What is it about the British? We declared our independence from them many, many years ago and, yet, we still find a fascination with them. The Royals. The Aristocrats. The titles and classes. The accents. The traditions. They capture our imaginations and our attention. It is also a fascination for me because of my heritage – my Grandmother’s ancestors were (as far as I have seen) pure English with immigration to America as recent as 3-4 generations before me! I, myself, am a mongrel with my Grandfather’s Irish and German thrown into the mix and Lord knows what added in from my birth father’s heritage. But, regardless of all that, I am still attracted to just about anything involving the United Kingdom – I say that because it isn’t just England that intrigues me – I find anything Irish to be an addiction, as well.
But, it isn’t just me — I think most of America finds a certain interest in the British and keep them imbedded in our culture on some level. Where would Rock and Roll be today without the British Invasion? How many American televisions were NOT tuned in to the wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles – surely that is a number much easier to count than those that WERE tuned in! Who wasn’t anxiously awaiting news of the newest royal baby? Would there be such a thing as “super models” if not for Twiggy becoming a world-wide sensation in the 1960s? And, it is for good reason that our PBS stations carry BBC television productions – they wouldn’t if the ratings didn’t warrant it! Yes, the British are a fascinating bunch – especially when the story involves old England and the very rich, titled society.
I do so enjoy watching movies and programs that show the history of England and the people of the old days – Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, etc. I love the costumes, the accents, the formal way of speaking, the respect for position and tradition, the architecture, the scenery…..and so much more! Surprisingly, though, I never let myself get interested in shows like Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey……until recently!
I wrote a couple of posts ago that I recently got hooked on Downton Abbey – I finally gave in to the talk from friends and on Facebook about how wonderful it was. I caught myself up on the first three seasons and fell totally in love with the stories and the characters! It is a wonderfully scripted and acted show with an incredible insight into the lives of both the aristocrats and servants in a large household in early 1900’s England. It shows how so many totally different people can live together in one house and share in each other’s lives, yet live in totally different worlds separated by class and stations in life….and the separation isn’t just between the family and the servants – it also includes distinct levels of respect and prominence within the family and across the servants. I enjoy watching the traditions, beliefs, and expectations unfold in each episode. I wonder where we lost our need to embrace civility and manners and how the world would differ if we still dressed for dinner, had expectations of proper etiquette, behaved in a manner befitting an appropriate reputation, cared how we are perceived by others, and sat down as a family for tea and cakes in the middle of the day – every day. I can not wait until the fourth season begins in January and hope that it goes on forever!!!
While waiting for season four of Downton Abbey, I find myself craving similar stories. I remembered there was an older series on BBC/PBS called Upstairs, Downstairs that I never watched while it was on. I understand there is a memoir of an English housemaid that inspired both the Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey stories. So, I looked for it on Amazon to stream the shows. I didn’t realize that there were actually TWO Upstairs, Downstairs series – one which aired in 1971 – 1975 and a reprisal which aired in 2010 – 2012. I watched seasons 1 and 2 and LOVED it!!! Then, I started watching season 3 and wondered what happened — it was in black and white and a different set of characters and obviously in an earlier time period – but, the same house – I was VERY confused, to say the least!!!! So, I read up on the series and found that there were the two – I obviously watched the reprised series first! HAHA!!! So, I stopped watching season 3 and went back to season 1 of the original series and that’s where I am, now! The original series isn’t as well done as the reprised series and far from as exquisite as Downton Abbey is, but it is still very enjoyable. I have a lot of episodes to watch — there were five seasons in the original series and I intend to stretch them out over some time and not cram them all in quickly, like I did Downton Abbey (three seasons in less than 3 days) – I hope I can stick with that plan so that I can enjoy them for a while. I do hate, though, that there were only two seasons of the reprised series – that was quite good and I would have liked to follow the characters a while longer.
So, here I am watching and learning about and adoring a culture so far removed from what we experience today. I may just have to throw a good old-fashioned tea party to bring a little of it into my real life to compliment it in my fantasy life!