1 9 8 4 – 1 9 8 6 (UK)
21 x 30 minute episodes
1 x 60 minute Christmas special
Strangers beforehand, two couples meet in a Spanish hotel and a relationship instantly transpires between the husband of one marriage and the wife of the other. Episodes reflected their desire to get things together while the spouses tried their all to keep them apart.
Duty Free was a broad English comedy that combined witty lines with a strong sense of theatrical farce of the Brian Rix variety, and was yet another triumph for Eric Chappell, following Rising Damp, Only When I Laugh, The Bounder and other hits.
In this instance, Chappell shared the writing credit with Jean Warr, his long-time assistant now extending herself into a more pro-active involvement, with his encouragement.
Just as Rising Damp had started life as the stage-play The Banana Box, so Duty Free too began in the theatre. Although unsuccessful in this mode, Yorkshire TV producer Vernon Lawrence saw enough promise in the writing and plot lines to suggest it be transferred into a seven-episode TV series, the rest following from there.
Once established on the small-screen, Duty Free then returned to the theatre where it enjoyed greater fortunes.
Although all four leading parts in Duty Free had plenty of bite, Keith Barron was the main star. As David Pearce, he has just been laid off from his job as a draughtsman and decides to blow some of his redundancy money on a holiday to the Costa del Sol.
Never having vacationed abroad before, he has a romantic notion of foreign climes and a determination to enjoy it to the hilt. His wife, Amy, is mistrusting of her David – rightly, as it quickly turns out – and unimpressed by his glib tongue.
Also ensconced at the San Remo Hotel in Marbella are the Cochrans: the staid Robert, a successful businessman whose jingoistic beliefs have formed in him a distinct dislike for all foreigners, and his more passionate, vivacious wife Linda, whose natural temperament has been blunted by years of an inadequate marriage.
David and Linda immediately fall for one another, each representing to the other a welcome deviation from their dull married partners.
Before long they’re diving under beds, hiding in wardrobes, disguising themselves and meeting incognito in order to explore their feelings for one another, usually under the watchful gaze of the hotel waiter, whose natural inclination was to write off the whole lot of them – and everyone else dwelling in their home country – as ‘crazee Engliishh’.
The first series of seven episodes of Duty Free reflected each day in the first week of the fortnight the couples had booked in the hotel. The second series took care, again in daily chunks, of the remaining seven days.
The third series was set 18 months later, when David and Linda’s attempted private rendezvous, a flimsy fabric built upon David’s lies to his wife, comes crashing down when Amy and Robert arrive at the hotel, denying the couple the intimacy they crave.
Chappell and Warr determined not to write any more episodes after the third series but Yorkshire TV tempted them into one final fling, offering an hour-length Christmas Day peak-time slot and bigger production budget.
For the first time, the cast and crew actually went to Spain to film on location (except Gwen Taylor who, owing to a theatrical engagement, had to tape her contributions in London). Previously, everything had been taped in Yorkshire TV’s Leeds studio, disappointing those viewers who, assuming it was made in Marbella, had requested details of the hotel.
Joanna Van Gyseghem
Carlos the Waiter
Bunny May (1)
George Camiller (2)
Viva Espana | El Macho | Praying Mantis | Spanish Lace | Bedroom Farce | Forty Love | Hasta La Vista | Manana | Casino | Couples | El Astro | Pepe | Snap | Adios | Winter Break | Deja Vu | Close Up | The Go-Between | Costa Del Crime | Cause Celebre | Party Night | A Duty Free Christmas