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Good opportunity for Lewis Collins but short on ideas
Although 'The Cuckoo Waltz' appeared to be an inferior rival to Thames Television's 'Man About the House', the Granada series had a rather different underlying theme: the contrasting lifestyles between two best friends. Chris Hawthorne is a "Mr Average", recently married with kids and struggling with impecunity, whereas Gavin Rumsey is a snappily-dressed ladies' man, about to become blissfully divorced, no dependents and well-heeled. The premise is heightened when Gavin becomes a long-term lodger at the Hawthorne residence. Prima facie this aspect doesn't make sense: given Gavin's financial situation, surely he'd look for a place of his own. However his string of post-marital female companions are merely passing fancies as he doesn't want to commit to a long-term relationship after the somewhat acrimonious split from his wife. Yet he finds comfort in and somewhat envies Chris' domestic stability.
Never intended as thought-provoking drama, the series relies on gentle humour, peppered with a reasonable dose of witty banter in its early seasons. (Chris, visiting Gavin's workplace during a quiet morning: "Doing nothing?" / Gavin, his amorous advances snubbed by his latest secretary: "Nothing doing!").
Diane Keen as Felicity "Fliss" Hawthorne appeared to struggle with a Northern accent as her delivery was generally stilted and one-note. On the few occasions that she unintentionally slipped back to a more neutral tone, she improved. David Roper handled his role as Chris in a workmanlike manner: competent but of limited "range". Clare Kelly made the best of a stereotypically disapproving and caustic mother-in-law. John McKelvey as the retired neighbour was generally let down by scripts that gave the character little of importance to say. However, although slightly over-acting occasionally, Lewis Collins as Gavin greatly enlivened proceedings and was easily the highlight of the show.
The second season opened with an uncharacteristically superb script illuminated by guest Joanna Lumley and her on-screen chemistry with Collins. They made a tremendous double-act and it was the series' and audience's loss that her character was but a one-off appearance. (By coincidence, within a couple of months of filming, both actors were being considered for starring roles in The New Avengers).
Previously we learnt that Gavin owned a Lotus sportscar but we never actually saw it. He traded it in for the American/Italian supercar De Tomaso Pantera and many of the subsequent episodes afforded us shots of him driving it. The car may well have been more costly for Granada to hire than the actors! The third season, filmed during the summer of '76, concentrated more on Gavin. However the scripts failed to develop the character and his shallowness rather limited the plots to predictable, well-worn themes seen in many other sitcoms.
With a burgeoning feeling of being trapped in domestic tedium, occasional episodes saw Fliss dally with the idea of extramarital affairs. In one rather startling episode she appears to try to seduce Gavin while Chris slept in the next room. Whether this was intended to make the series "edgy" isn't clear: even in 1976 it was hardly taboo.
Many episodes from all three seasons drifted by with little of substance happening, the most obvious example spending half its time looking around Belle Vue funfair with neither plot nor comedy.
Granada wisely chose to halt the series at this point. However it was revived four years later in a surprising move given that Collins had moved on (to long-running action/adventure series The Professionals). His replacement was Ian Saynor as a new - but unmemorable - lodger. This time Diane Keen was given a somewhat meatier role but this tended to lapse into stupid situations such as Fliss joining a naff dance troupe. This final season lacked direction and substance, becoming lost amongst so many other dreary sitcoms.
While 'The Cuckoo Waltz' has some notable moments in its first two seasons, overall it is rendered an also-ran. Had Granada brought in additional writers rather than relying solely on Geoffrey Lancashire, the series may have been more inventive and varied. If nothing else, though, it's well worth catching by fans of Lewis Collins who will enjoy seeing him in a role very different to those he would later play.
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