual and academic world today. While much has been written about the “reactionary” nostalgia of heritage costume dramas like Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey and their celebration of spectacular aristocratic landscapes, spectacular aristocratic stately homes, spectacular aristocratic period décor, spectacular aristocratic period food, spectacular aristocratic period fashions, spectacular aristocratic period fabrics, and the spectacular period furnishings of England’s privileged Anglo-Saxons of the past and in so doing contribute to a sense of English identity, an argument I don’t yet find fully convincing because I think much more research on the historical context and politics of both television shows needs to be done.
Upstairs Downstairs, for instance, was made in an era in which television thanks to BBC 1, BBC 2, and ITV, became the most popular form of leisure in Great Britain, in which Harold Wilson and Edward Heath played prime ministerial musical chairs, in which the consumer society expanded, in which standards of living increased, in which the British class system went through increasing transformations, in which education expanded, in which the troubles in Northern Ireland exploded, in which ties between the UK and the EEC increased, in which economic stagflation came thanks in large part to the oil crises of 1973 and 1975, in which celebrity culture expanded, something in which television played an important role, in which multiculturalism, particularly in the cities, increased, in which urban and racial violence increased, and in which a neoliberal austerity gained ascendency when Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, four years after Upstairs Downstairs ended. Downton Abbey and its predecessor Gosford Park, on the other hand, took form in the era of New Labour, an age that saw Labour move away from its labour roots in favour of the holy electoral grail of the political centre, the ascendency of Tony Blair, economic growth, a rise in real incomes, market based reforms, further transformations in the British class system, political devolution, increased spending on education, the institution of a minimum wage, economic collapse in 2008, and many more television viewing choices whether over the air, on cable, or on the World Wide Web thanks, particularly to government policies, the growth of cable, and the rise of new digital technologies. Much more analysis, in my estimation, needs to be done on the connections between both of these eras of political and economic stability and instability, economic growth and economic decline, the transformation of the British class system, conceptions of Englishness, and nostalgia for a remembered English past in the midst of all this change, and the Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey that were made during these somewhat different periods of British history.
There may be, as Andrew Higson notes, contradictions in Britain’s television heritage costume dramas both in terms of their production contexts and their consumption. Recent costume dramas, Higson writes, may be as parodic, farcical, and transgressive as nostalgic and they may be read more as soap operaish, romantic, and even multicultural by its viewers than nationalistic. For instance, the class backgrounds of the creators and, in the cases of Alfred Shaughnessy, John Hawksworth, and Julian Fellowes the writers, of Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey, foreground the complexity of the relationship between class and television in Britain in the mid 1970s and in the 2010s. Downstairs' creators Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins hail from working class backgrounds and had relatives who were servants. Alfred Shaughnessy attended Eton, Oxford, and Sandhurst, and his stepfather, the Honourable Sir Piers “Joey” Legh, was equerry to the Prince of Wales and master of the household of George VI though his father was an American of Irish background. John Hawksworth was the son of an army officer and went to the Rugby School, Oxford, rose to the Captain in the military, spent time in Picasso’s studio in Paris, and started his career in entertainment in film set design.
These various class backgrounds of Up Down’s creators did and do clearly impact both television shows. Originally Up Down was going to centre on two maids in a Victorian country house—remnants of this idea remain in the show in the relationship between Rose and her parlour or house maid comrade in arms Sarah in the early episodes of the first series—but by the time it began to air in 1971 the focus of the show had broadened out, thanks to Shaughnessy and Hawksworth, to include not only the lives of two servants downstairs but also the lives, loves, travails, and times of all the other servants and all the upstairs masters. It was this focus on both upstairs and downstairs which distinguished Upstairs Downstairs from that earlier and tremendously successful BBC2 adaptation of John Gallsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga (BBC, 1967) which focused on the trials and travails of the aristocratic Forsyte family between 1879 and 1926. While watching The Forsyte Saga Atkins and Marsh wondered why they had never seen those who kept the Forsyte house looking the way it did and the Forsyte clan looking the way they did and eating the food they were, the servants. This focus not only on masters but also on servants which made and makes Up Down even today an important and significant television event in British television history. Many of the cast and crew ascribe Upstairs Downstairs’s scrupulous attention to historical detail (language, manners, rituals, decor aristocratic space upstairs, servant space downstairs, contemporary hoovers or vacuum cleaners, aristocratic clothes, servant uniforms, and so on) to producer John Hawksworth, who was in the military, and story editor Alfred Shaughnessy, who grew up in an Edwardian manor house.
If there is a nostalgia for a more ordered past in which everyone knew their place and all was right with the empire in both Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey it is a nostalgia tinged with more ambiguity about that mythic remembered past than many critics would like to admit. In the episode of Upstairs Downstairs that MacArthur is so critical of because of its supposed negative representation of the general strike, “The Nine Days Wonder” (5:9), for instance, most of those upstairs do oppose the strike including James, who, like his father is a Tory and who had run for the House of Commons on the Conservative ticket (“A Place in the World”, 5:2) and who drives a bus to help break the general strike called by the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) in support of miners strike in opposition to wage reductions and worsening work conditions in the episode. Some downstairs oppose the strike as well including downstairs’ conservative patriarch, butler Mr. Hudson. Other servants, however, speak quite vocally in favour of the strike including Edward, Rose, and Ruby whose coal miner Uncle Len Finch (John Breslin) and his friend Arnold Thompson (Roy Pattison) come to visit Ruby and speak eloquently in favour of the strike and the reasons for it.
Downton Abbey has a degree of ambiguity as well. Downton’s creator Julian Fellowes may have had a diplomat father, may have grown up in posh South Kensington, may have matriculated at public schools and Cambridge, and may be a Tory peer but the Downton masters he has created and for whom he writes are not always saintly. Lord Grantham has his failings as is particularly apparent in series three. Nor are Downton’s servants always sinners. Even Thomas and O’Brien have their redeeming qualities. If there is anyone who is the moral centre of Downton Abbey it is probably the servants Bates and Anna. And while it is true, in general, that the upstairs aristocrats of Downton Abbey are close with and friendly toward the servants below stairs, even touching and hugging them on occasion, there is some historical evidence for the kind of welfare aristocracism that seems to be practiced at Downton Abbey, a welfare aristocracism that keeps a Bates with a leg injured during the Boer War in service and which sends Mrs. Patmore to London for an eye operation, despite some claims to the contrary. Personally, I think there is a lot more romance in Downton Abbey than nostalgia.
 And any criticism worth its historical salt has to, if we want to fully understand films and television shows economically, politically, culturally, and geographically, do them all. I hope this brief historical and exegetical essay, the necessary first steps on which any hermeneutical analysis of Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey must be founded, has contributed, if only slightly and tentatively, to, putting the donut dough back in the glazed donut hole that is crystal ball textualism.
Reflective of Up Down’s popularity was how seriously some viewers took the show. Simon Williams, who played James Bellamy, the eldest of the Bellamy children, was attacked by a woman in a supermarket with a handbag for his callous treatment of his formerly middle class wife Hazel during much of the third and fourth series of the show and Karen Dotrice, who played the under housemaid Lily who downstairs butler Mr. Hudson fell in love with in series five, received letters pillorying her for stealing the affections of Mr. Hudson, the butler, from Mrs. Bridges, the cook. Many viewers apparently believed that Mr. Hudson and Mrs. Bridges were meant for each other. On viewers mistaking actors for the characters they play on television see Simon Williams and Meg Wynn Owens, Commentary: "Sudden Impact", Upstairs Downstairs, Complete Series, Acorn and Karen Dotrice, Commentary: "Disillusion", Upstairs Downstairs, Complete Series, Series Five, Acorn and Network.↩
Whether BBC and ITV costume dramas are elitist or not it is clear that there are problems with painting either the BBC or ITV with such a broad brush since the BBC has broadcast not only adaptations of Jane Austen but also broadcast television shows like Steptoe and Son (1962-1965, 1970-1974), Doctor Who (1963-1989, 1996, 2005-), and Days of Hope (Ken Loach, 1975), which clearly have a popular if not a populist dimension to them, and ITV has given us Upstairs Downstairs, a show that took its gaze away from masters upstairs to also focus on servants, and that populist adaptation produced by a political refugee from McCarthy era America, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-1960). Beyond the issue of elitism and populism one could raise the question of whether the avant-garde and Brechtian television praised by many of critics as disruptive of dominant discourse, TV shows like Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective (BBC, 1986) for instance, are any less elitist than adaptations of Jane Austen or John Gallsworthy. Additionally, whether a show like Upstairs Downstairs because it is a filmed play has little going on in its mise-en-scene is simply not correct. Great care has been put into creating the mise-en-scene of both upstairs and downstairs in Upstairs Downstairs as I have tried to show in this paper.
I think the reason both Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey have garnered such limited attention from academics beyond the ideological reasons noted above are several. Neither Upstairs Downstairs or Downton Abbey are television programes that seem to stir the academic blood these days. Both are on PBS in the US, a network that has garnered little attention from academe compared to the hundreds of papers and dozens of books on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Joss Whedon, WB, 1997-2001, UPN, 2001-2003) alone, for example. Both aren’t one of the genres that seem to obsess fan scholars or scholar fans such as Doctor Who or Buffy, both of which have generated far more scholarly interest that Up Down and Downton, and neither are American. A quick survey found that 19 of 21 of the monographs in US publisher Wayne State University Press’s “TV Milestones” series are on American television programmes, 21 of 30 books published by British publisher IB Tauris are on American TV series’, and around 90% of the books published by the US publisher McFarland are on American television shows. The British Film Institute’s “TV Classics” series is almost the obverse of Wayne State’s: only 6 of 21 books in the series are on American television shows. British publisher Tauris published a book on Charmed (Stan Beeler and Karin Beeler (eds.), Investigating Charmed: The Magic Power of TV (London: Tauris, 2007), a derivative television show that was on the WB (1998-2006), some referred to it as Buffy light, of questionable historical significance beyond its derivative nature, but has not published one on Upstairs Downstairs. What does all of this say about the academic audience that these books are primarily geared towards? ↩
In yet another battle in the British culture war against the public broadcaster the BBC the right wing Mail Online has published a number of articles claiming that the revived Upstairs Downstairs on the BBC is derivative of the former including Paul Revoir’s "Upstairs Downton...or How the New BBC Period Drama Series Echoes Its Hit ITV Rival", The Mail Online, 31 January 2012. The Mail Online’s claims are rather odd since it is quite clear that Downton is in so many ways, as I have tried to show, a remake of the original Upstairs Downstairs. On the other hand, perhaps The Mail’s claim here is not so odd since the right wing Mail, both in its traditional newspaper form and its online form, has long been known for its opposition to British public television and a purveyor of the notion that the Beeb is a bastion of left wing propaganda. On the ideology of The Daily Mail and The Mail Online see Will Oremus, "The Worlds Most Popular Online Newspaper: How The Daily Mail Took the Title from the New York Times”, Slate, 3 February 2012 and Dean Hardman, “Political Ideologies and Identities in British Newspaper Discourse”, Ph.D, dissertation, University of Nottingham, 2008.
Speaking of the ideology of The Daily Mail and its online Mail Online, The Mail’s Chris Hastings, "Downton Downsized...By Two Hours Because American TV Executives Fear Its Intricate Plot Will Baffle U.S. Viewers", The Mail Online, 7 January 2011, claims that PBS cut Downton by two hours because of fears that Americans would simply not be intellectually able to grasp its intricate plot about the entail. This internet myth (a new area of study for folklorists?) that PBS cut Downton by two hours because of American ignorance is, however, as Jace Lacob points out in his "In Defense of Downton Abbey (Or, Don't Believe Everything You Read)", Televisionary, 3 January 2012, simply false. As Lacob notes the episodes were slightly cut in order to fit Downton into the Masterpiece time slot. Why would The Mail Online make such a claim? It would not, I think, be a stretch to conclude that The Mail Online’s caricature and stereotypes of Americans as semi-literate country bumpkins fits hand in glove with its right wing xenophobia. While all of this, as Oremus suggests, may simply be an attempt by The Mail Online to intrigue and “hook” its targeted female demographic, it also reflects and is consistent with the broader right wing, anti-public television, and xenophobic ideology of its newspaper parent.↩
Speaking of audience analysis, since academia is the product of specific historical and cultural formations academic it too is a form of audience analysis particularly when it is not backed up by historical research, interview or archival. Given this we might want to ask about what historical social and cultural factors have made so many academics in thrall to a historical psychoanalysis.↩
I don’t, by the way, mean to suggest that Fellowes is saying that humane aristocracism plus humane liberalism plus humane socialism equals an important theme of Downton Abbey Series Three. It is a possible reading of Series Three. Its validity as an interpretation would need to be checked and balanced against interviews or writings done with Fellowes, however, not to mention later series of Downton Abbey. Speaking of later series, Branson, after his visit to the US, has a road to Damascus conversion and becomes a staunch defender of America's "social mobility" Gilded Age capitalism. ↩
The problem with crystal ball textualism is that it takes what is ultimately a polemical and apologetic position that everything you ever needed to know about a film or a television show is in the text. This is similar, by the way, to fundamentalist approaches of “sacred” religious texts in which they assume that the only thing you need to know about the Bible, the Quran or the writings of Bahaullah is in the Bible, the Quran, or the writings of Bahaullah. Exegetical and hermeneutic tautology. Theoretically, it is possible that crystal ball textualist critics may be right about Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey being must see nostalgia television, the arc of the glazed doughnut, but we can’t really check whether they are right because they give us nothing to check beyond the text, the missing piece at the centre of a glazed doughnut. The problem with this is that critics often come to different conclusions about the same text. Anyway, much more in the way a historical analysis grounded in primary source material is essential if we are to conclude that both Up Down and Downton are nostalgia TV. Now, don’t get me wrong I think the texts of Up Down and Downton Abbey should be an essential part of any analysis, they are primary source documents after all. I am simply suggesting that they should not be the be all and end all of analysis as they so often are in crystal ball textualism. Analysts must go beyond the text to explore the rich primary source material relating to television production and television creation out there in primary source material land in order to place interpretive checks and balanced on what are often unchecked academic hermeneutic speculations. For my take on and critique of crystal ball textualism see Ronald Helfrich, “’Note to Self, Religion Freaky’: When Buffy Met Biblical Studies”, in Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion: The TV Series, the Movies, the Comic Books and More: The Essential Guide to the Whedonverse (London: Titan Books, 2012), pp. 37-48.↩