Behind the scenes
Each Upstairs, Downstairs episode was recorded on a two-week turnaround. In order to describe the exact way the series was made, you first need the understand the different roles in making TV programmes of the time...
Producer – The general in charge of the army. He had ultimate control of the show and would be responsible to the TV company (LWT in this case) for the look, feel and direction of the series. The producer of UpDown was John Hawkesworth.
Script editor – In charge of the writing side of the episode. Would, in conjunction with the producer, write a short storyline for each episode, choose writers, and perform any necessary changes to the scripts. Alfred Shaughnessy was Upstairs, Downstairs' script editor.
Writer – Chosen on an episode-by-episode basis, the writer would turn a short storyline (supplied by Shaughnessy) into a fully fledged dialogue script.
Director – Again, chosen on an episode-by-episode basis, would control how the writer's script would translate into what was finally seen on the screen. He would instruct the actors how to move and deliver their lines, as well as choose all the camera angles for the show, producing a detailed camera script to show all the vision cutting between the actors.
Designers – The set designer (usually just called "designer") would design and supervise the building of the sets. The costume designer would design and make costumes needed for the episode. The make-up designer would apply the studio make-up to the actors ready for the episode's recording.
The production of each UpDown episode would begin with the producer, John Hawkesworth, and script editor, Alfred Shaughnessy, deciding the basic outline of the episode. The bare bones of the plot would be discussed, and the characters to be used in that segment decided upon. From these discussions, Shaughnessy would draft a "storyline" – a brief synopsis of the intended plot, running to no more than a couple of paragraphs. A writer for the episode would chosen, and he/she would be given the storyline and asked to develop a full script.
Some time later, the writer would present the production office with his intended full script for the episode, known as a "rehearsal script" or "dialogue script". This, as the name implies, would contain all the intended dialogue for the episode, plus a few brief stage directions. The appropriateness of these scripts could vary, depending on how familiar the writer was with the show. It would be part of Shaughnessy's job to take the submitted script and generally whip it into shape – ensuring that the feel of the episode was consistent with others in the series; that the characters used did not stray from their established characterisations; and also that there were no continuity errors. Over its five seasons, UpDown built up a core of favourite writers (Jeremy Paul, husband-and-wife team Terence Brady & Charlotte Bingham, Rosemary Anne Sisson and Anthony Skene, not to mention Hawkesworth and Shaughnessy themselves) and their scripts rarely required much work on them. Certain other scripts, though – generally writers new to the series – would often require extensive rewriting by Shaughnessy.
At this point, John Hawkesworth would assign an appropriate director to the episode in question. Just as with the writers, UpDown often drew from a small pool of recurring names whom could be relied upon to deliver the right style for the series. Once assigned, the director would talk with the set designer, the costume and make-up designers about what the episode would require in their specific field. The designers would then go away to work on their particular aspect of the show, ready for the forthcoming two days in the studio.
As far as the actors were concerned, the making of each segment would start with them receiving their scripts. On the first Monday of each two-week period, all the required cast, together with the director and the production assistant, would assemble for a read-through. This would simply be held around a long table in a rehearsal room – the cast were over a week away from actually seeing the inside of a TV studio. Various strange places were used for UpDown's rehearsals, including an army barracks (the Duke of York's Territorial Army HQ, off the King's Road – since mostly redeveloped into retail units) and a church hall in Putney (still there). Typically in television, at a read-through, there would have been no real attempts from the actors at giving a performance. The idea would have been more to get the feel of the script and to start learning the lines. Few actors would come to the first rehearsal already having bothered to learn their lines. An exception to this on Upstairs, Downstairs was Gordon Jackson who, as Jean Marsh observed, always attended the first day already familiar with his lines, with his script marked out in highlighter pens – a different colour for each person!
Days of repeated rehearsal would follow this, still in the bare room, using minimal props, with the actors in plain clothes. The rehearsal-room floor would be marked with tape, indicating the boundaries of the various sets used. Doors would be represented simply by tall polls. During this time the actors would hone their performances and iron out any problems they had with the script. Timings would be constantly taken by the production assistant to ensure that the episode was not likely to run too short or long, and adjustments made to the script as appropriate.
At the same time, various members of the cast would have to take time out from these rehearsals to record any location sequences required. Highly unusually for the time (and indeed right through until the late 1980s) exterior work was often recorded with outside-broadcast (OB) video equipment, rather than on film as was more common.
By the time the following Tuesday rolled around, the cast would be expected to be proficient at their lines. The producer (John Hawkesworth) would attend a rehearsal at this time (known as the "producer's run") and pass on his comments (producers were expected to stay out of the way during most rehearsals lest the director felt intimidated). The following day would be given over to a technical run – with the senior cameraman in attendance, the various movements of the cameras would be planned. Whilst attendance at this run was optional for most of the crew, such was the interest from personnel within LWT that it was always full up for Upstairs, Downstairs. At the same time, over in the TV studio, the sets would be being erected, dressed and lit (the "set and light").
On Thursday, production would move into the main LWT TV studios on the South Bank of the Thames (although early episodes – up to A Pair of Exiles – had been recorded at the old Rediffusion studios at Wembley). All the technical crew would be present to plan out the final movements of the cameras and sound booms. Overnight, final touches would be added to the sets ready for the dress rehearsal on Friday morning.
On Friday afternoon the director would have a choice of two ways of using his studio time. The "normal" way – handed down from the way live TV worked in the 1950s – was to do yet more dress rehearsals until late in the day. The video tape recorder (VTR) would then be started in the early evening and the whole episode recorded more or less straight through in about 2½-3 hours (the time allowed depended on how much location pre-filming/recording the episode already had "in the can"). Retakes were reserved only for (serious) fluffs from the cast or technical faults. By this time in television's history, individual scenes would still generally be recorded straight through, but brief breaks were now considered acceptable between scenes in order to reposition cameras, booms and so forth at a somewhat more relaxed pace than with the hectic days of true live TV drama (or the period just afterwards, when editing unwanted portions from the videotape was still laborious).
Alternatively, the director could use the entire afternoon somewhat differently. With this method, each scene would be rehearsed a couple of final times, before the tape was started to record the result for that particular scene. The studio would then move onto the next scene, and so on. This process was known as "rehearse/record". The slates at the start of the UpDown videotapes indicate the VTR was started anywhere between 3.15 and 7 p.m. indicating the first method was mainly in use. The spin-off series, Thomas & Sarah, used the rehearse/record method, though (sometimes across both studios days; sometimes just across the second).
The opening and closing credits would be recorded in the corner of the studio during the same session simply by cutting between piles of cards, mounted on music stands, to the beat of the title music.
After a final session in an editing suite, the episode would be ready for transmission.
(Much more about the making of the series can be found in the book Inside Updown – The Story Of Upstairs, Downstairs – see details elsewhere on this site.)