1 9 8 1 (UK)
6 x 60 minute episodes
These six one-hour dramas told the story of the people who lived in a prestigious mansion on Park Terrace in the West End of Glasgow, from 1878 to the present day. There were no linking characters – only the house itself, as its occupants and its fortunes changed with the passing years.
Produced by STV, the series debuted on 4 July 1981 with the episode “The Mistress of the House”, set in 1878 when the city of Glasgow was at the height of its prosperity as a great mercantile centre.
That year the City of Glasgow Bank crashed and this had a profound effect on the growing self-confidence of the new middle classes. And like a bolt from the blue, it sealed the fate of the mistress of the house, Laura Cooper (Jennie Linden).
The action jumped to 1908 in “Man of Straw” (episode 2) and the house was now owned by the ambitious Liberal MP, Rupert Douglas (Ralph Bates), the only son of shipbuilder Andrew Douglas (Paul Curran).
Rupert had been persuaded by his agent, Leon Campbell (Brian Cox) that marriage was now the answer to furthering his career. Accordingly, he married Aileen (Angela Scoular), a distant relative of the Prime Minister, and brought her back to Glasgow to be shown off to his constituents.
In the midst of the election campaign, it was revealed that Aileen was expecting a child. Far from delighted, Rupert regarded his wife’s pregnancy as a nuisance. He won the election but had to resign his seat soon afterwards when the Marconi scandal broke.
Aileen died in childbirth – and when Leon Campbell became the Liberal candidate, Rupert began to suspect that he had been set up by politicians fare more wiley than himself – his former agent and his doting father.
Episode 3 (“Semper Fidelis”, written by Fulton Mackay) had an officer of the Highland Regiment entering the house at Park Terrace, anxious to ensure that he had not been followed. His sole companions were a young woman (possibly a servant of some sort) and a young boy called David (Iain Andrew) – the illegitimate son of Sir Archibald Murray MacNeill.
Bonfield (James Cosmo) – who had been fraudulently impersonating an officer – was the former batman and valet to the now-deceased baronet and had assumed responsibility for David until Murray MacNeill’s will could be found which would ensure that David inherited the townhouse and one-third of his father’s estate.
When Lady Murray-MacNeill (Anne Kristen) arrived on Armistice Day 1918, it was discovered that the will had perished with Sir Archibald in the trenches and David could inherit nothing. But while the police began to take an interest in Bonfield, her ladyship took a liking to David and decided that her husband’s wishes for his love-child should be carried out.
By “Credits and Distinctions” (episode 4), it was 1934 and Maisie Gifford (Annette Crosbie) had a successful business as a dressmaker to Glasgow’s society ladies. Her daughter Cora (Lesley Fitz-Simons) attended a good school and Maisie was courted by a local lawyer, George Barton (Edgar Wreford).
Trouble struck when Cora was assaulted on her way from school after she had been “kept in” for misbehaving. Maisie, a self-made woman with unhappy memories of the way she was looked down on for being poor, was determined to make the school pay for what she saw as their responsibility.
The subsequent court case and scandal cost Maisie her business, her suitor and her daughter’s affections. It was a powerful stand-alone story of a woman bent on self-destruction.
“Something For The Boys” (episode 5) took place in 1944, just prior to the Normandy landings in WWII. Glasgow was packed with American servicemen and the house on the hill was being used as a store and lecture rooms by the American 1st Army.
Jean the caretaker (Rachel Davies) kept the place in spotless condition – but in the evenings ran a clandestine club for the homosexual fraternity in the basement. To this club, one night, came young Glaswegian private Dougie Morrison (James Telfer) on convalescent leave after being wounded in North Africa.
The series drew to a close with “Nothing Like a Dame” with the house on Park Terrace now housing theatrical digs under the management of landlady Coral McKenzie (Eileen Nicholas).
The final episode told how the career of Scottish comedian Robbie Kerr (Rikki Fulton) – “the greatest Dame in the world” – was brought to a premature end through the drunken machinations of a fellow member of the Aladdin pantomime company, Dickie Viner (John Kane).
Carol Ann Crawford
The Mistress of the House | Man of Straw | Semper Fidelis | Credits and Distinctions | Something for the Boys | Nothing Like a Dame