4 Reasons To Watch The Duchess Of Duke Street

What you need to know about the gripping period drama that's returning to our screens.

The Duchess of Duke Street


Another gossipy costume drama about upper-crust types? Not quite. Set in the early 20th Century, The Duchess of Duke Street is actually the story of a mere commoner... an ordinary woman... who has nothing to distinguish her from her fellow downtrodden Edwardians except a brilliant talent, and an unstoppable drive to succeed. Meet Louisa Leyton, a servant girl whose dab hand at the stove allows her to rise up from a life of domestic drudgery to the most sought-after cook in the land.

The Duchess of Duke Street tells her story, following her journey from lowly servant to a famed society lady who runs her own plush hotel in the heart of London. It's an engrossing saga, about an unashamedly ambitious woman blazing a trail through a stiff, etiquette-ruled Britain that just isn't prepared for someone like her. It's a story of food, love, marriage and potential scandal, and if you keep your eyes peeled you'll also spy a young June Brown - Dot from EastEnders! - as Louisa's mum.


The Duchess of Duke Street is about a woman ahead of her time, and one of the reasons it's so gripping is it seamlessly blends together some major themes without ever being "preachy". It's simply about life as it really was, with all its casual sexism. The amazing thing about Louisa is how she nimbly works the system while playing by its rules. Faced with snobbish chefs who don't take her seriously because she's a woman, and the lascivious attentions of men with wandering eyes, she doesn't let anything get in her way.

Like another show that broke the mould, Upstairs, Downstairs, The Duchess of Duke Street is also a fascinating, bittersweet look at the class divisions that keep people in their "place". Louisa has to talk, coerce and impress her way up the social ladder, dealing with pompous aristocrats who see her as a jumped-up working class woman. The other big subject of the series is the Great War, and how it turns society upside down. And, despite being far from the trenches, Louisa gets a taste of the violence abroad when Zeppelins bring the first air raids on London.


Unlikely as it sounds, there really was a Duchess of Duke Street. Except that, in real life, she was dubbed the "Duchess of Jermyn Street" - that eternally stylish slice of London famed for its fashion boutiques. Her name was Rosa Lewis, and she was the direct inspiration for the character of Louisa Leyton. Going into service as a domestic servant aged just 12, Rosa's culinary skills caught the attention of esteemed French chefs - including the legendary Auguste Escoffier - and she wound up being dubbed the "Queen of Cooks".

As well as running her own high-end hotel, the Cavendish, Rosa was known for her bolshie charisma and torrid personal life. She was rumoured to be the mistress of Edward VII for a time, and even earned the respect of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who gave her his portrait - which she hung upside down in a toilet, during the war years. Rosa also lived into the 1950s, meaning that - when The Duchess of Duke Street first aired - there were many viewers who'd actually known the inspiration for the show personally.


It's not just the characters in The Duchess of Duke Street who have gilded backgrounds. Its creator was a member of TV royalty - but of the behind-the-scenes kind, which is why he's not a household name. John Hawkesworth, who brought The Duchess of Duke Street to our screens, was also the fellow who gave us Upstairs, Downstairs, an international phenomenon which was the Downton Abbey of its day. Originally conceived as a straight-up sitcom, he turned Upstairs, Downstairs into the incisive, realistic, dramatic success that changed British television.

Hawkesworth himself had a life that could have made for a good TV series. The son of a prominent military man, he was educated at some of the most prestigious institutions in the world, including Oxford and the Sorbonne in Paris, before fighting in World War Two and being a part of the Normandy landings. He then trained as an artist - with Pablo Picasso as one his instructors - before working on classic movies like The Third Man. Part of his success was down to his attention to detail, and while making The Duchess of Duke Street he actually had a cookery consultant prepare real dishes in his own kitchen which were then whisked to the studios for filming. That's the kind of dedication the Duchess herself would have approved of.