Co-creator Jean Marsh explains why now’s the time to revisit TV classic Upstairs Downstairs, screneing on BBC1 each night from Boxing Day to Weds, Dec 28…
What was it like going back to Eaton Place?
“My first scenes, when Rose returns to the house, were easy because there was a real truth there. I can’t think about coming back to the house without feeling tearful, it was startling to revisit Eaton Place – I was in the house, examining the rubble of the past.”
More than three decades on you are playing the same character which must be tough?
“I think a lot more has happened to me than Rose in the interim. Not that we learn too much about where she has been – she may have been running a brothel for all we know.”
In the show, though, it’s set only six years after the classic series ended?
“Yes, but we couldn’t get hung up on Rose’s age. You can’t go there, she would have to be 110 or something. But in the original run nobody aged – if anything I youth-ed because when we got to the last series, it was set in the 1920s and I had a bob haircut and shorter skirts, which made Rose look younger. I think we have sort of compromised between my real age now and how old Rose would have been!”
Is it true that the original series, which you co-created with Eileen Atkins, came out of the success of The Forsyte Saga?
“Yes, we would talk about creating something together – maybe a book or a play, before deciding we should write about our own backgrounds, something we were familiar with. We both come from working class backgrounds, and both had servants as parents. Eileen’s father had been a footman in a grand house, my mother had been a maid in a lower middle class household. Around that time, when The Forsyte Saga was on, we, with chips on our shoulders, thought: ‘Well who did their laundry, cooking and washing up?’ We wanted to write about the life below stairs as well.”
Are you happy with the new episodes?
“Yes, the entire cast is to die for. I’m not sucking up to anybody, it’s a fabulous cast. And it’s so wonderful to be back – I love Rose even more now. She’s a survivor.”