South Yorks TV star Keith back on home territory

Bill Kenwright production of'THE LAST OF THE DUTY FREE'by Eric Chappell and Jean Warr'with Keith Barron'Gwen Taylor'Neil Stacey'and Carol Royle
Bill Kenwright production of'THE LAST OF THE DUTY FREE'by Eric Chappell and Jean Warr'with Keith Barron'Gwen Taylor'Neil Stacey'and Carol Royle
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Mexborough-born actor Keith Barron is back at the Lyceum in the show Duty Free, a theatre that made quite an impression on him as a five-year-old.

The TV star said: “The Lyceum is the first theatre I went to when I was five. I do remember it was a pantomime and we went on the wrong day.

“Apparently I had to be led out screaming and we had to go back the next day.

“From that first visit on the wrong day I didn’t know I wanted to be an actor then but in those days your first visit was kind of extraordinary. I’d never seen anything like it. I think that‘s when I got the bug.”

Keith remembers the Lyceum later on when it was closed, with pigeons roosting in the roof, and helped to raise money for the restoration work.

As a youngster Keith did a lot of amateur theatre work, at one point with another famous Mexborough boy Brian Blessed, and then managed through sheer persistence to talk his way into a job with the repertory company at the old Sheffield Playhouse.

He said: “I started at £1 a week. I told my mother and father I was going to get £3 because I thought it sounded better. I used to steal the money for the train because I was still living in Mexborough then.”

His first duties with the resident repertory company included sweeping up but eventually he got on stage.

“From the first moment when I walked in, crapping myself, I knew this is where I want to be,” he remembers.

“They did have a remarkable standard and a lot of great actors such as Paddy McGoohan. They did have an amazing record and we did everything from Restoration comedies and Shakespeare to Arthur Miller and John Osborne plays.”

He added: “I didn’t go to drama school so it was an amazing basis for me.”

Keith was talent spotted while at the Playhouse and was asked to audition for the film This Sporting Life. He remembers that casting directors used to visit regional theatres to find new talent.

Keith didn’t get the part but decided then that he would have to move to London if he was going to make a breakthrough.

He has long been a familiar face on our TV screens, most recently in BBC comedy drama Being Eileen last year, but the popular 1980s sitcom Duty Free made him a household name.

Original writer Eric Chappell has translated the show to the stage and it is coming to the Lyceum as part of a national tour.

Keith and Gwen Taylor played David and Amy Pearce, working class socialists who met a middle class couple, Robert and Linda Cochran, while holidaying at the same Spanish hotel in Marbella.

Amy had to be on the alert as David and Linda were always trying to sneak off together for an affair that never quite happened in the TV show.

Keith is one of three original stars, alongside Gwen Taylor and Neil Stacy, who plays Robert. They are joined by Carol Royle from BBC show Life Without George to take on the part of Linda, originally played by Joanna Van Gyseghem.

Keith said: “It’s really smashing. I’m loving doing the show and it’s going amazingly well. People seem to love it. I suppose it’s people with a long memory, really!

“It seems to have stood the test of time with people and there’s fortunately a kind of devoted following to it. All those years ago there was a huge following for it.”

He said that Eric Chappell hasn’t updated the show to the present day: “We’re not all hobbling about or at least we’re trying not to hobble about. The situation is virtually the same and it seems to work.

“It’s still the pursuit of Linda from my point of view and being stopped by Amy. That seems to be what people like.”

Keith said that the show has gone down very well with the fans so far on the tour.

“It’s been wonderful. From the first read-through of the script it’s kind of gone back into place in the strangest way and so it’s remained.

“We only did 21 shows and a Christmas special originally but they did repeat it a lot and it gets repeated again now.”

The shows were made in a studio at YTV in Leeds and Keith remembers that fans used to get in touch, wanting to book into the hotel. He said: “A lot of people do think you are that person you play and you are as daft as that person. Unless they believe what you’re doing, you might as well stand up and go home.”

Duty Free is at the Lyceum next Monday to Saturday. Tickets: from the Crucible box office, call 0114 249 6000 or go online at www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk