Upstairs, Downstairs
The UK DVDs from Network
Seasons Two and Three

Note: The Network releases of UpDown come in two forms. The first (as reviewed in this article) includes extras such as commentaries and documentaries, and is available in either individual seasons, or a box set with a green cover. The entire run of episodes is also available sans extras in a (cheaper) box set with a different, blue cover.

Season Two

Most of you will have read my opus on Network's DVD set for Season One of Upstairs, Downstairs, so I'll keep this look at Season Two a bit briefer and stick to the points that have been changed from the first release...

The major source of criticism for Season One was the picture quality of the individual episodes – many were very grainy and had quite serious colour noise on them (a problem affecting quite a few archive TV programmes). The collection of episodes on this new release seem to come both from LWT's current digital archive masters (The New Man, A Pair of Exiles, and Whom God hath Joined...) and from the original 2" recordings, currently held by the British Film Institute (the rest of them)1. Surprisingly, the resulting picture quality seems to have little to do with which source has been selected for each episode. In fact, the LWT copies are the best-looking episodes here, with only A Family Gathering from the BFI batch looking as good.

In the main, the cross-colour noise has been eliminated or at least reduced on all the episodes presented here, meaning it almost certainly could have been reduced/removed on the first set, too. Though grain in general remains a problem on a few segments.

The best-looking episode is The New Man. This is still a tad soft for some, perhaps, but is almost completely devoid of noise. For once, watching an episode of UpDown is more like viewing the actors live, rather than looking at the through a dirty window!

The quality ranges downhill from there with the worst episode probably being Your Obedient Servant which is probably only a bit better than the episodes on the Season One set.

As with Season One, Network's press release for the set bangs on about a stills gallery which is not present. Similarly, the scripts-as-PDFs idea would now seem to have been abandoned.

Centrepiece of the extras is the second part of Stephen La Rivière's The Story of Upstairs, Downstairs project. Following a similar format to before, the documentary provides some generic comment on the whole of Season Two before selecting some individual episodes for specific comment. New contributors for this part include Nicola Pagett (Elizabeth), Jenny Tomasin (Ruby), Christopher Beeny (Edward), and Ian Ogilvy (Lawrence) – again, all very nicely lit and shot. Some time is devoted, too, to the proposed UpDown feature film that never got made, and we get a tantalising glimpse at the front page of the script – the most anybody has ever been able to prise from writer Rosemary Anne Sisson! Additionally, a nice little section at the beginning has composer Alexander Faris telling us about how he wrote the theme tune, and Terry Griffiths explaining the unique opening title graphics. The theme music is revisited again at the end of the documentary in a very nice little surprise item.

An extra little featurette included on the set has Alfred Shaughnessy's (UpDown's script editor and, to all intents and purposes, co-creator's) last interview before his sad death, as he remembers the series in his garden in Cornwall in conversation with Simon Williams. Clearly ill, he still has moments of sharp memory, and it's really nice to see him that one last time.

The audio commentaries are as follows:
The New Man with Nicola Pagett, Rosemary Anne Sisson (writer), Jean Marsh (Rose/co-creator) and Ian Ogilvy.
A Pair of Exiles with Simon Williams (James) and Alfred Shaughnessy (script editor/co-creator).
Whom God hath Joined... with Jean Marsh, Nicola Pagett, Jeremy Paul (writer) and Ian Ogilvy.
A Family Gathering with Simon Williams, Jean Marsh and Nicola Pagett.

All very listenable, as before, with no mind-numbing longueurs. Plenty of gossip here, including Ian Ogilvy's affair with Nicola Pagett (though I must say I despair of Jean Marsh's comments sometimes – she says to Ian O., re: Angela Baddeley: "You didn't give her one too?" That's not something I really want to think about!) Some other moments involve the commentators spectacularly missing obvious points about various issues, which will probably have keen fans shouting their own responses at their TV sets, but that's all part and parcel of the fun of 35-year-old reminiscences.

The obvious absences on both the documentaries and commentaries are John Alderton and Pauline Collins. Given the importance of their characters to the first two seasons, it is distressing to learn that they are simply not interested in revisiting the series, if nothing else for the benefit of the fans who continue to buy the DVDs and watch the repeats. After all, I doubt Pauline Collins would have the large set of acting awards on her mantelpiece if it wasn't for becoming well known through UpDown.

All in all, a worthwhile step upwards for Network from the first set, proving that, in the main, they listen to the customers' comments. Let's hope the good work continues as we charge onwards towards Season Three...

Season Three

Off we go again – this time with Network's UK DVD set for Season Three of UpDown. (If you haven't already done so, you might want to take a look at my review of the Season One set for some more general comments.) This time the release is a certificate 12 (rather than PG) due, presumably, to the knife-related violence in Rose's Pigeon.

The picture quality this time around is much the same as Season Two. Although the coloured noise that plagued Season One is likewise absent, there is still quite a bit of grain in the recordings presented here, especially in the darker parts of the picture. Those of you with a more casual eye will probably not be too bothered, but AVphiles with high-end setups may find the grain irksome. The worst episode for this is probably A House Divided, on which I must say the grain did detract from my enjoyment of the episode a tad. The quality ranges upwards from there, but nothing is as clean as The New Man in the previous DVD set.2

Stephen La Rivière maintains the high quality of his Swinging Star productions with the third part, A Change of Scene, of his marathon UpDown documentary series. The contributors from the previous instalments are joined this time by Jacqueline Tong (Daisy), Meg Wynn Owen (Hazel) and John Quayle (Bunny Newbury). Celia Bannerman (Diana Newbury) was due to join the line-up but sadly family commitments prevented her. Likewise, Lesley-Anne Down proved impossible to nab in the short production time the documentary was allowed.

With Stephen's usual brilliant eye for the lighting and the composition of his shots, we look in particular at the stories: Miss Forrest, A House Divided, A Change of Scene, Rose's Pigeon and A Family Secret. Included are brief archive contributions from Angela Baddeley (from a 1974 Russell Harty interview) and Rachel Gurney (from the American TV 1977 last-episode party)3. Personally, I could have done with more from Jackie Tong and less of Rose's Pigeon, but these choices were partly dictated by the availability of contributors.

Meanwhile on the commentary front we have:
Miss Forrest with Meg Wynn Owen and Simon Williams (James).
A House Divided with Jean Marsh (Rose/co-creator), Rosemary Anne Sisson (writer) and Christopher Hodson (director).
Rose's Pigeon with Jean Marsh, Jeremy Paul (writer) and George Innes (Alfred).
Goodwill to All Men with Jean Marsh, Christopher Hodson and Jacqueline Tong.
Distant Thunder with Meg Wynn Owen and Simon Williams.
The Sudden Storm with Jean Marsh and Jacqueline Tong.

As usual the commentaries move along at a fair clip. In fact sometimes, as with A House Divided, the commentators seem to have so much to say they end up chopping each other off mid-comment and the listener never quite gets the full gist of what they are trying to say. In Rose's Pigeon though, for example, the contributors seem more at ease, and this leads to some thoughtful comments on the murder-and-capital-punishment theme of the episode.

Be careful not to miss the commentary for The Sudden Storm, as you need to pick the chapter menu to find it, rather than the more obvious "play episode" option.

Buyers of the Season Two set will remember the surprise item which ended that documentary, with Alexander Faris conducting an orchestra in a new recording of his theme. This is expanded on the Season Three set with a whole 15-minute mini-documentary in which Faris talks in detail about the theme and conducts recordings of the various arrangements which opened and closed the episodes. Everybody has their own names for the different versions, but this includes the "stern march" (i.e. 4:4) and "mellow waltz" (i.e. 3:4) takes of the With Every Passing Day theme, and, of course, the jaunty What Are We Going To Do With Uncle Arthur? melody. Although I haven't got the equipment myself, this is all presented in Dolby 5.1 for those of you with six ears and easy-going neighbours.

The final extra is a 1974 interview from Russell Harty's talk show of the time with Gordon Jackson, in which he talks about the return of the show to cover the Great War.4


1 The Season Two shows taken from the LWT collection all have mid-1990s endcaps. The BFI ones have the originals. All episodes bar Married Love have the original studio slates at the start. All episodes, bar the LWT-sourced ones plus Guest of Honour, have the LWT ribbons and jingle at the start.

2 All episodes in the Season Three set have the original LWT jingle and endcaps. The episodes: A House Divided, A Family Secret, Rose's Pigeon, Goodwill to All Men, A Perfect Stranger, Distant Thunder and The Sudden Storm have the original studio slates at the start.

3 Sadly the Gurney snippet (following an annoying modern habit amongst TV documentaries) is presented from a very grotty VHS copy, despite the original surviving in broadcast quality.

4 From LWT's Russell Harty Plus (tx 2/2/74).