The Duchess of Duke Street, the Series
(5 disc Box set)
Let me begin by saying this is epic TV viewing. I
have seldom watched five discs of the same show in one week. It is also
addictive viewing. The writing is so brilliant, the performances so
convincing, I was loathe to press the stop button—and I didn’t. I
watched each disc in its entirety (2hr20min) because I felt compelled to
sit and watch the characters live out their adventures. Of course, this
kind viewing goes against the spirit of the original series, which was
broadcast in 1976 on BBC-1 and consisted of weekly 50 minute episodes.
On this release, they have collapsed three episodes per disc, but you
can usually tell where the line between original episodes is.
So what on earth could possibly be this engrossing?
Well, it’s the opening years of the twentieth century in London, and a
youthful Louisa (Gemma Jones) applies for assistant cook to a noble
household. A century ago, there was still a sharp division between the
classes. Her ambition is to be ‘the best cook in England’ and the French
chef de cuisine of the household gives her tips on achieving it—she
works bloody hard along the way and has the talent to suit!
At the household, she befriends a maid and the future
King also takes a liking to Louisa. She is pushed around by her
superiors and goes along with it, realising that that is how ‘society’
operates. Her rise and rise to a successful hotel owner and chef form
the first half of the story and it is engrossing to the hilt. All the
schemes and obstacles she encounters are entertaining. In the second
half, once her position in life is established, she faces new trials,
brought up by the envy and need of others.
The Duchess of Duke Street
is filled with characters so humanly written and so convincingly played,
you feel you’ve known people like them all your life and if there were a
knock on your door, you would not be surprised to find one of them
there. Most memorable are Mr Merriman (John Welsh), the old butler who
is anywhere and everywhere and Mary (Victoria Plucknett), the Welsh maid
who ends up second in charge of the Bentink Hotel.
I doubt most people have heard of this obscure title
(I know I hadn’t). If you want some addictive TV viewing with what I
consider some of the best and realistic (yes, they swear in the 1900s)
TV writing I’ve ever come across, you can’t go past this DVD. The sheer
energy and screen presence of Cockney-speaking Louisa Trotter and the
way she deals with life are so enchanting and uplifting, you’d wish she
were your auntie or neighbour! One of the best TV series I have ever