Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Upstairs Downstairs the Real Rose


'Upstairs Downstairs' the well loved TV series is returning to BBC television this Christmas for another three episodes. Jean Marsh who was one of the original creators returns at 73 to play the ladies maid 'Rose who has now become the Housekeeper.

Rose is based on Jean Marsh's own mother,  Marshie, who was a ladies maid during this period. Ladies maids became more than a servant to their mistresses they became their friends and possibly the only real friends, as far as anyone paid to do this type of job, can be. The upper classes became very dependent on their servants. Proust and Celeste spring immediately to mind. How could he Proust have completed 'a la recherche' without her?

Few people today can have any idea of what it is to have a ladies maid and in truth that is a 'good thing'. Ghandi believed that everyone should be capable of doing their own chores. Make their bed, cook for themselves, wash their clothes and generally not depend on paid servants to do this for you. Ghandi believed the world would be a happier place without a servant class and I throughly concur. Except for one occasion which embarrassed me, I have done my own laundry, I have done other people's laundry for little thanks but ever since the age of 16 I have done my own but for a short period of my life I have had a ladies maid and not any old ladies maid. My ladies maid was Marshie or 'Rose', Jean Marsh's mother. Would you believe it!

Zips are never used in opera, ballet or the London Theatre. All theatrical clothes have hooks and eyes for safety. It is impossible to get into or out of these dresses, some of them are heavy and complicated, without help. Quick changes in the wings, there are many of these, need costumes to be  carried down and up many flights of stairs, and in intervals cups of tea are needed. Intervals for audiences are usually hectic for the artists who have to make complete changes from say 'swans' to 'courtiers' in less than seven minutes. Dressers are essential and come with the job.

At first I felt embarrassed at having someone 'dress' me. I had had dressers before but never one like Marshie.

For the 'Desert Song' at the Palace Theatre my dresser was Marshie. What an incredible experience! Within minutes Marshie had my life organized down to the last hairpin. Make up, laundry, tea, visitors, hair, telephone calls and gossip. My dressing room was the epitome of her craft for Marshie was a real ladies maid. Backstage she was a 'star'. I was just so lucky and indeed grateful. Being in a West End Musical is quite a responsibility and because everyone is doing a first class job it can be very lonely.

As the comedy lead my partner and myself were usually on the stage to cover the main casts' costume and scenery changes so mostly we never met them. When I was 'on' they were 'off' so Marshie became my friend who gave me all the news. It was fun and as she was a great cook I got many treats especially the Xmas Cake.

It was only when Jean Marsh came to the musical that I found out Marshie was Jean Marsh's inspiration for 'Rose' and I can see why. Jean Marsh knew her mother and has immortalized her in the character of 'Rose'. Marshie will be famous and live on when all of us are long gone! She deserves it.

Janette Miller as 'Susan' in her dressing room at The Palace Theatre  London

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