John Walsh: Stand by your four-posters, this soap could get steamier


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Just as we're suffering from Downton blues and First World War fatigue (think also War Horse and Birdsong), this new saga of the family and servants at 165 Eaton Place hurtles us forward to autumn, 1938.

Apart from the series' co-creator, Jean Marsh, as Rose the housekeeper, there's a new cast of characters including a butler with "a past", a "brooding" Indian private secretary and a "feisty" debutante. The mix of domestic intrigue, master-and-servant soap opera and the impact of public events will be much as before but the way Upstairs can best compete with its upstart rival is through sex.

We're promised a lesbian love affair between "straight-talking spinster" Dr Blanche Mottershead (Alex Kingston) and Lady Portia (Emilia Fox), a nod to the late-1930s romantic convergence of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. The new nurserymaid, Beryl Ballard, is described as "personifying the modern young woman" who "proves a vibrant catalyst for change within the house", clearly hinting at both nymphomania and intimate electrical devices.

There's a "charming" footman called Johnny Proude, the kind of name used by male strippers, and a "good-looking and cocksure chauffeur" called Harry, who is, I suspect, going to inflame the foundation garments of Lady Agnes Holland. Stand by your four-posters...