Same Address, Different Doors: Post-Heritage Deconstruction of the Heritage Household in Upstairs Downstairs in the 1970s and 2010s
journal contributionposted on 04.09.2020, 06:15 by William Abbiss
This article offers a ‘post-heritage’ reading of both iterations of Upstairs Downstairs: the London Weekend Television (LWT) series (1971–5) and its short-lived BBC revival (2010–12). Identifying elements of subversion and subjectivity allows scholarship on the LWT series to be reassessed, recognising occasions where it challenges rather than supports the social structures of the depicted Edwardian past. The BBC series also incorporates the post-heritage element of self-consciousness, acknowledging the parallel between its narrative and the production’s attempts to recreate the success of its 1970s predecessor. The article’s first section assesses the critical history of the LWT series, identifying areas that are open to further study or revised readings. The second section analyses the serialised war narrative of the fourth series of LWT’s Upstairs, Downstairs (1974), revealing its exploration of female identity across multiple episodes and challenging the notion that the series became more male and upstairs dominated as it progressed. The third section considers the BBC series’ revised concept, identifying the shifts in its main characters’ positions in society that allow the series’ narrative to question the past it evokes. This will be briefly contrasted with the heritage stability of Downton Abbey (ITV, 2010–15). The final section considers the household of 165 Eaton Place’s function as a studio space, which the BBC series self-consciously adopts in order to evoke the aesthetics of prior period dramas. The article concludes by suggesting that the barriers to recreating the past established in the BBC series’ narrative also contributed to its failure to match the success of its earlier iteration.