Over the Christmas holidays this year, I took the time to watch a TV series from the past called “The Duchess of Duke Street“. I watched the final few episodes last night while fireworks were popping above Tartu and doggie was hiding under my desk from the noise. Before making any substantive comment, I will admit to a bias. I am a sucker for this sort of thing. I love stories that give me a glimpse of how people lived “back then”.
But this series offers a bit more than just costumes and swashbuckling (you get more of that sort of thing in Poldark - which BTW is also worth watching). The storyline roughly follows the life of a real world chef and hotel proprietress by the name of Rosa Lewis. Her TV doppelganger is Louisa Trotter. Theirs is a rags to riches success story, which is always comforting. But it is the success of a strong and smart woman who lived in an era that was dominated by men. Instead of fighting against that domination (a common sort of strategy these days), Ms Lewis/Trotter co-opted it for their own purposes. Interesting. In addition, success in the TV series is less about making money (a fascination of our current and distinctly odd era) than it is about how friendships lasted over very long periods of time and through very turbulent events (like the odd World War or two). And, BTW, how some did not. Also very interesting.
You can watch via the Classic Film List.
FOLLOW - Peter Drucker famously argued that to be a success in life, one should build on one’s strengths rather than try to correct one’s weaknesses. The Duchess of Duke Street story shows how this might play out over a life time. One does not get a perfect or even a calm life. To the contrary. But one gets the real thing. And I loved watching how the TV series elevates this sense of reality as a metric of success - especially in the final triumph involving Louisa and her daughter Lottie. Bravo! And of course, this contrasts brilliantly with the more painful trials of Lord Hazlemere who has it all, but craves throughout his life just to do something “useful”. Trapped in a golden cage? Ouch!
2d FOLLOW - Another memorable aspect of the series is the wonderful array of characters played brilliantly by the supporting cast. Among others, the major (played by Richard Vernon), Merriman (John Welsh), Starr (John Carr) and Mary (Victoria Plucknett) are all memorable. And of course, who would not like dashing Charlie Hazlemere (Christopher Cazenove at his best). Finally, Lottie (Lalla Ward) evolves from vulnerable and troubled child into … well … something very different indeed. There are many more, but you get the idea.
3rd FOLLOW - There is one more fascinating element to the series storyline that bears mentioning. Love plays a role in motivating people, but it is a fickle one. The will to succeed in life despite trauma proves to be much more valuable. Very old fashioned, n’est ce pas?
4rth FOLLOW - The character of the real life Rosa Lewis comes out in this quote from Richard Hillary. Keep in mind that these events take place 40 years after Ms Lewis began operating the Cavendish Hotel in 1902
- “One night when we were in town we walked around to see Rosa Lewis at The Cavendish Hotel. Suddenly caught by a stroke, she had been rushed to the London Clinic, where she refused to allow any of the nurses to touch her. After a week she saw the bill and immediately got up and left.
- When we arrived, there she was, seventy-six years old, shrieking with laughter and waving a glass of champagne, apparently none the worse. She grabbed me by the arm and peered into my face. ‘God, aren’t you dead yet either, young Hillary? Come here and I’ll tell you something. Don’t you ever die. In the last two weeks I’ve been right up to the gates of ‘eaven and ‘ell and they’re both bloody!’
- A few weeks later a heavy bomb landed right on the Cavendish, but Rosa emerged triumphant, pulling bits of glass out of her hair and trumpeting with rage. Whatever else may go in this war, we shall still have Rosa Lewis and the Albert Memorial at the end.”
Yes, she was a character.
5th FOLLOW - But didn’t Jean Renoir in “The Rules of the Game” show how a society based on hypocrisy will collapse? Well, perhaps that depends on who is being hypocritical about what and why.