Upstairs Downstairs – The Fledgling

by Lisa McGarry

The wreath above the mantelpiece is furred with dust. The chandelier is festooned with cobwebs. Then a key turns in the lock – and a handsome millionaire walks in, with the woman he loves in his arms…

This Christmas, BBC One invites viewers old and new across the threshold of one of television’s most famous addresses – 165 Eaton Place. Set in 1936, this lavish three-part serial sees diplomat Sir Hallam Holland move into the iconic townhouse along with his wife, Lady Agnes. With the help of former parlourmaid Rose Buck, they launch a new whole new era for the sumptuous home at the heart of Upstairs Downstairs.

As Lady Agnes remarks: “This house is going to see such life!”

But storm clouds are gathering in Europe, and servants are no longer biddable and cheap. The Hollands’ first year at Eaton Place does not unfold as either Lady Agnes or Rose anticipates.

The drama that results sets exquisite domestic detail against a sweeping historical backdrop. There may be two families living in 165 – one upstairs and one down – but their fates are intimately linked. Touching, funny, romantic and savage, the revived Upstairs Downstairs is set to enrapture a whole new audience.

It is January 1936 and King George V is dying. Sir Hallam and Lady Agnes Holland return from a diplomatic posting to Washington. They have immense plans for their future at 165 Eaton Place, which they have recently inherited from Sir Hallam’s father.

The house has been empty since the Bellamy family sold it in 1931, and is in need of complete renovation. Keen to organise her servants, Lady Agnes turns to Buck’s of Belgravia, an agency run by Miss Rose Buck, who was formerly in service at 165.

Rose has some reservations about the commission but the lure of Eaton Place proves irresistible. She agrees to spearhead Lady Agnes’s quest for the perfect staff.

The builders set to work, and the house begins its journey back to opulence. But Lady Agnes and Sir Hallam are stunned when his mother, the widowed Maud, Lady Holland, arrives from India and reveals she’s moving in. She has her Sikh secretary, Mr Amanjit, in tow, and intends to write her memoirs in the morning room. This was not in any part of their plan.

Rose – hindered more than helped by Lady Agnes – strives to find servants worthy of the house she loved so much. After some persuasion, a cook, snobbish Mrs Thackeray, agrees to come aboard. Housemaid Ivy – just 15 years old – is recruited from Dr Barnardo’s, and a teenaged footman, Johnny, arrives from a mining village in the north. But Rose deems the chauffeur, Harry Spargo, rather common, and searches in vain for the perfect butler. The ghost of Mr Hudson casts a long and cherished shadow.

The family upstairs is completed by the arrival of Lady Persie, Lady Agnes’s wayward younger sister. Lady Agnes plans a smart party to mark the launch of the Hollands in London. Guests will include Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and Sir Hallam’s closest friend, the Duke of Kent.

But as the party approaches, tensions rise. Maud constantly interferes with Lady Agnes’s plans, resulting in the addition of the King and his mistress, Mrs Simpson, to the guest list. With the clock ticking, a panicking Rose is forced to engage a rather unusual butler, Mr Pritchard.

But the party, and its aftermath, sends shockwaves through 165 Eaton Place. Before the night is out, Rose is forced to take control. It becomes clear to both families – upstairs and downstairs – that 165 needs her to stay.

Sunday 26 December
9.00-10.00pm BBC ONE and BBC ONE HD