Upstairs, Downstairs
Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill was the US answer to Upstairs, Downstairs. It featured the exploits of a well-to-do Catholic family living in Boston in the 1920s (the first episode started a few hours after prohibition in 1920). By this point, most US television drama had switched to being made on film, but, intent on trying to match the recipe that made the original Upstairs, Downstairs such a success, the producers elected to make the show on videotape, vision mixed "live" from multiple studio cameras. This technique was common for drama made in the UK at the time but had been abandoned in America 15 or so years earlier.

Despite most programming of the time being originated on the west coast, Beacon Hill was recorded at CBS' Broadcast Center on West 57th Street in Manhattan with locations used including Boston, Rhode Island and Palm Beach. It made its much awaited debut on 25th August 1975 with a double-length premiere followed by a further 12 hour-long episodes shown weekly.

Over the course of the first few episodes, bad reviews started to appear in the press. Since the series has never been made available to the public in modern times, it's difficult nowadays to analyse where the problem was. Rather than the acting or directing, the finger mainly seems to point at the quality of the writing – which made many of the characters seem like rather bad stereotypes spouting hackneyed dialogue. To sort out the writing problems, John Hawkesworth, the producer of Upstairs, Downstairs, was called over from Britain. Sadly, even his great talents couldn't rescue things and CBS cancelled Beacon Hill mid-season, despite the fairly promising ratings. It simply hadn't lived up to the pre-transmission hype and the huge reputation of Upstairs, Downstairs but, then again, could anything?

The "upstairs" family of Beacon Hill:

Benjamin Lassiter (Stephen Elliott, front row, right) was the head of the family – a self-made businessman who dabbled in politics at the City Hall. However, said a newspaper article of the time, "This is Boston politics, wheeler-dealing, with just a sniff of corruption."

Mary Lassiter (Nancy Marchand, front row, left) was the wife of Ben and a wealthy lady in her own right. Again, rather like Lady Marjorie, she was a elegant society beauty who was, nevertheless, perhaps past her best years. She tried to keep her husband's political views at arm's length.

The Lassiters had five children:

Maude Palmer (Maeve McGuire, back row, fourth from right) was the eldest child at 38-years old – a conventional hausfrau and mother of four. She was married to the pleasant and equally conventional Richard, who had an interest in yachting (Edward Herrmann – next to her in the picture).

Emily Bullock (DeAnn Mears, back row, second from right) was a caustic, jealous beauty. She was married to Trevor (Ray Cooper – next to her in the picture) who was "old Boston, old money".

Betsy Bullock (Linda Purl, front row, centre) was Trevor and Emily's eldest daughter, aged 18 and somewhat spoiled.

Fawn Lassiter (Kathryn Walker, back row, third from left) was a sort of take on Elizabeth Bellamy. She was artsy, freethinking and sexually liberated – engaged in an affair with her Italian piano teacher. One episode saw one of her escapades – cavorting drunk and half naked at a party – reach the newspapers with her father being left to clean up the mess.

Rosamund Lassiter (Kitty Winn, back row, second from left) was the youngest daughter, aged 29 but still living at home. She was billed as the "plain Jane" of the family but, this being American TV, nobody was ever actually anything less than good-looking. Rosamund's main talent was being a whiz at the family business. She had an affair with the family chauffeur.

Robert Lassiter (David Dukes, back row, left) – the only son – was a take on the post-war James Bellamy. Now aged 26, he had returned from France after the Great War minus an arm and full of bitterness. He seemed to hate his father, but the series found itself cancelled before the reasons were ever spelled out! Meanwhile, Robert found himself at a loose end and, in one controversial scene, visited a black brothel.

Meanwhile, downstairs:

Arthur Hacker (note the initials! Played by George Rose, left) was the family butler, a Londoner, and like his counterpart, Mr Hudson, a moderating influence below stairs. However, unlike Hudson, he was married... Emmeline (Beatrice Straight, front), the "cheroot-chewing, poker-playing" Irish housekeeper. Her niece, Maureen Mahaffey (Susan Blanchard, third from right) was also employed in the house as a maid.

Emmeline's nephew was also engaged by the Lassiters, as the family chauffeur (Paul Rudd, right). He had an affair with Rosamund, one of the Lassiter family daughters.

One of the few sparks of inventiveness in the series was to make the cook, William Piper, black (Richard Ward, second from right) though the series didn't stay around long enough to start any real plots involving him.

Also below stairs were footman Terence O'Hara (played by David Rounds, second from left) and maids Kate and Eleanor (Lisa Pelikan and Sydney Swire, third and fourth from left, respectively).

Three-page article from the TV Radio Mirror, December 1975. Click each page for a larger image (which you can then maximize to read, or print off etc.)