The Duchess of Duke Street

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The Duchess of Duke Street
Genre Drama
Created by John Hawkesworth
Starring Gemma Jones
Christopher Cazenove
Victoria Plucknett
John Cater
John Welsh
Richard Vernon
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 2
No. of episodes 31
Production
Running time 50 minutes
Broadcast
Original run 4 September 1976 – 24 December 1977

The Duchess Of Duke Street is a BBC television drama series set in London between 1900 and 1925. It was created by John Hawkesworth, the former producer of the highly successful ITV period drama Upstairs, Downstairs. It starred Gemma Jones as Louisa Leyton/Trotter, the eponymous "Duchess" who works her way up from servant to renowned cook to proprietrix of the upper-class Bentinck Hotel in Duke Street, St. James's, in London.

The story is loosely based on the real-life career of Rosa Lewis (née Ovenden), the "Duchess of Jermyn Street", who ran the Cavendish Hotel in London. When the show first aired, there were many people who still remembered her, as she lived until 1952. According to census returns, she was born in Leyton, Essex, to a watchmaker. In the series, Louisa's family name is Leyton, and her father is a clock-maker.

The programme lasted for two series totalling 31 episodes, shown between 1976 and 1977. It was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited Series in 1980. The theme music was composed by Alexander Faris.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

Beautiful but low-born Louisa Leyton (Gemma Jones) has one driving ambition: to become a great cook. She finds employment as a cook in the household of Lord Henry Norton (Bryan Coleman). His handsome, wealthy, aristocratic nephew, Charlie Tyrrell (Christopher Cazenove), attempts to seduce the attractive redhead, but she rebuffs him, refusing to be sidetracked from her ambition to become the best cook in London. Louisa manages to convince Lord Norton's sexist French chef, Monsieur Alex (George Pravda), into accepting her as his apprentice.

The main cast (from left to right): Charles Tyrrell, Louisa Trotter, Major Smith-Barton, Merriman, Starr, Mary.

When Louisa is unexpectedly called upon to prepare a dinner by herself, she catches the eye of one of the guests, Edward, the Prince of Wales (Roger Hammond), who admires both her cooking and her appearance. After the dinner, Louisa is pressured into becoming Edward's mistress. Against her own wishes, she agrees to marry Lord Norton's head butler, Augustus 'Gus' Trotter (Donald Burton), to maintain the appearance of respectability and to protect the royal reputation. Gus and Louisa are given a house, and her involvement with the prince commences. In time, Edward's mother, Queen Victoria, dies leaving Edward to assume the throne as King Edward VII and causing him to end his relationship with Louisa.

Louisa's shaky marriage to Gus becomes strained, both from her affair with the prince and her great success as a chef. In an effort to help him recover his pride, Louisa purchases the Bentinck Hotel and talks a reluctant Gus into managing it. Before long, he, abetted by his sister, lets the authority go to his head. His arrogance alienates the staff and, more importantly, the guests. Once Louisa discovers that he has lavishly entertained his friends and driven away the guests, she throws both him and his meddling sister out. Then she discovers, to her horror, the mountain of bills he has left unpaid.

With only Mary to assist her, she sets to work to pay the debts, taking any and all cooking jobs, however humble, but finally she collapses, exhausted from overwork, in the street very early one morning. Fortunately, Charlie Tyrrell is passing by (leaving a late night assignation), and takes her back to the Bentinck. Once he learns of Louisa's financial woes, he overcomes her resistance, pays her debts, and become a silent partner in the hotel.

Louisa keeps one of the Bentinck's previous employees, the elderly head waiter Merriman (John Welsh). She hires the brisk, soldierly Starr (John Cater), who is always accompanied by his dog Fred, as the porter. From their former employer, Louisa takes along her loyal Welsh assistant and friend Mary (Victoria Plucknett). (In the final episode, Starr and Mary get engaged.)

Rounding out the principal cast is Major Toby Smith-Barton (Richard Vernon), an upper-class, retired Army officer. The Major enjoys wagering on the horse races, and ends up unable to pay his hotel bill. Reluctant to "toss him out on the street" and liking the man, Louisa offers the Major a position: general adviser, bellhop and greeter.

Charlie and Louisa eventually have a very passionate romance. Infatuated with Charlie, Louisa begins to neglect both the hotel and her cooking. Recognizing what is happening, the Major steps in and has a discreet word with Charles. Knowing how much the establishment means to Louisa, Charlie leaves for an extended stay in America, giving Louisa a chance to refocus on her business. Grief-stricken at first, Louisa eventually regains her balance and makes the Bentinck a great success, only to discover that she is pregnant. Eventually, Louisa secretly gives birth to their illegitimate daughter Lottie (Lalla Ward). Louisa accepts Charlie's suggestion that Lottie be discreetly adopted by a young couple who work on his estate. Later, Charlie and Louisa agree it is best they remain friends, not lovers.

Upon the death of his father, Charlie inherits the family fortune and the title of Lord Haslemere. With Louisa's approval, Charlie marries another woman. He tells Louisa that if his marriage has any hope of working, he will have to be away from her.

However, when Charlie's wife later passes away, he and Louisa renew their relationship. They decide to postpone their wedding until the end of the First World War. Tragically, Charlie dies of a head injury received while fighting in the trenches. Louisa is grief-stricken, but gradually recovers.

Louisa informs the teenage Lottie the identity of her true parents. Lottie accepts her mother's offer to take her to London. Louisa, not quite knowing what to do with her, eventually sends her to a Swiss finishing school to become a lady. When Lottie returns, she has her heart set on being a singer instead.

Louisa's parents occasionally make an appearance. She is on very good terms with her ineffectual, but loving father (John Rapley), but not with her critical, abrasively selfish mother (June Brown). Late in the series, Louisa's father dies, but not before giving his modest savings to his granddaughter to help her pursue her singing career. Louisa becomes reconciled to Lottie's career choice.

Cast[edit]

  • Gemma Jones as Louisa Trotter (née Leyton)
  • Victoria Plucknett as Mary
  • John Welsh as Merriman
  • John Cater as Starr
  • Richard Vernon as Major Smith-Barton
  • Christopher Cazenove as Charles "Charlie" Tyrrell, later Lord Haslemere
  • Mary Healey as Mrs. Cochrane, Louisa's head cook at the Bentinck
  • Sammie Winmill as Ethel, a maid at the Bentinck
  • Holly De Jong as Violet, another maid
  • Donald Burton as Augustus Trotter
  • June Brown as Mrs. Violet Leyton
  • John Rapley as Mr. Ernest Leyton
  • Lalla Ward as Lottie, Louisa's daughter. (Ward is only eight years and six months younger than Gemma Jones. Philippa Shackleton played Lottie as a child in one episode.)
  • Bryan Coleman as Lord Henry Norton, Louisa's employer for part of the first series, beginning in the first episode
  • Christine Pollon as Aunt Gwyneth, Mary's aunt and occasional seamstress at the Bentinck
  • George Pravda as Monsieur Alex
  • Roger Hammond as the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII

Episodes[edit]

Series 1[edit]

  1. A Present Sovereign
  2. Honour and Obey
  3. A Nice Class of Premises
  4. The Bargain
  5. A Bed of Roses
  6. For Love or Money
  7. A Lady of Virtue
  8. Trouble and Strife
  9. The Outsiders
  10. Lottie's Boy
  11. No Letters, No Lawyers
  12. A Matter of Honour
  13. One Night's Grace
  14. Plain Sailing
  15. A Test of Love

Series 2[edit]

  1. Family Matters. When Louisa's brother returns from his travels after a long time away, his doting mother persuades her reluctant daughter into hiring him, as the hotel is short-staffed. Arthur soon antagonises the longtime servants, precipitating an ugly family quarrel after Louisa discharges him.
  2. Poor Catullus. Two young men play a prank, sending Louisa love letters purportedly from their Oxford University professor. Louisa and Professor Stubbs soon turn the tables on the tricksters, but she is tempted by his somewhat inebriated offer to take her to American to start a new life. The next morning, however, he remembers nothing of the previous night. Charlie's wife Margaret seeks Louisa's help in searching for a house in London.
  3. A Lesson in Manners. When an elderly but vibrant Bentinck regular guest dies unexpectedly, she surprises everyone by leaving nearly all of her considerable wealth to her attentive chauffeur Prince rather than her indifferent, spendthrift nephew Eddie Sturgess. When Prince considers entering British society, Louisa decides it would be fun to pass him off as a gentleman, under Eddie and the Major's tutelage, despite the latter's warning. The Major is proved right in the end.
  4. Winter Lament. Louisa visits the Haslemeres at their country estate, and finds that Margaret's strange behaviour is putting a great strain on the marriage. Louisa also sees her daughter Lotte for the first time since giving her up as a baby. Louisa tries her best to help Margaret, but in the end, the disturbed, emaciated woman wanders outside one night and is found dead the next morning.
  5. The Passing Show. Louisa rouses Charlie out of his depression after Margaret's death. Meanwhile, Sir Martin Mallory, a famous but aging actor, seduces Violet. When Louisa finds out, she sacks her chambermaid without a reference, forcing the poor girl to try to take up streetwalking. Fortunately, an understanding police inspector persuades Louisa to relent a little and provide a reference.
  6. Your Country Needs You. When Great Britain enters the First World War, Louisa is ultra-patriotic, until Charlie joins the Coldstream Guards. The Major returns to active duty. In exchange for getting Starr reinstated in the Army (while a sergeant in the Sudan Campaign, he caught his young wife with another soldier, and was imprisoned and dishonourably discharged for his subsequent actions), the Major gets Louisa to hire Gaspard, a Belgian refugee.
  7. The Patriots. Autumn 1915. Louisa is cold to shirkers who avoid military service, particularly Bentinck resident Mr. Appleby. A naval intelligence lieutenant uncovers an espionage ring which is reading the correspondence of high-ranking officers who frequent the Bentinck. Gaspard commits suicide to avoid arrest. His confederate, American hotel guest Brewster, is not so quick. Appleby also turns out to be a spy, but for the British.
  8. The Reluctant Warrior. Winter 1916. The hotel sustains minor damage from a Zeppelin bomb attack. Some soldiers are assigned to deal with what may be a buried unexploded bomb very near the Bentinck. Ethel is attracted to one of them, a conscientious objector ("conshie") despised by everyone else. Among Louisa's guests are an 18-year-old and the officer with whom she has eloped. Tired of waiting for a demolitions expert and fed up with the sneers aimed at him, the conshie Clive digs around and finds there is no bomb. He also discovers the body of Fred, Starr's dog. Before Clive leaves, Ethel accepts his engagement ring. (In a later episode, Ethel is a bereaved widow who just wants her Clive back.)
  9. Tea and a Wad. Spring 1917. The hotel is empty as repairs are being made. The Major persuades Louisa to set up a canteen in Boulogne for troops with no place to go while waiting for transportation back to Britain. A helpful soldier eventually confesses to Mary that he is a deserter. She consults the Major, who comes up with a plan to get him out of his predicament. A rival do-gooder creates trouble for Louisa. Fortunately, the general in charge turns out to be a Bentinck regular. Louisa agrees to marry Charlie after the war ends.
  10. Shadows. Summer 1918. Louisa opens the Bentinck to recuperating soldiers. Mary is attracted to Brian, one of the convalescents. Charlie receives a head wound and returns to the hotel for a rest. The wound takes a turn for the worse, and he begins to go blind. An eminent brain surgeon advises against surgery so soon after the previous operation. Charlie dies in Louisa's parlour.
  11. Where There's a Will. Louisa is in dire financial straits, but stubbornly refuses to cash the cheques of the soldiers who stayed at her hotel. Grief-stricken over Charlie's death, she decides to sell up the Bentinck. Her father makes her read a letter from Charlie, which gives her renewed resolve to go on. With the money he left her in his will, she sets about restoring the hotel to its former glory.
  12. The Legion of the Living. Louisa reveals to Lottie her true parentage and offers to take her back to London. Lottie, after some struggle, decides to accept.
  13. Lottie. Louisa tells Mary, Starr and Merriman who Lottie is. She has the Major show the young woman the sights of London, but inevitably, rumours swirl around her. Brian returns, embittered by the war and irritated by Mary's attempts to help him. He leaves, breaking Mary's heart. Finally, Louisa decides to send her daughter to a Swiss finishing school.
  14. Blossom Time. Lottie returns on a school holiday, bringing with her one of her teachers, Miss Olive Bradford. The Major and Miss Bradford fall in love and become engaged. Lottie herself falls for a handsome young man, but when she incautiously reveals who her parents are, his interest in her vanishes.
  15. Poor Little Rich Girl. Louisa and Lottie clash over her future. Lottie is determined to become a singer. She meets her grandfather for the first time. He becomes her ally, giving her his meagre life savings before he dies. Lottie moves in with her grandmother, who tells Louisa she understands Lottie, whereas she could never fathom Louisa.
  16. Ain't We Got Fun. Louisa permits an American woman to write her biography, though she insists on final approval of the result. Merriman wins a newspaper contest and samples life, even sauntering into the Bentinck for a drink, before his money runs out and he returns to his usual post. Mary and Starr inform Louisa that they have become engaged. Louisa is furious at first, as she has a policy of not employing married people, but eventually gives in.

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