TV Show: Duty Free
Plot: Two couples meet on Spanish package holiday – and an extra-marital fling begins with comic results.
Series: Three plus Christmas special
Made by: Yorkshire Television. Although the show was set in Spain, it was filmed in a Leeds studio. Only in the concluding Christmas special were some scenes filmed on location in Spain.
Ran from: 1984-1986
Written by: Eric Chappell and his secretary Jean Warr. Chappell is also the mastermind behind Rising Damp, Only When I Laugh, Home To Roost and many other hit sitcoms.
Starred: Keith Barron as David Pearce
Gwen Taylor as Amy Pearce
Neil Stacy as Robert Cochrane
Joanna Van Gyseghem as Linda Cochrane
The late Carlos Douglas made reccurring appearances as Carlos the waiter, while Mind Your Language regulars George Camiller and Juan Ramirez also made appearances. Special guests Frazer Hines from Emmerdale Farm and TV prsenter Judith Chalmers – two well known faces in 1980s Britain – appeared as themselves.
I have often thought about Duty Free over the years, so I was extremely excited when I finally got a chance to view all three series once again. The first time I watched it was when it was broadcast for the very first time in the ’80s. The second time I saw it was just a few weeks ago when I was well into adulthood. Wow, a gap of thirty years! If that doesn’t make you feel old, I don’t know what will! I have no idea why I waited so long to view the show again but I was amazed that my old and often forgetful head, managed to remember so many scenes. Incidentally, I have no idea why a child of infant school age was allowed to watch a sit-com about randy Brits abroad – and it seems as though I’m not the only one. A look at forums indicates that for many, this was compulsive family entertainment. Yeah – if you say so! Funnily enough, I don’t actually remember watching this with my family. As I recall, my mum was usually in the kitchen getting Dad’s dinner ready while he’d be on his way home from work. So I was actually watching it by myself.
And the story goes like this…
Two British married couples – The Pearces and The Cochrans – meet at the hotel they are holidaying at in Spain and begin socialising together. In each of the two marriages, there appears to be an air of discontentment with one half of each pairing yearning for something more from life. Robert is an ultra-English, pompous xenophobe who stifles his elegant and free-spirited wife Linda, who in turn is keen to break free of the restraints that Robert has imposed on her. While over at the Pearces, Amy is quite happy with her lot in life and is determined to make the most of it. David, on the other hand, crushed at being made redundant, seems bored and frustrated with life and is searching for something new and exciting.
It’s no wonder that David and Linda feel drawn to each other and they begin an affair. The recurrent plot involves the illicit lovers trying to escape their respective partners so that they can be alone together – and at one point attempting to run away together after their affair has been discovered – and being thwarted every time. Carlos the waiter often finds himself somehow involved in the foursome’s shenanigans.
A touch of class
When it came to social class, the two couples are poles apart: The Pearces are working-class northern socialists who are having to make ends meet after David’s redundancy (they spent David’s redundancy money on the package holiday) while the Cochrans are affluent, well-travelled, well-cultured middle class Conservatives – evident from their accents, their pursuits, and their political beliefs. The issue of David’s unemployment is quite a topical touch because as much as I get misty-eyed about my childhood years, those who were old enough to remember would know that unemployment was rife in the ’80s with many people being made redundant and finding it difficult to get work.
What makes David different from the other characters, is that while they are all content with their class status, David seems quite embarrassed by his, much to Amy’s annoyance. And David’s discomfort is further emphasised upon meeting the Cochranes and he desperately tries to reinvent himself and make himself appear more affluent and more cultured than he really is – although part of the reason for this reinvention is to woo Linda. It is Robert who realises that David isn’t quite who he says he is – and he gathers most of this information by looking at David’s tatty style of dressing and his one pair of shoes – not realising that the one pair of shoes is because Amy forgot to pack the others! The episode where Judith Chalmers and the Wish You Were Here team (another blast from the past!) arrive at the resort to film an episode of the hit travel show, produces much hilarity as David, desperate to impress as usual, drops his voice to appear more middle-class, while a furious Amy really plays up those northern vowels!
My memories – old and new!
Even at a very young age, I knew that David and Linda were very ‘naughty people’ and that David wasn’t very nice to Amy. I can now see that David was attracted to Linda because she was vibrant, exciting and glamorous, while Amy was too homely and mumsy. The way she fussed over David anyone would think she was his mother rather than his wife! And Linda was attracted to David because of the fanciful picture that he’s painted of himself in order to make himself look more dashing and cultured. And of course he was a huge improvement on boring Robert!
However that’s not to say that Amy isn’t also quite attractive. In fact by the time we reach the more final series, she becomes better looking thanks to a new hairdo and wardrobe. Not only that but she’s extremely strong, feisty and gutsy. Many women would have walked out on their marriage as soon as hubby started playing away – but not Amy. She’s determined to fight for her marriage and proves to be more than a match for simpering, sappy Linda. Quite frankly, Amy can do a lot better than a weak man like David so I have no idea why she would want to hang on to him but the song Amy performs at the talent show in the final ever episode where she sings about not being able to help loving someone says it all.
I was amazed by just how much I remembered since the first time I watched Duty Free: The scene where Amy hurriedly stuffs an illicit note from Frazier Hines asking her to meet him in secret in her mouth and pretends she’s chewing on caramel; David sneaking into Linda’s room while she is sleeping and asking if she would like an ice-cream – only to find that he has woken a hysterical stranger as Amy very cunningly swapped room tags; the characters taking part in a talent show. But my favourite scene of all has to be from the very first episode when an irritated Amy shoves Linda into the fountain while attempting to take her photo. It was only when I watched the episode the second time, I saw that Amy had actually done it deliberately – and who could blame her? A classic moment!
The humour was based on the same type of Fawlty Towers farce with lots of hiding in cupboards; sneaking down hallways; stashing incriminating evidence; coming up with the most outrageous lies in order to cover tracks… but for reasons I cannot understand, it hasn’t really stood the test of time. General opinion seems to be that it’s dated and unfunny. Dated, well that’s a matter of opinion (although it was thirty years ago so it’s never going to seem current!) but anyone who thinks it’s unfunny needs to listen to Amy’s one-liners. She had some classic howlers and Taylor’s delivery and timing was impeccable. There are however some questions which were never really answered: did David and Linda have a full-blown affair or did it never go beyond illicit snogs and holding hands? Was it true love or just lust? Was David’s marriage to Amy really over – or was this just a mid-life crisis? And why on earth did this couple continue to socialise together even after the affair was uncovered?
I’m also amazed that a show which featured the same holiday romance in the same holiday resort with the same holiday makers lasted three seasons! The second series picked up exactly where the first left off but what I liked about the third series was that it began a year after the holiday makers returned home and viewers get a glimpse of Amy and David’s life away from Spain. I remembered the first series much better than I remembered the other two so it was great to catch up. I don’t think I’ll leave it until another three decades before I watch Duty Free again and I am determined to see the Christmas special which I can recall ever so slightly. Whatever people may think about this comedy series, it will always have fond memories of it.