The House of Eliott
|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||0:50 (approx)|
|Original channel||BBC 1|
|Original run||31 August 1991 – 6 March 1994|
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 and Louise Lombard as two sisters in 1920s London who establish a dressmaking business and eventually their own haute couture fashion house. 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.
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 Elliot. 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 (played by Cathy Murphy) 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 Elliot 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 Elliot releases its first independent fashion collection and is creating exclusive designs for the aristocracy.
In series two 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, causing 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 US 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 has been reinstated as head of the workroom. She announces her pregnancy in the last episode of the series.
Another big plot interwoven into the drama is that of the struggle between Florence Ranby and Madge and Tilly. Florence is selected as Head of Workroom, while both Madge and Tilly remain Head Seamstresses. Tilly and Madge have many quarrels with her over her short, sharp manner. Eventually, after Evie allows them to fix a fur collar in Madge's way rather than Florence's, she decides to resign. She walks out of the flat and is promptly hit by a car in the road 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. 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 were 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 House of Elliot did not anticipate that the BBC was to pull the plug at the end of the third series. For this reason the third 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. The house is now occupied by Goode Communications, The Clifton Cowley Group, and Hepworth Browne, a group of international patent attorneys.The Colston Hall was also used.
- Stella Gonet as Beatrice Eliott
- Louise Lombard as Evangeline Eliott
- Aden Gillett as Jack Maddox
- Maggie Ollerenshaw as Florence Ranby
- Francesca Folan as Penelope Maddox
- Cathy Murphy as Tilly Watkins
- Judy Flynn as Madge Howell
- Diana Rayworth as Betty
- Victoria Alcock as Agnes
- Stephen Churchett as Joseph Wint
- Bill Thomas as Charles Quance
- Barbara Jefford as Lady Lydia Eliott
- Peter Birch as Arthur Eliott
- Jeremy Brudenell as Sebastian Pearce
- Robert Daws as Piggy Garstone
- Kelly Hunter as Daphne Haycock
- David de Keyser as Sir Desmond Gillespie
- Minnie Driver as Mary, Jack's receptionist after Beatrice
- Burt Kwouk as Peter Lo Ching
- Michael Culver as Ralph Saroyan
- Kate Fahy as Alice Burgoyne
- Toby Whithouse as Norman Foss
- Rupert Frazer as Lord Alexander Montford
- Elizabeth Garvie as Lady Elizabeth Montford
- Caroline Trowbridge as Katya Beletsky
- Melanie Ramsay as Grace Keeble
- Robert Hands as Miles Bannister
- Richard Lintern as Daniel Page
- Ian Redford as Larry Cotter
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.
- 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
A series of repeats began with the first episode on 5 September 2011 on ITV3.
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.
List of episodes
Episode 1: 1920 - After their father's death, the sisters, Bea & Evie, find themselves penniless with their odious cousin Arthur Evie's legal guardian. Unhappy at the prospect of being controlled by Arthur and his mother, Lydia, they are determined to support themselves. Both look for work, and after a chance meeting with Penelope Maddox, Bea becomes a secretary for Penelope's brother, Jack Maddox, a society photographer. The sisters also begin to discover signs that their father had led a double life.
Episode 2: Bea begins to organise Jack's haphazard working life, while Evie continues to meet up with Penelope and try to find work that would be acceptable to her cousin Arthur. Bea & Evie's clothes attract attention. Evie also follows up letters that she finds and discovers something more about her father's secret life.
Episode 3: Evie takes a dressmaking job, and meets her father's lover who demands money for her illegitimate son, Sebastian. Bea and Evie decide to sell the house to pay off debts and move into the flat above Jack's studio. Bea joins Evie working at the dressmakers, but their talents and ambitions leads to problems. They are encouraged by Penelope to start their own dressmaking business with Tilly Watkins.
Episode 4: The sisters begin work with a Mayfair fashion house, but again run into conflict as they continue their own dressmaking at home with the help of Tilly. Sebastian's surprise appearance is not received well by Bea, and his visit to Arthur proves she may have reason to be suspicious. The 25 Club, in which Arthur is a partner, gains a new partner.
Episode 5: Sebastian turns out not to be as the sisters thought. The sisters' dismissal from Mr Duroque's and Jack's encouragement leads Bea to take the plunge and establish the House of Eliott. Finding investment proves more difficult but some initial help is offered by Jack. Arthur gets more deeply involved in partners' illegal activities at The 25 Club. Much to her dismay, he also continues to show a romantic interest in Evie, his cousin and ward.
Episode 6: The sisters find a friend in Evie's godfather, Desmond Gillespie, a banker, though he is not prepared to invest in the House of Eliott. Arthur's treatment of Sebastian provokes him to tip off the police about The 25 Club. The police raid leads to the arrest and imprisonment of Arthur. The scandal causes problems for the House of Eliott as well as Aunt Lydia. Bea arranges for guardianship of Evie to transfer from Arthur to herself.
Episode 7: The House of Eliott is busily expanding with new staff being hired, including Madge Howell who takes on the job of head seamstress. A lucrative contract for both Jack and the House of Eliott with an actress on her way to Hollywood looks like it will cause more trouble than it's worth. Evie has trouble deciding between Hugo and Sebastian, and Bea finds being Evie's guardian more difficult than she expected.
Episode 8: A lucrative new client's husband turns out to be a figure from Bea's past, while Evie has an opportunity to go to Paris with Sebastian. Jack begins to feel jealous of Bea's closeness to her old lover. Hugo's car problems lead to a lucky escape for the sisters.
Episode 9: Evie throws herself into work in an attempt to get over the shock of Sebastian's tragic accident and avoid Hugo. The sisters' different approaches to design begins to cause problems, especially as they begin to contemplate their first collection. Madge tries to cover for Tilly who is continuing to work despite worsening illness. Jack continues his efforts to work in the film industry.
Episode 10: Artistic differences cause the sisters to fall out and Evie to temporarily move in with Penny. Jack is given the opportunity to direct a film.
Episode 11: Bea and Jack's relationship develops but find it is increasingly difficult to spend time together as the first collection takes up all of Bea's time. Evie finds inspiration from the art world for their first collection. Penny displays an increasing frustration with the limitations of her charity work. Jack looks for financial investment in a new film.
Episode 12: Evie comes of age and becomes a partner in the business. The sisters decide to bring their show forward but then face accusations of copying from a rival designer who feels threatened by the new fashion house. Jack tries to find out more about his financial backer. Aunt Lydia decides to join Arthur in America and start a new life.
Episode 1: 1924 - The sisters meet French designer Gilles Caragnac, who offers them a contract designing for him. Tempted by the offer, the sisters take a week-long vacation to Paris. Bea marries Jack and returns to London, while Evie has other intentions.
Episode 2: Jack is reacquainted with an old flame, who introduces the Eliott sisters to a vendeuse. Tensions between Florence and Tilly escalate, and Tilly meets a young man in the park. Problems arise between Jack and Bea as Clara's intentions become spiteful.
Episode 3: Madge returns to the workroom. Evie is invited to spend the weekend with a client's family and finds that she influences the family dynamics. The sisters learn from Ralph Saroyan, Sir Desmond's successor, that their funds are virtually gone.
Episode 4: Bea meets her in-laws and convinces Evie to overhaul their next collection, which is met with mixed reviews. Evie rethinks her relationship with James.
Episode 5: Problems with Jack and Bea continue as they begin to realize their long-term plans differ. The Eliotts are introduced to a ballet company and design for their next show, while Jack grows jealous of Bea's relationship with her new client. The House begins to realize their financial troubles and are met with resistance by Ralph Saroyan.
Episode 6: The sisters discover that their financial troubles are increased by Saroyan's hand. Jack introduces Bea and Evie to Elizabeth and Alexander Montford, who quickly become close acquaintances. Working relationships are strained between Florence, Madge, and Tilly and the sisters refuse to interfere, inciting Florence to resign.
Episode 7: Bea and Evie are confronted by Florence's husband, who considers them responsible for Florence's death. Evie grows closer with Alexander, while Lady Montford introduces the House to a young duchess. Agnes makes a deal to sell stories to a gossip columnist. Jack encourages Joseph to find incriminating files on Saroyan.
Episode 8: The future looks bleak for the sisters as Beatrice struggles to hold her marriage together and Evie's affair with Lord Montford creates a scandal. A new tailor called Charles Quance is hired to replace Florence. Joseph goes back to the bank for more incriminating evidence on Saroyan so that the Treasury can investigate. The sisters confront Saroyan and it is implied that he was responsible for the death of Sir Desmond, he escapes Police capture and is thought to have fled overseas to Germany. Jack and Beatrice decide they should separate as neither one is willing to compromise their own ambitions and desires.
Episode 9: Beatrice moves in with Evie after separating from Jack. The House Of Eliott is struggling after losing its savings, so the sisters decide to reduce the wages of all staff until things improve. Jack is having trouble with an idea for his new film but the General Strike of 1926 takes place and Jack decides to take advantage by filming the striking crowds while adding some actors to the scenes. Lord Montford's affair with Evie results in Lady Montford losing her position as Lady in waiting and also jeopardises Lord Montford's position in the Government. Unhappy with all their designs Beatrice and Evie decide to cancel the new collection, and news of Gilles Caragnac opening a fashion house adds more pressure.
Episode 10: The sisters visit the new Maison Gilles and are worried about their own business, running out of money to pay the staff, they are forced to let Betty and Agnes go. Against Evie's wishes Beatrice is forced to sell some of their unused collection designs to Maison Gilles in order to keep the business going. Evie's affair with Lord Montford hits the newspapers and he is forced to resign, he offers to invest in the House of Eliott as he feels responsible for its downturn. An associate of Gilles Caragnac comes to the sisters with an offer to buy the business.
Episode 11: Regretfully it is decided that due to financial pressure the House of Eliott will be sold, but before Beatrice calls Maison Gilles a new client Caroline Troy (a famous actress) asks the sisters to provide costumes for her new play. Bettie and Agnes are re-hired due to the increase workload. Evie decides on her own that they will not sell to Maison Gilles so Beatrice takes up Jack's offer of investment. Jack's new film 'The Striker' premiers and is received well, an American producer Elmer Jeffard-Hendry asks to meet Jack later to discuss a new movie that he wants Jack to direct in America. Lord Montford takes a position as ambassador in Italy but is forced to take his wife Elizabeth, the news devastates Evie. Jack turns down the movie offer as he isn't allowed to change the script, but the sisters good fortune continues as they are asked to design all the costumes for the movie.
Episode 12: The new collection of ready to wear clothes is a success, one of the mannequins Liddy Hansen is married to Peter Hansen who had saved Jack's life in the war. Evie and Liddy arrange a reunion for them at Beatrice's birthday and they form a partnership to produce Jack's new War film. A representative from Sears-Roebuck offers the sisters a deal to come to America and tour their collection. Peter gets involved with one of the actresses on set and pushes Jack into asking the House of Eliott to take her to America instead of Liddy. George Morton another friend from the War visits Jack and reveals that it was not Peter who saved Jack and instead he was a deserter. Jack decides to abandon the film and dissolve the partnership, this results in Liddy being able to go to America again. Tilly announces that she is pregnant so does not wish to go to America, so Madge goes in her place. Jack and Bea get closer and she asks him to come to America with her but he takes a film offer in Germany instead.
Episode 1: The sisters return from their successful American trip with Madge,who feels alienated from her husband after sampling Stateside life. Alice has gone to work for Maison Gille but is replaced by a client's daughter, Jess, who asks Evie and Bea to her birthday party. Jack is also invited but fails to show and nobody knows where he is. Grace Keeble,a talented designer,approaches the house and,after starting off on the wrong foot,is taken on as an apprentice designer. Donald,a director of Sears-Roebuck,arrives to date Bea and Evie goes out with Larry Cotter, who wants her to go into business with him though she refuses. Bea returns to her flat and is surprised to find Jack there.
Episode 2: Bea and Jack argue over his not seeing her off to America and she returns to Donald. Evie agrees to go into business with Larry Cotter making ready-to-wear clothes and signs a contract. She also meets Miles, a friend of Grace who is a talented illustrator and whom she employs at the house. The staff are having personal problems as the arrival of Madge's unemployed brother Albert causes a further rift in her marriage and Betty's husband is accused of manslaughter. Jack and Bea get back together after he has asked her opinion on his latest script but before they can kiss Katya, a Russian refugee Jack met in Germany, turns up with her grandfather.
Episode 3: Betty's husband stands trial for manslaughter. Grace feels under-valued and makes some changes to a fashion show behind Evie's back but the pair are reconciled as the Aurora Collection, the sisters' collaboration with Cotter,is unveiled. Katya's grandfather dies in his sleep and Katya is taken on at the house. There is some racial resentment and she is accused by the other girls when Tilly's purse is stolen but apologies are offered when the real culprit is found. Jack gets Albert building work but he is injured and returns home to recuperate. Evie turns down Miles's advances but is much taken by the designs of another young artist Daniel Page. Donald proposes to Bea but she rejects him and goes back to Jack, to whom she announces that she is pregnant.
Episode 4: Despite the Aurora collection's success the staff's personal lives are taking a knock. Madge realises that Charles's girlfriend, over whom he waxes so lyrically, has left him and her own marriage is heading for the rocks whilst Betty's husband is in prison, and she is struggling to make ends meet. Tilly has a baby boy and though she is keeping her pregnancy secret it brings out Bea's maternal instincts. When the baby dies Bea realises more than ever that she wants to have her child. Meanwhile Evie and Daniel cause tongues to wag.
Episode 5: Whilst Tilly grows distant and depressed following her child's death Bea and Jack go public over their forthcoming birth and buy a larger house. After Jack is arrested as a communist following a demonstration he is commissioned to write a series of articles on safety at the work-place and travels to Glasgow to begin his research. Daniel turns down an offer of a trip to America to be with Evie whilst Charles shares an innocent date with Madge. The warehouse containing the Aurora collection is the subject of a mysterious fire, with much of the stock being destroyed. Soon after Bea goes into a difficult labour but when Jack returns from Scotland, mother and daughter are doing fine.
Episode 6: Evie and Daniel, now a couple, attend a function given by Lady Romford, though Daniel feels ill at ease in high society, and only agrees to Lady Romford's request to paint her portrait after encouragement from Bea. When Lady Romford dislikes the finished result - largely because Daniel resisted her advances - Bea and Evie fall out. Jack, however, on the strength of his crusading articles, is invited to join the Labour party. Madge finally leaves her husband to live with Charles after a public scene. The new collection is premiered, despite the obstacle of the fire, and the press reviews are good. However Sears-Roebuck make it clear that they want nothing more to do with the house and Bea suspects spite on Donald's part.
Episode 7: The sisters are shocked to find shops full of the Crystal Collection, a poor copy of the Aurora Collection. Larry Cotter, Grace and Betty are apparently responsible. The clothes in the Aurora Collection are stored at the House of Eliott but they are almost impossible to sell, even at vastly reduced prices. To make matters worse the sisters are confronted by the seamstresses who made the Crystal Collection, demanding their wages, even though the defaulters are Larry and Grace. Publicity gets out which also harms Jack's reputation in the light of his article on fair pay. Charles and Madge also have a problem when his wife Dora, who is not dead as he claimed but deserted him, returns to stake her claim though Charles and Madge combine in a united front against her.
Episode 8: Betty explains that financial need forced her to abet Grace and Larry, who tricked her, but, in exchange for keeping her job, she helps the sisters trap the guilty pair as they attempt to sell the Crystal Collection to another store. Bea exposes the couple in the press, thus exonerating the House of Eliott as they sell the Aurora Collection to America. Miles is taken on to replace Grace at the house. Jack considers running for parliament and Tilly decides to accept her child's death and move on whilst Agnes is encouraged in her desire to be a professional singer by pub pianist Barney and Evie and Daniel agree to get married.
Episode 9: Jack is selected as a Labour Party candidate for the Newford constituency. Agnes's singing career flourishes when she meets an impresario and Madge is made manageress of the house's Bayswater work-shop. Tilly visits elderly Lady Westlake to fit her for a new dress. They get on well but Tilly is shocked to find the old lady covered in bruises. It transpires that her maid and her daughter ill-treat her but, as a result of her discovery, Tilly is invited to become Lady Westlake's companion and Norman her handyman, with a house to go with the job. Charles gives Madge a ring despite the fact that he is still legally married. Evie and Daniel tie the knot, which reconciles him with his estranged family and the next day he hears that he has been granted a bursary to study art in Paris.
Episode 10: The new collection, displayed in a film studio with designs by Daniel, is a success, as is Agnes's debut at the Hackney Empire. Jack stands as a Labour MP against the long-standing member John Crowborough, who employs dirty tricks to discredit his rival. However it comes to light that Crowborough himself is a fraudster and a liar and Jack wins the election after exposing Crowborough to the press. This has a knock-on effect for Tilly as Crowborough is Lady Westlake's son-in-law and the resultant scandal leads to the family seat being sold to recover debts. Lady Westlake must move into a home and so Tilly remains at the house. Miles's parents invest money in the house and ask for a say in its running. Bea and Jack accept but Evie resigns, believing Miles, jealous that she chose Daniel and not him, is behind it. However, when Daniel agrees to forego his scholarship to stay and help Evie, she withdraws her resignation.
- The House of Eliott (Rec:1993-11-04 Tx:1994-02-20)
- Wells, Matt (2007-01-11). "Here's one we made much, much earlier - and now it's time to move". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-01-14.
- 'House of Eliott Locations' at Gloucestershire On Screen
- ""French and Saunders" The House of Idiot (1993)". Retrieved 19 August 2012.