Downton on the up: Period drama triumphs over Upstairs Downstairs in ratings battle

  • Christmas return of BBC favourite fails to match ratings of ITV rival
  • Downton fans had branded Upstairs cast 'stilted' and labelled script 'dull'
  • Audience war will resume in autumn as new series of both shows launch

They were two similarly-pitched, Edwardian-era dramas, released almost side-by-side. It was always going to be a fierce battle as they vied for top ratings.

But, confirming the opinions of critics and viewer message boards, Downton Abbey has proved a clear winner over the BBC’s remake of Upstairs, Downstairs.

The lavish ITV production starring Dame Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville easily netted the bigger audience.


We are the TV champions: Upstart production from ITV proved to be the hit with viewers trouncing old school revamp Upstairs Downstairs

There has been increasing rivalry between the two series in recent weeks, including a spat between rival cast members, as the two programmes battled to claim the most viewers.

Yesterday it was revealed that BBC1’s three-part revamp of Upstairs Downstairs which aired on consecutive nights starting on Boxing Day had fallen some way short of Downton Abbey’s stunning success.

The ITV drama starring Dame Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville concluded last month with an average audience of 8.7million viewers across the series. Its final episode in November attracted an impressive 10.7million viewers, putting it in the pre-Christmas top ten shows of the year.


1 EastEnders - 11.4 million viewers

2= Come Fly With Me - 10.3 million

2= Doctor Who - 10.3 million

4 The Royle Family - 9.9 million

5 Strictly Come Dancing - 9.4 million

6 Coronation Street - 9 million

7 The One Ronnie - 7.9 million

8= Shrek The Third - 7.2 million

8= Emmerdale 7.2 million

10 BBC News (10.30pm) - 7.1 million

The BBC show, Upstairs Downstairs, which starred Keeley Hawes, Dame Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh, ended its run with average viewing figures of 7million, with the Boxing Day outing getting 7.5million.

This means that on average the ITV show picked up 1.7million more viewers than its BBC1 rival - and figures went up over the series rather than down.

Viewers praised Downton Abbey for having better acting performances, better storylines and said it looked like it had more money spent on it.

It is estimated that the ITV show cost about £1million an hour to film. The BBC is thought to have cost two thirds of that amount.

One viewer said: ‘Upstairs Downstairs isn’t a patch on Downton Abbey, some actors stilted, script dull, Keely Hawes overacting.’

Another fan of the ITV show said of the BBC series: ‘Nowhere near the quality of Downton Abbey sadly.’

This comes after an unseemly spat between Miss Marsh and fellow actor Mr Bonneville after she branded Downton Abbey ‘an imitation’.

Period hit: Downton Abbey, whose cast included Dame Maggie Smith (second from light) was a success with critics and audiences alike

Period hit: Downton Abbey, whose cast included Dame Maggie Smith (second from light) was a success with critics and audiences alike

Festive comeback: A mainstay of the BBC's programming in the 1970s, Upstairs Downstairs returned for a brief Christmas run in 2010

Festive comeback: A mainstay of the BBC's programming in the 1970s, Upstairs Downstairs returned for a brief Christmas run in 2010

Asked if it was a coincidence that Downton Abbey was broadcast in the same year that Upstairs Downstairs - which is estimated to have been watched by up to a billion people worldwide - returned to television after 35 years, Miss Marsh had replied: ‘What do you think?'

The 76-year-old actress, who co-created the original 1970s Edwardian drama series and starred as parlour maid Rose, had added: ‘I think we were all very surprised because the new Upstairs, Downstairs had been in the works for about three years because we were trying to sort out 40 years of rights.

‘Then it also started - Downton Abbey - in the Edwardian era, which Upstairs, Downstairs did. So it might be a coincidence. And I might be the Queen of Belgium.’

Her comments had prompted a withering response from Downton Abbey star Bonneville. Using his Twitter site, he wrote: ‘I thought Jean Marsh was bigger than that - running down Downton while bigging up Upstairs. Downton never downed Up when upping Down.

‘The consensus seems to be that Ms Marsh needs a big huggle in the friendly chair. Last thing we need is a face-off at the Albert Memorial.’

Downton had faced accusations it was a copy of the original Upstairs Downstairs, which had aired on ITV in the 1970s.

The BBC was already putting together a remake of that series but the ITV show beat the corporation to get its show out first.

Downton was initially due to be shown next year but, to the BBC’s huge frustration, it was shown first and became a phenomenal success.

The battle may be resumed next year with both Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs likely to go out next autumn. While the BBC has presented Upstairs Downstairs as a stand-alone event insiders have admitted that the Christmas run is regarded as a ‘pilot’ for a longer series.

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