Perhaps taking advantage of the debut of the second season of the new incarnation of the hugely popular British franchise Upstairs, Downstairs, Acorn Media has just released the thirteen episode 1979 spinoff from the original series, Thomas and Sarah. The spin off, which never played in the US, features John Alderton and Pauline Collins reprising their roles as the dapper roguish chauffer and the mischievous cockney parlor maid as they deal with life after Eaton Place. When last heard of they had supposedly married, but as Thomas and Sarah begins, it turns out they never did get around to it.
Indeed as the series opens they are not even together. Sarah is working as a lady’s companion in Surrey when Thomas, who has opened a fairly unsuccessful garage in London, seemingly accidently appears on the scene. Of course, where these delightful schemers are concerned nothing is ever an accident, and Thomas is there for a reason. By the end of the opening episode, the two are back together and ready for a new series of adventures.
Unlike the more or less continuing saga of Upstairs, Downstairs, each of the Thomas and Sarah episodes tends to stand alone. In the second episode, Thomas becomes unwittingly involved with a gang of smugglers; in the third they pretend to be gentry at a servant’s ball. In later episodes they win a photography contest, visit Thomas’s home in Wales where Sarah solves an old mystery, and open a marriage bureau in a house where Thomas has been hired as caretaker. In most of the episodes they are involved in some kind of scheme, which usually ends badly. If they are successful, it never seems to last. For all their sly machinations, they remain loveable losers.
There is at least one episode where that loveable façade is cracked. In Episode nine, they have conned another rogue out of some money, and Thomas wants to use it to follow his dream and immigrate to America. Sarah, fearful of the change, tells him she’s pregnant, and they use the money to open a haberdashery shop. When Thomas eventually discovers the lie, in a drunken fury he goes after Sarah with a belt. He doesn’t actually beat her, but the whole incident seems out of character. Thomas may be a reprobate, but he is not physically abusive. Indeed there are episodes where his actions and indeed Sarah’s as well approach noblity. Perhaps this kind of inconsistency in characterization is the most disturbing quality in the series. On the other hand, Thomas and Sarah are fetching characters who for the most part remain sympathetic in spite of themselves, and watching this series of their misadventures is good fun.
The current release is a four-disc set which notes that due to the age of the originals has some uncorrectable flaws in sound and picture quality, but whatever flaws there might be were negligible. There is no bonus material.