Duty Free


English     7.7     1984     GB


Duty Free is a British sitcom written by Eric Chappell and Jean Warr that aired on ITV from 1984 to 1986. It was made by Yorkshire Television.


Ian Phillips wrote:
Time seems to have eclipsed exactly how popular this BAFTA-nominated British sitcom once was in its heyday. In its time it regularly topped the UK TV ratings, even elbowing Coronation Street and EastEnders from the top spot on occasions. This was definitely one of ITV's better sitcoms of the day and was often hailed as "ITV's answer to Fawlty Towers". This is something of an overstatement as it's not a patch on Fawlty Towers, but it certainly has SOMETHING going for it. Strictly lightweight fare, this is, perhaps, perfect viewing for a rainy Sunday afternoon (if you like this sort of thing that is). Written by Eric Chappell and Jean Warr, the former being the mastermind behind another classic ITV sitcom, Rising Damp, Duty Free, like Rising Damp before it, began life as a stage play prior to being developed into a television series. With the television series going into production in late 1983, its first series aired in early 1984 and was an immediate hit, leading to three series', the final being aired in 1986 (the same year it was nominated for a BAFTA but lost out to Just Good Friends ). The premise of Duty Free was centered around two warring couples, both from completely different backgrounds. David (Keith Barron) is in Spain with his wife Amy (Gwen Taylor) after having been made redundant following years of service as a draughtsman. This is meant to be like a second honeymoon for the couple but all of these plans go out the window when they meet another English couple at the San Remo hotel in which they're staying: the stuffy Robert (Neil Stacy) and the elegant though effected and snobbish Linda (Joanna Van Gyseghem). An instant attraction between the ever-pretentious David and Linda becomes all too apparent, while Robert remains completely oblivious and Amy looks on in horror, desperate to save her marriage. David and Linda often try to consummate their feelings for one another, but all often their plans are thwarted by Amy who outsmarts them every time. It's all a little bit "Carry On" style as its often pure farce with the characters hiding under beds and in wardrobes, several misunderstandings leading to utter disaster and bed-hopping galore. Corny, yes, but taking into consideration that it's a product of its time, it still manages to sparkle, not least due to some engaging performances and good writing. It doesn't pretend to be anything else than what it says on the tin, so you can either take it or leave it, and personally I have a soft spot for Duty Free as I clearly recall this being the first ever sitcom I truly loved - and this was when I was four-years old! And I remember it making me laugh out loud when I was that four-year old boy some thirty odd years ago! The question is does it make me laugh now? Well, in parts yes it does. I can't say it brims with big belly laughs but it makes for pleasantly entertaining viewing and still makes me smile and chuckle. Of course as many of you will know who remember that it's not really filmed in Spain (bar the 1986 Christmas special) but is in fact all filmed in a tiny studio in Yorkshire TV studios. This is patently obvious when looking at some of the cardboard-like sets and the several artificial palm trees added for a touch of authenticity, but in a funny sort of way it's all part of its charm. The show was clearly on a budget but even in spite of the silliness of the plots and the often corny dialogue, the cast all give off an air of knowing its restrictions yet all committed to making it all work. And that they do. Now for me (and many others I'm sure) the true star of Duty Free is undoubtedly Gwen Taylor. She manages to unwittingly steal every scene she's in, delivering her sharp, witty put-downs with aplomb and such impeccable comic timing. Her down-to-earthiness balances her co-star Keith Barron and the more conservative and restrained performances of Neil Stacy and Joanna Van Gyseghem. Another cast member in a smaller role who deserves a mention is Carlos Douglas as the ever-so-camp waiter, Carlos. He quickly becomes aware of David and Linda's romance and is often unwittingly used as a foil to fend off an ever-suspicious Amy. His whole demeanour is amusing and is a much-welcome addition to the cast. Like several British sitcoms, much of the comedy stems from class-related tensions between the two couples: The Pierces (David and Amy) are working-class socialists from Northampton, whereas the Cochrans are a more affluent, middle-class conservative couple from Henley-On-Thames in Oxfordshire. What enrages Amy more than anything is the change she sees in her husband David upon meeting Robert and Linda, David seemingly forcing himself to change his outlook and thoughts on politics just to impress Linda whom he is besotted with. Fun and games throughout and undemanding viewing to say the least, Duty Free still deserves its place in the TV Hall of Fame, even if not as revered as the likes of Rising Damp. Sometimes the jokes can be cringeworthy, other times actually being quite witty. Nowadays you can find Duty Free re-runs on ITV3, usually in an afternoon or late-night slot, though a few years ago the show was revived for a stage play which saw most of the original cast reunited for a nationwide tour. Like the original TV series of the 80s, it drew a mixed critical response and though there have been talks of a new TV series, this seems unlikely, although this may be a wise decision; it's probably better off being remembered rather than revived. EPISODE GUIDE DISC ONE: SERIES ONE (1984) Viva Espana David and Amy arrive at the San Remo Hotel in the Costa Del Sol and meet another couple, Robert and Linda. David soon falls under the spell of the glamorous Linda, much to Amy's annoyance. While Robert is blissfully unaware of his wife's amorous intentions with David, Amy sets out to win back her man. El Macho David, Amy, Linda and Robert head off on a trip to see a bullfight. Amy is literally dragged along, totally opposed to bull fighting and she eventually becomes embroiled in an argument with the infamous bullfighter, El Macho. Praying Mantis David is becoming more and more besotted with Linda. They meet secretly but disaster strikes when David is attacked by a savage dog leaving him bed bound. Spanish Lace The two warring couples take a trip to the mountains together but money runs out fast thanks to David buying one present too many for Linda. Bedroom Farce Amy grows suspicious following David and Linda's midnight swim and their attempts to consummate their romance are constantly foiled thanks to bad planning. Forty Love This is a true CLASSIC episode of Duty Free. The building romance between David and Linda comes to a head when Amy catches them passionately kissing in their hotel room. What follows is a great verbal tennis match as emotions run high and all ends in a cake fight! Hasta La Vista Series one draws to a close and following the previous episode where Amy finally caught David and Linda kissing, the adulterous couple decide to leave Spain together. But Amy's not giving up without a fight and while Robert hits the bottle, unable to cope with the shock of his wife leaving him, Amy hatches a cunning plan to thwart her husband's plan. DISC TWO: SERIES TWO (1984) Manana The eagerly-awaited second series returned to television screens just six months later and is set during the couples second week of their holiday. David has been disowned by not only Linda, but also his wife Amy and an understandably bitter Robert. Wanted by the police thanks to being set up by Amy, he tries to smuggle himself past the police officers with disasterous consequences. Meanwhile, Linda is reunited with Robert and David begrudgingly goes back to his wife Amy. Casino David feels he's on a luck streak after winning a huge amount at the Casino. However, in a flash he ends up losing most of his winnings and it's left up to Amy to save the day. Couples A young couple arrive at the San Remo Hotel on their honeymoon and quickly catch the attentions of David, Amy, Linda and Robert. With romance in the air, misunderstandings flow when the young couple manage to mix and match the wrong couples. El Astro Excitement is in the air at the San Remo Hotel when actor Frazer Hines from Emmerdale Farm arrives. Linda is smitten and star-struck but it's Amy who catches the eye of Frazer Hines and he tries in vain to woo her. Pepe A mysterious chain of events starts when David, Amy, Linda and Robert take a day trip from Spain to Tangier. After reluctantly agreeing to carry a parcel back into Spain, Amy suddenly fears the package could contain drugs. However, getting rid of the evidence proves more difficult than anticipated... Snap David is horrified when his old nemesis Kevin arrives at the hotel. Kevin was the man responsible for David's redundancy and their history stretches long before that as he had been dogged by Kevin all his life - at school, in the army and in the office! Will David finally serve Kevin his long overdue comeuppance? Adios All good things must come to an end as they say, and this episode is set during the last day of both couples holidays. In addition to packing bottles of booze, a last look round and a trip to Pedro's, the local bar, David and Linda are desperate to spend one last romantic day together....but their lingering farewells are continually interrupted..... DISC THREE: SERIES THREE AND CHRISTMAS SPECIAL (1986) Winter Break The action is now set eighteen months later: David is unemployed and depressed and Amy has become the main breadwinner. Absence certainly makes the heart fonder in David and Linda's case and despite a long time apart it seems they can't forget each other. David tells Amy that he is going on holiday to Spain to have a break from it all. In reality, David is heading off for a secret holiday with Linda. Typically, both Amy and Robert arrive in hot pursuit of their partners. Deja Vu Amy is still suspicious of her husband and her suspicions are confirmed when she sees Linda and realises that's who he was really intending to spend his holiday with. Later when Robert spots David, he ends up trying to throttle him. Close Up Another favourite episode of mine! The team behind the holidaymakers series _Wish You Were Here, along with Judith Chalmers, have arrived and David, Amy, Linda and Robert are determined to be seen on TV. The Go-Between A misfit named Neville befriends David and Linda and he becomes inextricably involved with their not-so-secret romance. Although he proves more than keen to help them out, he manages to get everything wrong and has an unfortunate encounter with a chimpanzee. Costa del Crime David discovers he's picked up the wrong tartan bag at the airport which leads to an unwelcome visit from its dangerous owners. Cause Celebre The new manager of the San Remo Hotel makes some unexpected - and unwanted - staff changes which upsets the holidaymakers and the waiter Carlos. Amy encourages Carlos to make a stand which turns out to be a bad move on his part as he's soon fired. Party Night It's fancy dress night during the last night of the couples holiday and both decide to enter the talent contest. Amy surprises her husband with her striking impersonation of Greta Garbo which seemingly brings him back down to earth and realises Amy is really the one for him. A Duty Free Christmas I'd go so far to say this is the best episode of the entire series: There's no studio laughter here as we're off and away from the constraints from the previous studio-bound episodes and head off to the REAL Spain; and it's all the far better for it as it gives the whole premise an air of realism. Despite Amy managing to win her husband David back round, it seems David is set on one final fling with Linda....but of course nothing goes according to plan... Special Features & Presentation There are no special features sadly but the presentation of the series is excellent in both sound and visual quality. While some of the jokes are creaky, the look of this DVD is fresh, making it an enjoyable watch all round. Not one for everyone, but fans of Duty Free will undoubtedly relish a box set which contains the entire series at a very affordable price. While not being the best sitcom of all time, Duty Free_is most definitely a classic and the series flows very well for its age, still holding a lot of energy. Fans of classic British comedy will love this - I certainly do! Ian Phillips