Wednesday 29 Oct 2014
Diplomat Sir Hallam appears to have everything. In his mid-30s, he has risen rapidly through the ranks of the Foreign Office, and has recently inherited not just 165 Eaton Place but a considerable fortune and a baronetcy. After a lonely childhood spent in boarding schools, he also has found deep love and solace with his wife Lady Agnes. However, he must also find room in his heart, and his home, for his formidable mother Maud, Lady Holland. The events of 1936 will challenge and change him in ways he could not have foreseen.
The eldest daughter of the 12th Earl Towyn, Lady Agnes was reared in a very damp castle in Wales. Beautiful and aristocratic, she has never been well off. Despite financial hardship, and their failure to have children, her marriage to Sir Hallam has been happy and devoted. The sudden rush of new money thrills her, and she is determined to put her husband, and her home, at the heart of London high society. But even as her dreams come true, Lady Agnes is forced to digest unpalatable truths, and fight to preserve the things she holds most dear.
Maud, Lady Holland is Sir Hallam's mother, and one of the women who helped to build the Raj. A fiercely intelligent and complex woman, she spent her whole adult life in support of her husband, the late Sir Greville Holland, seeing him rise to the very top of the Indian Civil Service. Newly widowed, she returns to England to write her memoirs, and secretly hopes to build a new relationship with her grown-up son. But thirty years of distance are not easily undone, and there will be shocks and heartache along the way.
Lady Persephone Towyn is the 20-year-old sister of Lady Agnes. Ravishing but gauche, she has been marooned in Wales due to lack of family funds – a situation Lady Agnes is delighted to reverse. But Lady Persie's lack of education, and the stimulation of the London scene, make for a highly combustible mix.
Rose Buck was the upper house parlourmaid at Eaton Place for almost forty years. Since 1932 she has eked out a living running a domestic employment agency – but a twist of fate brings Lady Agnes to her door. Initially engaged purely to recruit the servants for the Hollands, Rose soon proves herself indispensible to the running of the house. A business deal becomes an emotional adventure, and Rose returns, in triumph, as a permanent member of the staff of 165.
Warwick Pritchard is sleek, discreet and quite beautifully spoken – but Rose has distinct reservations at first. Mr Pritchard comes to 165 Eaton Place after a lengthy career on the Cunard cruise ships, and has a reference from film star Errol Flynn. Teetotal and highly strung, his exacting façade conceals deep kindness and real integrity. As the downstairs family settles in, he gradually becomes the moral centre of the household – though he still has a few surprises up his sleeve.
Clarice Thackeray is a widow. Passionate about her work, she expects the highest standards of herself and others. She follows the workings of high society through the pages of the Tatler, and even cuts out pictures of the family upstairs. Romantic and affectionate by nature, she is also nosey, judgemental and a monumental snob.
Educated, gentle, and imposing, Amanjit Singh comes to Eaton Place as secretary to Maud, Lady Holland. Having been in her service in India for many years, he is devoted to her welfare. Occupying a position that is neither upstairs nor down, he is at first a shadowy and isolated figure. However, he rose to his current position from very humble origins, and longs to be included in the servants' social world. Once he manages to break the ice, he becomes a welcome and respected member of their tribe.
Good-looking and cocksure, Harry Spargo enjoys his position with Hollands, but resents the social system that keeps him there. He enjoys a cautious camaraderie with Sir Hallam, but this is put to the test by the events of 1936. His passionate nature and desire for easy fulfilment will take him into dark pastures, politically and emotionally.
Orphaned Ivy Morris comes to 165 from a Barnardo's home, where she was trained as a domestic servant. Just 15 years old, she is spirited, wilful, and likes red nail varnish and singing in the bath. Rose only hires her out of desperation, and has a hard time wrangling disobedience and tantrums. But Ivy, who has never had a proper home, knows she has found one in 165. She would never willingly risk her newfound security – but her hunger for love leads her, and others, into danger.
Aged 16, Johnny Proude was born in a mining village near Nottingham. He launches a career in domestic service in an effort to escape a life spent down the pit. Charming and hard-working, he is popular with the other servants – especially Ivy – but comes to 165 with a troubling secret that, once revealed, will shatter the whole household.
Rachel Perlmutter is a German-Jewish refugee who comes to 165 as the new parlourmaid, in May 1936. Reserved and sophisticated, Rachel knows little about basic household chores, but is determined to make the best of her circumstances. An unexpected friendship with Mr Amanjit has lasting consequences for both of them.
Kent is new King Edward VIII's youngest brother, and Sir Hallam's closest friend. They shared some wild nights out when they were younger, but both have now settled into domesticity. As the Abdication scandal rises to a rolling boil, Kent leans on Sir Hallam for support – and 165 Eaton Place finds itself at the heart of a national crisis.
A German diplomat who answers directly to Hitler, Ribbentrop is out to solicit the British establishment. Charismatic and manipulative, Ribbentrop's flirtation with Lady Persie has significant repercussions for 165.
The Foreign Secretary, with whom Sir Hallam works closely at the Foreign Office. His personal opinions often run counter to the government policy of the day, and Sir Hallam finds his own political assumptions challenged.
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