Upstairs Downstairs – Guest of Honour (17th November 1972)

Guess who’s coming to dinner? Only the King of England, Edward VII ….

There’s a neat switch around halfway into this episode. Up until that point the focus – not surprisingly – has been on the Royal visit (first the preparations and then the arrival of his august Majesty).

Hudson is the first to learn the news and he immediately makes haste for the kitchen where he (eventually) tells Mrs Hudson. To begin with he amuses himself by discounting her many suggestions as to who the honoured guest might be (Mr Asquish and Mr Balfour are just two of the names she suggests) before he finally puts her out of her misery.

Hudson then displays a slightly surprising cynical edge to his character. No doubt if the younger servants were present he would have held his tongue, but with only Mrs Bridges there he’s quite comfortable in admitting that whilst he respects the institution of monarchy he has certain reservations about the person of the sovereign.  He then comments that he’d sooner have a Stuart on throne, before shrugging and stating that “we’ll just have to make do with what we’ve got”!

The King himself (played by Lockwood West) turns out to be a rather uninteresting fellow and his fellow dinner guests aren’t a great deal better. This has to be a deliberate touch – but just as the first pangs of disappointment for the viewer might be kicking in, the unexpected arrival of Sarah gives the episode new impetus as it sharply changes direction.

Sarah, pregnant with James’ child, has run away from the bucolic seclusion of Southwold and – by a feat of remarkable timing – goes into labour just minutes after she steps through the back door of 165 Eaton Place. There then follows some strange pantomimic scenes as the staff – aided by Lady Marjorie – attempt to spirit Sarah upstairs (all the while hoping that their guests don’t spot that anything is amiss).

The obvious question to ask is why they take her up the main stairs rather than the servants’ back stairs? The obvious answers would be that had they done so the episode would have fallen a little flat not to mention running about five minutes shorter.

When it’s all over, Rose returns downstairs to tell the others that Sarah’s all right and the child was a little boy. The use of the past tense makes it plain what’s occurred and Hudson – after a beat – comments that it might have been for the best (in series terms I’d agree, as Sarah is now freed from any familial obligations).

It’s quite striking that both Hudson and Mrs Bridges (neither of whom have been that sympathetically inclined towards Sarah in the past) now seem to have rather more consideration for her. Although Hudson can’t resist opining a homily about how Sarah is a good example of the dangers which occur when you attempt to exceed your station in life.

It’s left to the ever mournful Roberts to cast a late discordant note. The other members of staff are happy for Sarah to take her meals with them, but Roberts most certainly isn’t. She begins by labelling her a “slut” before launching a fuller tirade.

She’s a stuck-up, lying minx! Huh! Thinks she’s better than all of us… puts on airs! Gets Captain James into such trouble that he has to be sent to India. Then she thinks she can walk in here as though nothing has happened!

But eventually, seeing that hers is the minority opinion, Roberts relents and a delighted Rose is able to tell Sarah that she’s been welcomed back into the “family”. It’ll be just like old times, Rose says, although this time Sarah will need to behave. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that score though ….

Guest of Honour is an interesting episode. One of the best remembered from the entire run of Upstairs Downstairs, as touched upon before it’s very much a game of two halves. The upstairs portion seems to be the bit that most people remember, which is surprising as nothing really happens. Once again downstairs is where all the action is.

The Professionals – Mk II – Network Blu-ray review

profs

The Professionals – Mk II is now available on Blu-ray from Network. The reason why they haven’t branded these releases as series is probably due to the somewhat haphazard way the programme was shot – with certain episodes made during one production block and then not transmitted until several years later!

There were five series broadcast on LWT in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, but it does seem that Network will follow the path trodden by Contender’s DVD releases by releasing four sets in production, rather than broadcast, order.

Anybody who has previously bought the Contender DVDs or has ever caught a re-run on ITV4 will be well aware just how poor the episodes looked. This was because the previous home video releases and tv broadcasts were derived from twenty year old duplicated prints, which weren’t in the best of shape to begin with.

For many years it seemed that this would be the best we could possibly have, as the location of the camera negatives was something of a mystery. To cut to the chase, Network have been able to locate the negs and strike new prints – and the difference in picture quality is simply night and day.

Whether you buy the BR or the DVD (the DVD of Mk II has been delayed, but will be released early next year) for anybody familiar with the washed-out prints which have done the rounds for decades, the improvement here is nothing short of staggering. The Professionals was only shot on 16mm, so obviously there’s not the same level of detail that 35mm would have offered, but it’s still such a major upgrade in picture quality that it’s an essential purchase.  And if you’ve never seen the series before, then these releases are the ideal way to start.

Whilst The Professionals hit the ground running in series one, it certainly picked up more momentum with the episodes in this set. There’s plenty of good stories here, but if I had to pick one, then First Night is a cracker, full of the moments that made the series what it was – Bodie and Doyle’s banter, Cowley’s withering put-downs and some top-notch action.

As with MK I, there’s exhaustive production notes from Andrew Pixley that help to place these programmes in context and they contain a great deal of information that was new to me.

Warmly recommended.