Priestly wrote the play for AN INSPECTOR CALLS (memorably filmed with Alistair Sim in the title role), and the story for LAST HOLIDAY (also a well made film with Alec Guiness). His novel LOST EMPIRES was turned into this seven part series twenty years ago, following the experiences of young Richard Herncastle (Colin Firth) working in the magic act of his uncle Nick Ollanton (John Castle) in the year just before the beginning of World War I. Nick is a rather silent type, very business-like and efficient in producing his magic tricks - but sharped tongued and cynical when pressed. Yet he invites his nephew into this lifestyle, which is certainly more colorful than Richard experiences at home.
What follows mingles Priestly acute sense of history with the growth of Richard's manhood. Richard discovers his values and his first loves in the vaudeville "Empires" around him, and he is dragged into the cross currents of the world as it changes. It is more than just the on-coming tide to World War I, but an episode deals with Nick using the magic act to spirit a fugitive suffragette away from the police, and another act deals with Richard falling for a young woman on the bill as a singer (with a piano accompanist) who are also drug users.
The series had one of the last (if not the last) appearance of Laurence Olivier as a fading comedian who has long lost his audience of his comic abilities. Olivier's act has to do with a teacher who is singing a song that displays his absurd learning, but it is something that might have been popular about 1889 or 1893, not twenty years later. He should have retired years before, but Harry Burrard (Olivier's role) has no where else to go. And his brain is also collapsing into paranoia. As was stated already on this thread, it was a wonderful performance - ironically it was in the first episode only. For that reason most people thinking of this fine series usually think of it only because of Olivier, not because of the other meaty performances and excellent source writing that were involved. Again another blow to Priestly, but one fully deserving (for his sake) to be seen in whole if you can find it.