From the grand houses of Brighton to imposing London mansions, life as a kitchen maid could be exhausting and demoralising. It's not just being at the beck and call of the people upstairs, when even the children of the family can treat you like dirt, but having to deal with temperamental cooks, starchy butlers and chauffeurs with a roving eye. Marriage is the only escape, but with one evening off a week Margaret has no time to lose. Between Perce the bus conductor (who brings his mother on dates) and Mr Hailsham the fishmonger (who looks - and smells - a bit like his wares), her initial prospects are hardly the stuff of dreams. But then she meets Albert; a butcher boy-turned-milkman. Could he be the perfect husband? And can she make the perfect wife when, as she soon discovers, years spent serving others don't prepare you for managing your own life? Soon Margaret begins to wonder - how can someone like her ever improve their station? Told with her trademark wit and warmth, Climbing the Stairs is a unique, sharp-eyed tale of a time when the idea of masters and servants began to lose its sway, and of a remarkable woman who grasped the opportunities of this brave new world with both hands. 'Margaret Powell was the first person outside my family to introduce me to that world, so near and yet seemingly so far away, where servants and their employers would live their vividly different lives under one roof. Her memories, funny and poignant, angry and charming, haunted me until, many years later, I made my own attempts to capture those people for the camera. I certainly owe her a great debt' Julian Fellowes
Margaret Powell was born in 1907 in Hove, and left school at the age of 13 to start working. At 14, she got a job in a hotel laundry room, and a year later went into service as a kitchen maid, eventually progressing to the position of cook, before marrying a milkman called Albert. In 1968 the first volume of her memoirs, Below Stairs, was published to instant success and turned her into a celebrity. She followed this up with Climbing the Stairs, The Treasure Upstairs and The Margaret Powell Cookery Book. She died in 1984.