Upstairs, Downstairs

Monday, December 27, 2010
The end of 2010 has been a good time for period drama on television, with the outstanding Downton Abbey on ITV, and a revival of the 70s drama Upstairs Downstairs on the BBC. Upstairs Downstairs is of slightly more interest to this blog as, being set in the late 30s, it captures what many consider to be the golden age of mens dressing. More prosaically, it is at least an era where most of what men wore would not be unacceptable today, although perhaps rather outdated.

In fact, these sort of dramas are often a good place to look for particularly well-dressed men. The main character, Sir Hallam, appears early on in a stroller, perfectly suiting his job as a diplomat. This is a small step down in formality from morning dress as it replaces the tailcoat with an ordinary black coat, usually with peaked lapels but it was, at the time the show is set, the pinacle of formal businesswear. As a result, the stroller was worn so much by bankers and politicians that it remains a stereotypical uniform of the City gentleman long after it has disappeared from London's streets.

Today, strollers remain useful only on a very few occasions, the main one being at a wedding where most people will not wear morning suits. In this instance, a stroller with a coloured waistcoat will lift your outfit from an everyday suit, without appearing to be trying to out-do the wedding party.

Sadly, however, the show disappointed in a number of areas. Every single male character, with the strange exceptions of Anthony Eden and the butler, Mr Pritchard, was visibly wearing a clip-on bow tie. On numerous occasions, the clip itself was visible.

No doubt, most people will neither notice nor care, but for the BBC to be so sloppy in a headline costume drama is a serious lapse, in my view. Perhaps even more disappointingly, a scene with Sir Hallam and the Duke of Kent in evening dress shows both wearing cheap-looking jackets with crumpled, shiny, satin lapels. A great pity.

The show itself is the same odd mix of drama, melodrama and farce that the originals were, although without quite the same quality of script or acting. Still, they're worth a watch, if you are able to get the BBC. The first episode is available on iplayer, the second will play tonight, and the final part tomorrow.