Entertainment Television

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Obituary: Keith Barron

Reliable star of TV, film and stage who went from Dennis Potter plays to the sitcom 'Duty Free'

Actor: Keith barron
Actor: Keith barron

Keith Barron, who has died aged 83, was a surprise sex symbol and a reliable star of the sitcom circuit; most fondly remembered for Duty Free, he embodied the randy middle-aged man who defies the odds to bed women who ought to know better.

He put his on-screen image down to blunt, Sheffield good humour: "I don't preen… Maybe I play on it a bit, but by and large, with me what you see is what you get." And the audience saw an actor with tremendous technical skill.

Keith Barron was born on August 8, 1934, and brought up at Mexborough, north-east of Sheffield, the son of a wholesaler who expected him to go into the family business. Barron was not keen. He insisted later in life that "if it hadn't been for the theatre I would have ended up in jail… I used to drink too much and behave disgracefully but I didn't realise how badly until I got my first job at Sheffield Rep. I was finally doing what I'd dreamt of and what I'd always thought would be impossible for someone like me".

There he met his wife, Mary Pickard, a scene painter. After their wedding, Barron slipped away to do a matinee of Hay Fever.

A move to London in the 1960s brought fame and artistic success. After a few small roles, Barron started his television career proper in 1962 with the detective serial The Odd Man and its spin-off It's Dark Outside (1964). His breakthrough came in 1965 when he starred in two Wednesday Plays by Dennis Potter: Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton and Stand Up Nigel Barton. They told the story of a working-class boy whose ambition takes him into the middle classes and the hierarchy of the Labour Party.

Potter's perennial obsession with betrayal was articulated through class: Barton struggles to move between two social worlds and frets that he left too much behind.

In 1967, he took the lead role of Jim Dixon in The Further Adventures of Lucky Jim for the BBC, and through the rest of the 1960s and the 1970s Barron was consistently in demand, turning up in shows such as Upstairs, Downstairs (1974), Z Cars (1976), The New Avengers (1976) and The Professionals (1977). He was a regular reader of stories on Jackanory from 1967 to 1971. His film roles included Baby Love (1968), The Man Who Had Power Over Women (1970), Nothing But the Night (1973), The Land That Time Forgot (1975) and At the Earth's Core (1976).

In 1980, exhausted by the prospect of another decade of hard slog, Barron and his wife moved to Cornwall and opened a restaurant, while he continued to act on the side. But the move proved just as stressful. Barron recalled that he once lost his patience with a petulant customer and hurled a plate of cauliflower cheese into the car park. "If I'm angry I usually just go quiet but when I lose it I really lose it," he said. After three years, the Barrons returned to London.

In 1983, he had a memorable guest appearance as a chillingly amoral "elemental" in the Doctor Who serial Enlightenment. Then a year later he relaunched his career with the role with which he is probably most closely associated in the public mind. In Yorkshire Television's Duty Free, he played David Pearce, one half of a northern, socialist husband-and-wife team holidaying in Spain, who becomes enamoured with the wife of a Tory staying in the same hotel. The show drew audiences of up to 17 million.

Barron's wife Amy was played by Gwen Taylor and the two developed a "hate/love" rapport that became a classic. Duty Free ran for three seasons and a Christmas special, and it helped cement Barron's reputation as a leading man.

It was followed by the bawdy romp Haggard (1990-92) and the sitcom All Night Long (1994). A gem from this period was Barron's role as Tom, a taxi driver and - yet again - adulterous husband, in Take Me Home (1989), a mini-series exploring the Thatcher period. In a sense, Barron's Nigel Barton character never grew up. In many of his roles he continued to mix working-class idealism with sexual liberation, breaking hearts along the way.

Age did not dim his ability to win good parts. His later career brought several recurring roles, among them Alan Boothe in the Yorkshire family drama Where the Heart Is (2003-4) and George Trench in Coronation Street (2007), as well as countless guest-star turns in mainstays of popular television such as Foyle's War (2006), A Touch of Frost (2008), Casualty (2008-13), Benidorm (2009) and Doctors (2011-15). His last regular television role was playing the hero's father in DCI Banks (2015-16). Duty Free returned in 2014 in a touring show.

Keith Barron, who died on November 15, 2017, is survived by his wife, Mary, and his son, Jamie.

Sunday Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment

Back to top