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Upstairs Downstairs – episode synopses

Episode one – The Fledgling

January 1936. King George V is dying. Sir Hallam and Lady Agnes Holland return from a diplomatic posting to Washington. They have immense plans for their future at 165, Eaton Place, which they have recently inherited from Sir Hallam's father. The house has been empty since the Bellamy family sold it in 1931, and is in need of complete renovation.

Keen to organise her servants, Lady Agnes turns to 'Buck's of Belgravia', an agency run by Miss Rose Buck, who was formerly in service at 165. Rose has some reservations about the commission, but the lure of Eaton Place proves irresistible. She agrees to spearhead Lady Agnes's quest for the perfect staff.

The builders set to work, and the house begins its journey back to opulence. But Lady Agnes and Sir Hallam are stunned when his mother, the widowed Maud, Lady Holland, arrives from India and reveals she's moving in. She has her Sikh secretary, Mr Amanjit, in tow, and intends to write her memoirs in the morning room. This was not in any part of their plan.

Rose – hindered more than helped by Lady Agnes – strives to find servants worthy of the house she loved so much. After some persuasion, a cook, snobbish Mrs Thackeray, agrees to come aboard. Housemaid Ivy – just 15 years old – is recruited from Dr Barnardo's, and a teenaged footman, Johnny, arrives from a mining village in the north. But Rose deems the chauffeur, Harry Spargo, rather common, and searches in vain for the perfect butler. The ghost of Mr Hudson casts a long and cherished shadow.

The family upstairs is completed by the arrival of Lady Persie, Lady Agnes's wayward younger sister. Lady Agnes plans a smart party to mark the launch of the Hollands in London. Guests will include Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, and Sir Hallam's closest friend, the Duke of Kent.

But as the party approaches, tensions rise. Maud constantly interferes with Lady Agnes's plans – resulting in the addition of the King and his mistress, Mrs Simpson, to the guest list. With the clock ticking, a panicking Rose is forced to engage a rather unusual butler, Mr Pritchard. But the party, and its aftermath, send shockwaves through 165 Eaton Place. Before the night is out, Rose is forced to take control. It becomes clear to both families – upstairs and downstairs – that 165 needs her to stay.

Epidsode two – The Ladybird

June 1936. Rose is now officially installed as housekeeper, wrangling her team of eccentrics and juveniles. Lady Agnes, meanwhile, has manoeuvred her household to the heart of London society, and adores the fact that Lady Persie is a debutante. Lady Persie is bored to tears – and Maud is restless too.

The London Season is at its height, and life at 165 is filled with diamonds, dancing, mink capes and champagne. But world events rumble like thunder in the distance – Sir Hallam's work is affected by Mussolini's annexation of Abyssinia, and a new parlourmaid, Rachel Perlmutter, arrives as a refugee from Germany. Rachel does not take easily to domestic work, while the other servants are disconcerted by her elegance, poise, and dietary habits. However, there are celebrations upstairs and down when Lady Agnes discovers – after seven long and fruitless years of marriage – that she's expecting a child. Though she and Sir Hallam are overjoyed by the news, Lady Agnes is haunted by thoughts that things may not go well. She becomes preoccupied by her pregnancy, and her husband and sister are left to their own devices.

Maud seizes the chance to draw closer to her son. Sir Hallam welcomes this when he is shaken out of his political complacency by an encounter with deposed Emperor Haile Selassie. Despite Lady Agnes's indifference, he begins to view the rise of the European right wing in a different light.

Maud also takes Lady Persie under her wing, encouraging her to think more deeply and read more widely. But she lights a fire in a dangerous place, and Lady Persie soon falls under the spell of Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists. Unbeknown to the rest of the household, she forms an alliance that will drag her into moral and physical peril.

Meanwhile, as the summer progresses, Rachel bonds with fellow outsider Mr Amanjit, and a tender friendship forms. She comes to trust him with her deepest secret – the existence of her little daughter, Lotte – and they move towards full-blown romance.

But events are hurtling towards the powder-keg of the Cable Street riots – an explosive confrontation that ends in tragedy, and has far-reaching results for all at Eaton Place.

Episode three – The Cuckoo

November 1936. Several weeks have passed since the Cable Street riots and the ensuing tragedy. Sir Hallam feels responsible for Lotte's plight, and the staff are consumed by worry for her future. Maud (Eileen Atkins) believes the child has psychiatric problems.

Meanwhile, Lady Persie's life becomes increasingly covert and complex. In the thrall of an illicit sexual affair, she is also obsessed with right-wing politics – and pursues her interests regardless of the danger to the people that she loves.

Lady Agnes, due to give birth in December, has no knowledge of her sister's activities. She is both elated and anxious at the prospect of motherhood, and throws herself into the preparations – decorating the nursery, seeking out a nanny, and arranging to be photographed by Cecil Beaton.

Mrs Thackeray is enthralled by the thought that London's top photographer is actually in the house. Breaking bounds, she steals upstairs and sneaks a secret meeting with him. He even takes her photograph – but when Rose finds out, battle lines are drawn, and Mr Pritchard is caught between the warring women.

Tensions also deepen upstairs, as Sir Hallam is drawn into the burgeoning Abdication Crisis. His closest friend, the Duke of Kent, is desperate to stop his brother from abandoning the throne, and begs Sir Hallam for help. Anthony Eden also exerts pressure – and so it comes to pass that a very special dinner is arranged, at Eaton Place. The house finds itself at the eye of the storm that engulfs the monarchy.

But it is the fate of one small child that has 165 divided. Lotte's mental condition deteriorates, and Maud takes charge. To the servants' dismay, Lady Agnes permits Maud to whisk the child away to a psychiatric clinic. No cure is guaranteed, and they fear they will never see Lotte again.

Sir Hallam returns from the Foreign Office late at night, and is furious to find that Lotte has gone. Furious with Lady Agnes, he enlists the help of Harry Spargo and Mr Amanjit, setting out to locate the child and establish her fate. But in doing so, he discovers more than he ever expected, and his life is thrown into utter disarray.

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