As Upstairs Downstairs returns to TV this Christmas for its first new episodes in 35 years, original series actress and series co-creater Jean Marsh, who reprises her role of Rose Buck, discusses the show’s revival and the audience’s lasting affection for the original.
How did it feel to know that Upstairs Downstairs was going to be revived?
I was thrilled that it was the BBC – it is such an honour. But it was so odd thinking about the past and the actual doing of Upstairs Downstairs. However, I settled down after the first read-through. That was the point when I put the past aside, because it was such a wonderful moment.
Was it an emotional experience?
I went through a mixture of emotions; pleasure mainly but when I thought about the people who aren’t here – like Gordon Jackson and Angela Baddeley – it was quite painful. Normally when I think about them I think about them kindly. And I’ve got used to them not being here. But it was odd – especially when I was filming. There were some scenes where I had to act having a sense of déjà vu and emotion about the past. To find those emotions was easy, but to control it wasn’t.
How was it when you first stepped back on to the sets?
The sets are beautiful and very photogenic. They are quite different to the original sets – they are much bigger. I very much enjoyed it though. We all looked around and realised how amazing it was to have those sets. The kitchen is my favourite set of them all. There are separate rooms – so you can have a scene with one person in one room and shout to another – all in one scene.
Apart from [fellow co-creater] Eileen Atkins had you ever worked with any of the other cast members?
No, I hadn’t. I had seen Ellie Kendrick and Anne Reid on TV. And I was well aware of everybody – who couldn’t be with such great names? I was a bridge between the upstairs cast and downstairs cast as I had a few scenes with Lady Agnes’s character played by Keeley Hawes. And they were so successful. They make an interesting couple!
Rose has climbed the employment ladder in the household, hasn’t she?
Yes, she has. She’s now the housekeeper. She’s hired initially to recruit the servants for the Holland family. She’s been running a tiny office looking for servants, but it’s at a time when servants were hard to come by and she knows it’s going to be fiendishly difficult. And Lady Agnes seems to think that she can manage the house herself! But finally Lady Agnes, who can generally get her own way, gets Rose as housekeeper. Naturally Rose is thrilled because some of the happiest times of her life were in 165 Eaton Place. Now she’s going back with her own bedroom, her own little office and quite a lot of power.
Do you think Rose herself has changed?
In the six years since moving out of 165 Eaton Place she has missed the companionship and life – not just of the downstairs people, but also that of the upstairs people. She’s lived alone and had this tiny office, tiny bedroom and hasn’t had a huge amount of contact with people. I think it’s a blessing for her to go back to 165 with all its memories.
What do you think it is about Upstairs Downstairs that people love so much?
I think Upstairs Downstairs has a very special energy. There’s something about it that certainly brings out the best in people. Heidi Thomas has been very inventive. And like the classic series she has used wonderful things from the past. This new series has the same energy as the classic.
Have you enjoyed filming in Wales?
Yes. I had an apartment right on the sea front and the light would bounce into the rooms. I was on a wonderful footpath that went all the way around Cardiff Bay and it was just beautiful. Eileen was staying in Penarth so I would sometimes walk over to her or she would walk all the way over to me. We would eat lunch, or cook dinner. It was great for us. Both Eileen and I are very keen walkers and it’s a wonderful place to stay.
Upstairs Downstairs, Boxing Day on BBC One
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