John Langton, who portrayed the stiffly proper tetrarch of the upstairs in “Upstairs, Downstairs,” has died, it was learned Friday.
Langton, better known as Lord Richard Bellamy in the internationally praised British television series of the 1970s, was 82.
His family said he died of a heart attack Monday at Stratford-Upon-Avon. No details of his death or funeral arrangements were announced.
“Upstairs, Downstairs,” based on the travails of the aristocratic owners of a grand London townhouse on Eaton Place and their servants who lived below them, proved the longest-running of the dramatic series offered by “Masterpiece Theatre,” one of public television’s most popular and critically heralded anthologies.
“Upstairs, Downstairs,” created by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, was produced by London Weekend Television.
It spanned the first three tumultuous decades of the 20th Century (earlier episodes covering the 1890s were not shown in the United States).
It became one of the most successful drama series in TV history, attracting large audiences in Britain, America and other countries. In the United States the series won five Emmy awards.
The series also featured Angela Baddeley as the cook, Mrs. Bridges, and Gordon Jackson as the butler, Mr. Hudson.
Cast members over the years revealed that despite the caste system on the shows, the food served downstairs (all the meals were real) was far superior to that served the Bellamys. To enhance the appearance of the Bellamy cuisine, spray varnishes were used, making the food inedible.
The Bellamys hastened downstairs when filming was complete for the day to dine on the servants’ fare.
The series reflected the triumphs and dilemmas of the characters while providing a living history that spanned the suffragette movement, World War I, world economic depression and the 1929 Wall Street crash.
Langton was an established actor when the series made its debut in 1971, but his career had not always been promising.
In 1953 he had grown disenchanted as the star of the stage play “Seagulls Over Sorrento,” which ran for several years in England. He left the cast suddenly and went to Canada, telling friends that his career “hardly seems worthwhile.”
The Scottish-born Langton had spent most of his early acting career in the theater, playing supporting roles in London’s West End, but also did some film work.
Movies in which he appeared included “A Hard Day’s Night” starring the Beatles in 1964, “The Pumpkin Eater” in 1964 and “The Whistle Blower” with Michael Caine in 1986.
“The Whistle Blower” was directed by Langton’s son Simon, whose work as a TV director includes “Smiley’s People,” the highly popular adaptation of John Le Carre’s spy novel starring Sir Alec Guinness.
After his success in “Upstairs, Downstairs,” Langton became a TV favorite. He appeared as a Cabinet minister in “Winston Churchill--The Wilderness Years” in 1981, as Prime Minister Lord Asquith in “Number 10" in 1983, and as Lord Mountbatten in the television film “Charles and Diana: A Royal Love Story” in 1982.
In 1975, as “Upstairs, Downstairs” was filming its final episodes, Langton and the cast granted several interviews in Britain and the United States.
In one Langton attributed the success of the series to the period in which it was set:
“Perhaps everyone would like to live in an age like that, where life was so much better ordered.”