Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Christmas time, mistletoe and wine (and seasonal TV)

Children singing christ-i-an rhymes. You’d think that Cliff, as a tambourine waving, bible-thumper of eight centuries standing, would know were the stresses should lie in the word “christian”. Oh well. It’s just one more mystery to ponder while attempting to …

Fri, Dec 24, 2010, 18:48

   

Children singing christ-i-an rhymes. You’d think that Cliff, as a tambourine waving, bible-thumper of eight centuries standing, would know were the stresses should lie in the word “christian”. Oh well. It’s just one more mystery to ponder while attempting to stave off depression during the long gap between the soul-destroying afternoon circus and the Likely Lads Christmas Special. “Oh Lord,” our readership sighs. “Not another stream of cultural references from the 1970s.”

Well, as Private Eye magazine noted this week, the TV wonks, when dreaming up their ┬áChristmas ┬áschedules, appear determined to propel the viewer back to 1972 (or so). Dr Who? Ronnie Corbett? Upstairs Downstairs? After a week of this stuff we’ll all go back to wearing loons and eating Findus Crispy Pancakes.

To be fair, the decision to bring back Upstairs Downstairs is an interesting one. It is hard to exaggerate quite what an impact the original series had. Running from 1971 to 1975, at a time of much unrest in the UK, the ITV show — juxtaposing stories involving servants and their “masters” — was often depicted as a cynical exercise in mass distraction. Never mind the three-day week. Here’s some pretty people frolicking in Eaton Place.

It is true that Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh, the show’s creators, originally imagined something a tad grittier. And the staff’s toadying (even when safely below stairs) to the poshies now looks a bit creepy. But a glance at the old show — available in very nicely appointed boxed sets — confirms that the stories were often saltier than TV legend pretends. I Dies for Love, an early episode, depicted a doomed below-stairs obsession with real sensitivity. The episode on the general strike ended in an impressively down-beat-moment. Those DVDs really are worth digging out.

No sane person over a certain age will want to miss Marsh, still Rose, the honest family-retainer, returning to the old house on St Stephen’s Day. Can it work? Well, they managed such a reinvention with Dr Who? Now, isn’t it about time they disinterred The Rockford Files.