The House of Eliott
The House of Eliott is a British television series produced and broadcast by the BBC in three series between 1991 and 1994. The series starred Stella Gonet as Beatrice Eliott and Louise Lombard as Evangeline Eliott, two sisters in 1920s London who establish a dressmaking business and eventually their own haute couture fashion house, and Aden Gillett as photographer and film maker Jack Maddox. It was created by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, who had previously devised Upstairs, Downstairs. The series was written by several writers including Jill Hyem, Peter Buckman, Deborah Cook and Ginnie Hole.
|The House of Eliott|
Series title card
|Created by||Jean Marsh|
|Theme music composer||Jim Parker|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||3|
|No. of episodes||34|
|Running time||50 minutes (approx)|
|Original network||BBC 1|
|Original release||31 August 1991 –|
6 March 1994
In series one Beatrice (30, known as Bea) and Evangeline (18, known as Evie) Eliott are left orphans by the sudden death of their tyrannical father, Henry Eliott. Left almost destitute and without any education, the sisters are forced to sell the family home to cover their father's debts. To earn money, they make use of their passion for dressmaking and Bea gets a job as secretary at a local photography studio run by Jack Maddox. Jack and his sister Penelope become firm friends of the sisters and Jack provides them with the funds to open their own London based dressmaking business "The House of Eliott". Through their relationship with Penelope Maddox, the sisters meet the loyal and hardworking seamstress Tilly Watkins whom they employ. A consistent theme throughout the series is the struggle of women in the 1920s to live fulfilling and independent lives. Not only does Henry Eliott leave his daughters penniless and uneducated, but their cousin Arthur, who is executor of their father's estate, and Evie's legal guardian, keeps a rightful inheritance from the girls "for their own good". After Arthur's arrest and imprisonment for involvement in drug smuggling, he emigrates to Boston, USA, releasing a large amount of cash owed to the sisters from their father's estate. This allows Beatrice and Evie to expand the business and, by the end of series one, with the help of Evie's godfather, banker Sir Desmond Gillespie, the future looks good. Evie celebrates her twenty-first birthday and is made a partner in the firm. The House of Eliott releases its first independent fashion collection and is creating exclusive designs for the aristocracy.
In series two, it is spring 1924 and the Eliott sisters have employed Florence Ranby, a dour Victorian, as head of the workroom. Beatrice and Evie are invited to Paris by fashion designer Gilles Caragnac, who offers them a 5-year contract as designers for his label. While there, Bea marries her former employer and friend, Jack Maddox, and they move back to London, leaving Evie alone in Paris to work at the fashion house "Maison Gilles". After a year and an affair with Gilles Caragnac, a new, glamorous, and grown-up Evie returns to work as the designer for the house of Eliott. Jack's career as a movie director is on the rise, and at a showing of one of his films, Evie meets Lord Alexander Montford, a married member of Parliament, with whom she begins an affair. This causes complications throughout the series. Jack and Beatrice separate due to their inability to agree about whether to have children and the pressure of work. The House of Eliott faces ruin after the suspicious death of Sir Desmond Gillespie causes the firm's financial affairs to be taken over by Ralph Saroyan. The sisters suspect Saroyan of dishonesty and through their contact with Sir Alexander Montford, cause the bank to be officially investigated. It is discovered that Saroyan is defrauding most of the customers of the bank and the Eliott sisters are left with very little of their original savings and investments.
Jack has a huge success with his movie "The Strikers" and is offered work in the U.S. by a Hollywood producer, but he turns it down and decides to work in Berlin instead. Meanwhile, as the market for couture gowns wanes in the depression of the late 1920s, Beatrice and Evangeline are offered a tour of America showing their new ready-to-wear designs for the department store Sears and Roebuck. Bea still has feelings for Jack. Back at the fashion house, after a crisis of confidence, Tilly marries Norman Foss, a young chef in a local hotel, and is reinstated as head of the workroom. She announces her pregnancy in the last episode of the series.
Friction exists between Florence Ranby and Tilly, and an annoyed Florence walks out of the Eliott workroom, there is a near fatal accident when she narrowly misses being hit by a car. Tilly has many quarrels with Florence due to her short, sharp manner. Eventually, after Evie allows them to fix a fur collar in Madge's way rather than Florence's, Florence decides to resign and walks out of the Eliott workroom, this time she is hit by a car and dies. At the funeral, Mr Ranby, Florence's husband, confronts Madge and Tilly after their apology to him, and then Bea and Evie, over Florence's death and the way she was treated, He particularly focuses on Bea and Evie, for not noticing the struggle, he tells the Eliotts that Florence was as loyal as they come and that she wouldn't hear a word said against them. Later, however, he returns, apologising for his outburst and giving some flowers to Madge and Tilly. He mentions he is a tailor, and, because the House of Eliott was in desperate need of an expert cutter because of Florence's death, they consider asking him. They choose against it because of the memories the House must have of Florence for him, and instead hire Charles.
The Eliott sisters and their employee Madge are wrapping up their evidently successful visit to the United States under the sponsorship of Sears and Roebuck, which has arranged to carry a line of ready-to-wear designed by the House of Eliott. Still estranged from Jack, Bea has picked up a new beau, debonair Sears executive Donald Bradley, who follows the ladies back to England. Bea decides that she still loves Jack and settles down with him just as he is shifting his attention from film direction to investigative journalism. Through a new employee, a talented but unreliable designer named Grace Keeble, Evie meets a couple of artists, Miles Bannister and Daniel Page. Miles is hired to do illustrations for the House of Eliott and later becomes a much needed designer while Daniel is a talented artist who Evie believes only needs a break to be very successful. Both men fall for Evie but only Daniel wins out. Meanwhile, Madge discovers a new love and it is not her rather gruff husband Jerry. Tilly and her husband Norman struggle to keep their marriage together following the loss of their baby son, William (who was played by Emily Ryan). By the end of the season, the House of Eliott has nearly fallen apart, Bea and Jack have a daughter, Lucy (who was also played by Emily Ryan), Jack wins a seat in the House of Commons, and Evie has married Daniel. Miles' father has decided to become a partner in the House of Eliott after realising his son is a talented fashion designer. He wants the House of Eliott to leave the world of haute couture and move into the safer area of ready-to-wear fashions. The final episode of the series ends with a heated confrontation that raises serious questions about the future of the House of Eliott and the relationship between the sisters.
The writers of the series did not anticipate that the BBC would cancel the programme at the end of the third series. For this reason the series ends without a firm conclusion to the storyline.
The House of Eliott is usually cited as the last major BBC drama series to have the majority of its interior sequences recorded at BBC Television Centre using the multi-camera production method. By the time the series came to an end in 1994, this video production method had been abandoned for drama series (other than soap operas) in favour of shooting using the single-camera setup, either on film, or on the increasingly lightweight video cameras that were becoming available.
Some scenes were shot at Clifton Hill House and Goldney Hall university halls of residence in Bristol; while many were filmed in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. The exterior of the house is situated at 24 Berkeley Square, Bristol. Holes made by the 'House of Eliott' sign still remain on the wall to the left of the front door. Colston Hall was also used.
|Actor||Character||No. of episodes|
|Stella Gonet||Beatrice Eliott||34 (1991–94)|
|Louise Lombard||Evangeline Eliott||34 (1991–94)|
|Aden Gillett||Jack Maddox||34 (1991–94)|
|Cathy Murphy||Tilly Watkins/Foss||34 (1991–94)|
|Judy Flynn||Madge Howell/Althorpe||26 (1991–94)|
|Diana Rayworth||Betty||26 (1991–94)|
|Victoria Alcock||Agnes||26 (1991–94)|
|Stephen Churchett||Joseph Wint||22 (1991–94)|
|Bill Thomas||Charles Quance||15 (1992–94)|
|Barbara Jefford||Lady Lydia Eliott||12 (1991)|
|Francesca Folan||Penelope Maddox||12 (1991)|
|Kate Fahy||Alice Byrgoyne||11 (1992)|
|Toby Whithouse||Norman Foss||11 (1992–94)|
|David de Keyser||Sir Desmond Gillespie||9 (1991–92)|
|Robert Hands||Miles Bannister||9 (1994)|
|Richard Lintern||Daniel Page||8 (1994)|
|Rupert Frazer||Lord Alexander Montford||7 (1992)|
|Michael Culver||Ralph Saroyan||7 (1992)|
|Ian Redford||Larry Cotter||7 (1994)|
|Melanie Ramsay||Grace Keeble||7 (1994)|
|Caroline Trowbridge||Katya Beletsky||7 (1994)|
|Peter Birch||Arthur Eliott||6 (1991)|
|Jeremy Brudenell||Sebastian Pearce||6 (1991)|
|Maggie Ollerenshaw||Florence Ranby||6 (1992)|
|Elizabeth Garvie||Lady Elizabeth Montford||6 (1992)|
|Jamie Foreman||Gerry Althorpe||6 (1994)|
|Kelly Hunter||Daphne Haycock||5 (1991)|
|Kate Paul||Chalmers||5 (1991)|
|Robert Daws||Piggy Garstone||4 (1991)|
|Robert McIntosh||Tom Patterson||4 (1994)|
|Burt Kwouk||Peter Lo Ching||3 (1991)|
All three series of The House of Eliott are available on DVD for regions 1, 2 and 4 DVD and distributed by Acorn Media UK. They were released in 2004, 2006 and 2007 respectively.
- The House of Eliott by Jean Marsh
- The House of Eliott - A House at War by Elizabeth O'Leary
- The House of Eliott: The Anxious Years by Edward P. Rich
On 14 April 2018, the programme was repeated on the Drama Channel. Which again started repeats of the entire series in October/November 2019
In the media
The show was parodied by comedy duo Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders in a series of sketches called ‘The House of Idiot’. Stella Gonet, Louise Lombard and Cathy Murphy actually appear, in character, during the final sketch and comically reprimand the pair for mocking the show.
- The House of Eliott (Rec:1993-11-04 Tx:1994-02-20)
- Wells, Matt (11 January 2007). "Here's one we made much, much earlier - and now it's time to move". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 January 2007.
- 'House of Eliott Locations' at Gloucestershire On Screen
- ""French and Saunders" The House of Idiot (1993)". Retrieved 19 August 2012.