In a nutshell: A lovely step back in time, which is over far too quickly
Popcorn rating: 4.5/5
Let’s face it early evening telly is fairly abysmal. Thankfully, that has all changed with the arrival of BBC’s frankly marvellous Royal Upstairs Downstairs. As I had suspected, the show has proven to be a delight – so much so that I look forward to this dip into England’s architectural and food heritage with something akin to the happy glow a child on being told that sorry, no school today, the teachers are all snowed in.
It is a beguilingly simple premise – two likable experts, moustachioed Antiques Roadshow primo Tim Wonnacott and Ladettes to Ladies cookery teacher, Rosemary Shrager take a step back in time, revisiting the houses, castles and stately homes Queen Victoria stayed in during her life. Cue lots of grand old houses surrounded by acres of lush greenery, lofty rooms bedecked in sumptuous antiquary and culinary delights made out of (dare I even say it) full fat cream and other similar stuffs.
Tim and his endearingly posh accent guide us around the upstairs, delivering an enthusiastic peek into how the residents once lived and dealt with the impending horror/privilege of a visit from Her Nibs. Rosemary sequesters herself in the downstairs where, with the help of food historian Ivan Day, she recreates some of yesteryear’s marvellous grub (ice cream moulded to the shape and colour of a pineapple, anyone?).
But – and there is always a but, isn’t there – trying to pack so much into a piddly half hour show is not only frustrating, it is downright shameful. Royal Upstairs Downstairs is quite simply too short and if Queen V were alive I am sure she would agree. We want more! Tim in particular doesn’t have enough time to adequately reveal the joys of the upstairs while sharing his extensive knowledge of past times while poor old Rosemary and Ivan cook a single dish then are left wittering on about how a ten course menu would have been served up, without having enough minutes to give us a fuller flavour of the dishes.
Royal Upstairs Downstairs is a worthy celebration of the UK’s many wonderful county piles and I hope it is only the beginning of many similar shows to come, with or without the royal angle. The lovely Ivan could even have his own show where he recreates historic feasts, which would surely be a wonderful respite from the glut of same old cookery dross currently trotting across our screens on a weekly basis (excepting of course Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers).