The Duchess of Duke Street

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The Duchess of Duke Street
The Duchess of Duke Street.jpg
Created byJohn Hawkesworth
StarringGemma Jones
Christopher Cazenove
Victoria Plucknett
John Cater
John Welsh
Richard Vernon
Theme music composerAlexander Faris
Country of originUnited Kingdom
No. of series2
No. of episodes31
Running time50 minutes
Original networkBBC1
Original release4 September 1976 (1976-09-04) –
24 December 1977 (1977-12-24)

The Duchess of Duke Street is a BBC television drama series set in London between 1900 and 1925. It was created by John Hawkesworth, previously the producer of the ITV period drama Upstairs, Downstairs.[1] It starred Gemma Jones as Louisa Leyton Trotter, the eponymous "Duchess" who works her way up from servant to renowned cook to proprietor of the upper-class Bentinck Hotel in Duke Street, St. James's, in London.[2]

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, at the corner of Duke St, St. James’s'.[3] When the show first aired, there were many people who still remembered her, as she lived until 1952.[4] 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 clockmaker.

The programme lasted for two series totalling 31 episodes, shown in 1976 and 1977. Shown later on PBS in the United States, it was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited Series in 1980.[5] The theme music was composed by Alexander Faris.[6]

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 her, 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 characters (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, abetted by his sister, he 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, one of Lord Norton's servants, 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. 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 convinces her to allow him to help her to the extent that he becomes 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 dies, 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.



Series 1[edit]

No. in
No. in
Title Directed by Written by Original air date
11"A Present Sovereign"Bill BainJohn Hawkesworth4 September 1976 (1976-09-04)
Wishing to learn to be an excellent cook, outspoken and ambitious Louisa Leyton is hired as assistant to Monsieur Alex, a French chef working in the London home of Lord Henry Norton. Resented by other kitchen staff, Louisa bonds with Mary, the target of their frequent malice, forms a friendship with head butler Gus Trotter, and fends off the attentions of the aristocratic Charlie Tyrrell. When Lord Henry unexpectedly returns during Monsieur Alex's holiday, she must cook dinner for a group that includes the Prince of Wales.
22"Honour and Obey"Cyril CokeJohn Hawkesworth and Jeremy Paul11 September 1976 (1976-09-11)
When the Prince of Wales asks to borrow Louisa's services as a cook, it turns out that more than her cooking appeals to him. To preserve appearances, she is pressured into marrying Gus Trotter, who has fallen in love with her, even though she does not return his feelings. The newly married couple leave the Nortons' service for the house provided for them.
33"A Nice Class of Premises"Bill BainDavid Butler and John Hawkesworth18 September 1976 (1976-09-18)
The death of Queen Victoria ends Louisa's relationship with the Prince, now King Edward VII, forcing the Trotters to face their future together. Under the influence of his resentful sister, Nora, Gus wants to take in lodgers to make ends meet. Instead, over his objections, Louisa sets out to rebuild her career as a chef, taking on Mary as her assistant. When Gus's drinking begins leading him into indiscretion, Louisa buys the Bentinck Hotel in Duke Street and installs him as manager, with disastrous results.
44"The Bargain"Cyril CokeJohn Hawkesworth and Jack Rosenthal25 September 1976 (1976-09-25)
After throwing Gus and Nora out of the hotel, Louisa sets to work to repay the debts they have allowed to accumulate with the assistance of Mary and the hotel's long-serving, aged head waiter, Merriman. When Louisa collapses from overwork, Charlie Tyrrell steps in and becomes a silent investor in the hotel in return for a permanent private suite.
55"A Bed of Roses"Bill BainJohn Hawkesworth2 October 1976 (1976-10-02)
Equipped with hall porter Starr and his dog, Fred, the newly refurbished Bentinck reopens and, under Louisa's management, becomes a success as long-term guests such as the Major take up residence until her developing friendship with Charlie begins to put the Bentinck at risk. When Charlie leaves for America to see his dying father, Louisa regains her focus on the business - only to discover she is pregnant. Leaving Mary in charge, she goes into hiding to have the baby, a girl she names Charlotte. Charlie, now Lord Haslemere, finds the baby a place with a childless couple on his estate.
66"For Love or Money"Raymond MenmuirJohn Hawkesworth9 October 1976 (1976-10-09)
A visiting German baron claiming to be a friend of Lord Haslemere's creates trouble at the Bentinck with some of the other guests.
77"A Lady of Virtue"Cyril CokeJohn Hawkesworth and Jeremy Paul16 October 1976 (1976-10-16)
When the Liberals celebrate a by-election result at the Bentinck, a politically ambitious MP at the party sets out to seduce a visiting artist believed to be incorruptibly devoted to her husband.
88"Trouble and Strife"Raymond MenmuirJohn Hawkesworth and Jeremy Paul23 October 1976 (1976-10-23)
While Louisa takes a holiday in France, Starr's estranged former common-law wife, Lizzie, blackmails him into helping her get a job as laundry maid at the Bentinck. Starr finally confides in the Major after money is found missing from a hotel guest's room.
99"The Outsiders"Simon LangtonJohn Hawkesworth and Rosemary Anne Sisson30 October 1976 (1976-10-30)
Charlie pushes Louisa to accept as a hotel guest an obviously mismatched unassuming man. Seeing that Charlie is at loose ends, Louisa arranges for an art dealer to include his paintings in a gallery show, where he discovers the difference between being an amateur and being a genuine talent.
1010"Lottie's Boy"Cyril CokeJohn Hawkesworth and Julia Jones6 November 1976 (1976-11-06)
Mary's disapproving Aunt Gwyneth, the servants' ball, and attentive guest Marcus Carrington sow dissent between Louisa and Mary, whose abrupt departure leaves the hotel in a muddle. Louisa and the Major give their money to Carrington, a risk-taking City whizkid and the son of an old friend of the Major's, to invest in the stock market.
1111"No Letters, No Lawyers"Simon LangtonBill Craig and John Hawkesworth13 November 1976 (1976-11-13)
A discontented departing guest's refusal to pay his bill lands him in court and the hotel in the newspapers, to the displeasure of both Louisa and his newspaper publisher uncle, who sends a journalist to work undercover at the hotel. The publicity gives the Bentinck's owners ammunition for their demand to renegotiate Louisa's lease now that the hotel is successful. With the hotel at risk, Louisa is forced to sue the paper for libel, pushing the journalist to unearth the details of her earlier life.
1212"A Matter of Honour"Bill BainJulian Bond and John Hawkesworth20 November 1976 (1976-11-20)
Insufficient staff and a row over a racing result nearly derail a special dinner that the King's newly married former equerry asks Louisa to cook at his Ascot home for a group of guests that includes Charlie Haslemere.
1313"One Night's Grace"Cyril CokeJohn Hawkesworth and Ken Taylor27 November 1976 (1976-11-27)
A mysterious young woman causes dissent between Charlie and Louisa, speculation among the staff, and a visit from the police when she comes to stay with Charlie for a few days.
1414"Plain Sailing"Raymond MenmuirJohn Hawkesworth and Jeremy Paul4 December 1976 (1976-12-04)
Charlie is caught in the middle when Louisa buys a house at Cowes to move her entire operation to the seaside for a few weeks' summer vacation, upsetting the stuffy sailing club next door. Among Louisa's guests is the professional dancer Irene Baker, who develops a close friendship with Charlie.
1515"A Test of Love"Bill BainJohn Hawkesworth11 December 1976 (1976-12-11)
The funeral of King Edward VII provides the occasion for a visit from Louisa's former employer, Lord Henry Norton. As Charlie Haslemere's sole surviving relative, he tells Louisa it's time for Charlie to marry - and he thinks he's found the right woman. One snag: as soon as Charlie's engagement to Margaret Wormold is announced, Irene Baker sues him for breach of promise of marriage. In the ensuing court case, Louisa and Mertiman are required to testify.

Series 2[edit]

No. in
No. in
Title Directed by Written by Original air date
161"Family Matters"Bill BainJulia Jones3 September 1977 (1977-09-03)
When Louisa's brother returns from his travels after a long time away, his doting mother talks 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.
172"Poor Catullus"Cyril CokeJeremy Paul10 September 1977 (1977-09-10)
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 America 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.
183"A Lesson in Manners"Cyril CokeRosemary Anne Sisson17 September 1977 (1977-09-17)
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.
194"Winter Lament"Simon LangtonMaggie Wadey24 September 1977 (1977-09-24)
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 Lottie 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.
205"The Passing Show"Bill BainJohn Hawkesworth1 October 1977 (1977-10-01)
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. An understanding police inspector persuades Louisa to relent a little and provide a reference and assistance finding more respectable employment.
216"Your Country Needs You"Simon LangtonJohn Hawkesworth8 October 1977 (1977-10-08)
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 (it was established in Season 1, episode 8 that when Starr was 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.
227"The Patriots"Bill BainBill Craig and John Hawkesworth15 October 1977 (1977-10-15)
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. Louisa is embarrassed to learn Appleby is also a spy, but for the British.
238"The Reluctant Warrior"Simon LangtonJohn Hawkesworth and Rosemary Anne Sisson22 October 1977 (1977-10-22)
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.)
249"Tea and a Wad"Cyril CokeJohn Hawkesworth29 October 1977 (1977-10-29)
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. The general in charge turns out to be a Bentinck regular. Louisa agrees to marry Charlie after the war ends.
2510"Shadows"Bill BainJohn Hawkesworth and Jeremy Paul5 November 1977 (1977-11-05)
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 suddenly dies while sitting Louisa's parlour as she is talking to him.
2611"Where There's A Will"Cyril CokeJohn Hawkesworth and Julia Jones12 November 1977 (1977-11-12)
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.
2712"The Legion of the Living"Gerry MillJohn Hawkesworth and Maggie Wadey19 November 1977 (1977-11-19)
Louisa returns to the Haslemeres' estate for a memorial service, and the truth of Lottie's parentage is exposed. Louisa offers to take Lottie back to London.
2813"Lottie"Bill BainJohn Hawkesworth and Jeremy Paul3 December 1977 (1977-12-03)
Louisa tells Mary, Starr, and Merriman Lottie is her daughter. 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.
2914"Blossom Time"Gerry MillJohn Hawkesworth and Jeremy Paul10 December 1977 (1977-12-10)
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 falls for a handsome young man, but when she incautiously reveals her parentage, his interest in her vanishes.
3015"Poor Little Rich Girl"Cyril CokeJohn Hawkesworth and Julia Jones17 December 1977 (1977-12-17)
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.
3116"Ain't We Got Fun"Bill BainJohn Hawkesworth24 December 1977 (1977-12-24)
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.


  1. ^ "John Hawkesworth - Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph. London. 31 October 2003. ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006.
  2. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Hawkesworth, John (1920-2003) Biography".
  3. ^ "Rosa Lewis, Cavendish Hotel London, Duchess of Duke Street, Rosa Lewis Hotel London". 2014. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  4. ^ "4 Reasons To Watch The Duchess of Duke Street - The Duchess of Duke Street - Drama Channel".
  5. ^ "The Duchess of Duke Street II Masterpiece Theatre | Television Academy". 2014. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  6. ^ "Alexander Faris, composer of TV theme tunes, obituary". The Independent. 2 October 2015. Archived from the original on 18 June 2022.

External links[edit]