John Hawkesworth

Producer who recreated Edwardian England in painstaking detail for the television drama 'Upstairs Downstairs'
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The Independent Online

John Stanley Hawkesworth, television writer and producer: born London 7 December 1920; married 1943 Hyacinthe Gregson-Ellis (one son); died Leicester 30 September 2003.

The painstaking detail given to the recreation of Edwardian England in the popular television dramas Upstairs Downstairs and The Duchess of Duke Street was a mark of the producer John Hawkesworth's dedication to authenticity. This not only made both series much more than just lightweight melodrama but also, in the case of Upstairs Downstairs, transformed it from the comedy it was intended to be.

The actresses Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, relaxing beside a swimming pool in the South of France, conceived Upstairs Downstairs as the story of two mischievous maids, Rose and Sarah, "below stairs" in the London household of the Bellamy family at 165 Eaton Place, as the reign of Edward VII saw the fustiness of Victorian England begin to ebb away. In making it a believable drama for LWT, with storylines reflecting that era of British history, Hawkesworth - who also wrote some episodes - researched the files of The Times, House of Commons debates, store and fashion catalogues, songbooks and theatre programmes.

This was combined with careful casting to produce the believable portrait of an upper-crust family from 1903 to 1930, going through the First World War, the General Strike and the Wall Street crash. "Upstairs" were Rachel Gurney as the aristocratic Lady Marjorie Bellamy, a prime minister's daughter, later to die on the Titanic, David Langton as her husband, Richard, a politican helped by her money and social circle, Simon Williams as their amorous son, James, and Nicola Pagett as their rebellious daughter Elizabeth.

"Downstairs" were Gordon Jackson as the dour Scottish butler, Hudson, Angela Baddeley as the grumpy but warm-hearted cook, Mrs Bridges, Jean Marsh as the loyal housemaid, Rose, and Pauline Collins as the under-house parlourmaid, Sarah. (Atkins was to have played Sarah, but she was in a stage play when the first series was recorded.)

Upstairs Downstairs (1971-75), which ran for 68 hour-long episodes over five series, achieved a regular spot in the weekly Top Ten of television's most-watched programmes during its second run and remained there until the final chapter of the Bellamys' lives was told. It was also LWT's first international hit, watched by 300 million people in 50 countries, and spawned an American version, Beacon Hill.

The son of an army lieutenant-general who died while returning from Italy towards the end of the Second World War, John Hawkesworth was himself born in London in 1920. Between attending Rugby School and reading History at Queen's College, Oxford, he studied art under Picasso at the Académie Julian in Paris.

After serving in the 4th Battalion of the Grenadier Guards (1941-46) and being among those who took part in the Normandy invasion, Hawkesworth started a career as an illustrator. When the film production designer Vincent Korda saw his work exhibited at the Royal Academy in London, he employed Hawkesworth as assistant art director on The Fallen Idol (a Graham Greene story starring Ralph Richardson, 1948). Hawkesworth worked in that capacity again on The State Secret (1950, directed by Sidney Gilliat), then as art director on Saadia (1954), The Prisoner (1955) and The Man Who Never Was (1956).

He was also set designer, with Korda, for The Third Man (another Greene story, 1949) and set dresser for Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (starring James Mason, 1951), which was shot in Technicolor by the legendary British cinematographer Jack Cardiff. This experience undoubtedly helped Hawkesworth's later work in period drama.

A switch to the Rank Organisation led him to become associate producer of Windom's Way (a melodrama starring Peter Finch, 1957), before he produced and co-wrote Tiger Bay (1959), the memorable film that launched the career of Hayley Mills, who played a girl kidnapped by a Polish seaman in Cardiff.

Hawkesworth spent the rest of his working life in television. He first brought his admiration for Arthur Conan Doyle to the screen by adapting 13 of the author's non-Sherlock Holmes tales for BBC2's The Short Stories of Conan Doyle (1967), encompassing the writer's interest in boxing, the supernatural and medical matters. A year later, he adapted another Conan Doyle short story, "The Kiss of Blood", for the "Late Night Horror" series on the same channel.

The formation of LWT as ITV's new station broadcasting to London at weekends was fortuitous for Hawkesworth. First, he produced and, with Glyn Jones, wrote the 13-part series The Gold Robbers (1969), starring Peter Vaughan as Det Chief Supt Cradock on the trail of the perpetrators of a multi-million-pound bullion robbery. Det Chief Supt Arthur Butler, one of the policemen on the Great Train Robbery investigation, was hired as technical adviser.

Then came Upstairs Downstairs (1971-75), after Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins approaching Sagitta Films - the production company run by Hawkesworth and John Whitney - with their idea for the "masters and servants" costume series. Hawkesworth and Whitney also wrote for LWT the sitcom In for a Penny (1972), starring Bob Todd as the attendant of a town hall's Victorian lavatories.

When Upstairs Downstairs ended, the producer took a similar idea to the BBC. The Duchess of Duke Street (1976-77) was based on Rosa Lewis's rise at the Cavendish Hotel in Jermyn Street, London, from skivvy and cook to become owner and hostess of the club for Edwardian aristocrats, officers and sportsmen. Lewis was reincarnated on television as Louisa Trotter (played by Gemma Jones) and the hotel was named the Bentinck. Attention to detail came with Hawkesworth's employment of a cookery adviser who prepared dishes in his own kitchen, then rushed them to the studios.

Moving back to ITV, Hawkesworth created, with John Whitney, and produced the Second World War bomb-disposal drama Danger UXB (starring Anthony Andrews, 1979) and adapted and co- produced Elspeth Huxley's novel The Flame Trees of Thika (featuring Hayley Mills, 1981).

Then, he returned to his love of Conan Doyle's work to develop for Granada Television what became regarded as the most authentic screen versions of the author's Victorian detective stories: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984-85), The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1986, 1988) and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1991). Going back to the early Strand magazine texts and basing the costumes, props and sets on Sidney Paget's illustrations, he also scripted some episodes. The casting of Jeremy Brett as the definitive Holmes simply added to the authenticity.

Hawkesworth's final screen adaptation was the television film Mrs 'Arris Goes to Paris (1992), based on Paul Gallico's novel about a 1950s London charwoman (Angela Lansbury) scrimping and saving to buy a Dior dress.

Anthony Hayward