On The Box
At 7.30pm on June 1, 1960, the first flickering television programmes beamed across the screens of the few sets in Auckland.
It lasted just three hours, and that was it. A government committee had been looking into the new fangled medium since 1951 and a mere nine years later it arrived.
By the 1970s we had two channels, TV One and TV2. Both Government-owned, of course, the power of the medium meant this was not something anyone else could be trusted with, but it did mean competition – of a sort.
There were a few memorable series during that decade. One was Colditz, which was on TV2 on Monday nights. Another was Upstairs, Downstairs, which just happened to be on TV One on Monday nights at the same time.
The sadists had already taken control of programming and remember, this was an age when fancy electronic things such as video recorders didn't exist. The then leader of the opposition, a short chap by the name of Muldoon, picked up on the beastly unfairness of it and promised, if elected, he would stop that sort of nonsense.
He was and he did. Already the power of television was being felt. As many of you will know, Upstairs, Downstairs went on to become a worldwide hit and remains a firm favourite. That beautiful music, the stellar cast, the characters and the writing – it was superb. Mrs Brown and I both fell in love with the programme, and although we would have been very much in the downstairs part of the house had we been around in those days, you couldn't help like the Bellamys as much as Mr Hudson and his team.
That's why we sat down with some anticipation on Thursday at 8.30pm to watch a remake on Prime. Mrs B has always been admired with varying degrees of affection in the newsroom (and with our family) as "the Grammar Nazi" and even before the new series started noted that the comma between Upstairs and Downstairs had been dropped from the title.
It was not a judicious start and was met with some disapproval, but personally, I was more interested in judging it by the moving pictures bits.
To be honest, it was good, but not great. To compare it with Downton Abbey would be unfair, but nevertheless necessary. If Downton was a 10, then Upstairs Downstairs, circa 2012, was a 7.
There were some nice touches. The original series creator Jean Marsh, who played Rose, is back as Rose this time, only now she has graduated to housekeeper.
Naturally the cast and characters had to change, but frequent references to the likes of Mr Hudson, the original butler, reminded us that we were watching an old friend come back to life.
Unfortunately, the corpse was unable to be revived for long. In the final analysis it lacked the prerequisite subtlety to recapture the lives and times of the early 20th century. There was simply too much that was unbelievable and that is ultimately a fatal flaw in any period drama aspiring to such substance.
The master of the house is Sir Hallam Holland, who, with his incredibly vain and stuck up missus, Lady Agnes, are reopening the famous Bellamy residence at 165 Eaton Place in London.
One early scene gave a clue that this was not going to be a mistresspiece, or even a masterpiece. Hal and Agnes are looking out a first-floor window, when she talks about brightening the place up and having lights and flowers at every window. Hal wants to make us sick. "I want to sit and gaze at you each evening and listen to the wireless and not talk, because we know each other so well we don't have to speak at all. "
He pretty much succeeded. The violins played louder and louder, until Hal and Ag embraced and kissed longingly. Mrs B, in a rather unladylike manner, motioned with her fingers, as if she was going to put them down her throat, imitating the noise of someone being sick. "More Mills & Boon than Upstairs Downstairs," she acidly observed. It was hard not to disagree.
Speaking of acid though, the scene stealer was Hal's mum, Maud, Lady Holland. She was a good imitation of the Dowager Countess from Downton, and continues to be the party pooper by arriving home unexpectedly. Three can be a crowd , even in that mansion, but she did have some good lines, especially when sorting out Agnes's objectionable sister, Lady Persie.
"Do you smoke?"
"No," replies Pers.
"I shall teach you, but not tonight, you've behaved too badly."
So there. The series ran for two seasons in Britain before being canned so enjoy it for what it's worth.
- © Fairfax NZ News