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.
- Stella Gonet as Beatrice Eliott
- Louise Lombard as Evangeline Eliott
- Aden Gillett as Jack Maddox
- 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
- Maggie Ollerenshaw as Florence Ranby
- 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