Jean Marsh: ‘My maid outfit drove viewers wild’

Jean Marsh says her maid’s outfit in 1970s’ hit Upstairs Downstairs used to drive viewers into a frenzy – and led to her being deluged her with saucy fan mail.

The star – who returns in an updated version of the show – said she would receive ‘rude’ correspondence, outnumbering the letters to colleagues she judged to be more attractive than her.

Jean, now 76, said male viewers would describe their sexual fantasies, prompted by her pinny-clad portrayal of parlourmaid Rose.

The actress, who was also one of the creators of the show along with Dame Eileen Atkins, is the only original cast member to return to the show, which was set at upmarket 165 Eaton Place in London’s Belgravia.

In an interview for the Christmas edition of Radio Times, she said: “I got more rude mail than the beautiful girls on the show.

“I’d open something thinking it was a fan letter to Rose and find some man’s fantasy, which had nothing to do with Rose herself and everything to do with what she wore.

“A five-page letter, beautifully written, along the lines of, ‘I’d summon you into the drawing room, ask you to put some coal on the fire, then throw your skirts over your head…’

“And I’d think, ‘Well, not at 165 Eaton Place, you won’t’.”

In the new series – set in the second half of the 1930s – Rose has moved up to the position of housekeeper and has set up her own servants’ agency. “You could always see, I hope, that she had a spine. She’s bettered herself, run her own business and almost become middle class,” the actress said.

Upstairs Downstairs was a phenomenal TV hit the first time around, portraying the lives of an upper crust family but also examining the lot of the serving staff.