Helen Durward On Avis Tennyson

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One thing's sure about the characters at the Crossroads Motel: whoever you are, and whatever you think, there's always someone there with whom you can identify.  And whether they care to admit it or not, Avis Tennyson, the Motel's popular waitress reflects the way very many hopeful young girls really do set about their lives.

Helen Durward, who plays her, puts her views on Avis this way:  "She's very ingenuous, you know.  She isn't very bright, but she is very good-hearted.  She's a very nice character to play, because whatever else she does, she's always very warm.  But she's always very put upon, too.  Bill Warren (David Valla) who's the Motel barman, may be her boyfriend but he's twice gone off with all her money and just left her flat.  And when he comes back she just runs straight into his arms and says 'Bill, oh Bill ...' and there you are.  One of life's losers, really."
It's this losing streak of Avis' that puts her right in line with many of the other characters who are cast as what might be called Crossroads 'second division'.  Outside the family, 'David Hunter' and the farmhouse people, there are a whole set of people whose lives are continually fraught with problems, difficulties and unhappiness.  Obviously they all deal with their problems in their own ways, but there's no doubt that they do have more than their fair share of life's less pleasant events.
"I think that makes them more interesting," says Helen Durward.  "Losers are more interesting.  Lonely people, people whose lives aren't all easy and simple are just much more interesting.  You don't write about people who have happy lives.  That's really dull.  I think a lot of girls identify with Avis' problems.  People care about her, whether or not they actually identify.  I get all these letters from people who warn me not to get involved with such and such a fellow.  They don't want to see Avis making another mistake."
Believe it or not, when Avis first arrived at the Motel, Helen was all set to play her as a comedy character.  She arrived in January 1975 and as far as Helen was concerned, the new waitress was to be played strictly for laughs.  But as usual in the ever-changing world of Crossroads, nothing turned out quite the way it seemed at first.  "I established her as a comic figure, but what with all the problems with her boyfriend, losing him and so on, she turned out to be rather a sad figure.  I love doing comedy myself, and when we started I had her doing everything wrong, being a bit slow in the kitchen, everything like that.  But now she's rather sad.  Actually I think it's much harder for writers to find comedy situations every week."    
Playing a waitress like Avis is pretty much in the tradition of many of Helen Durward's roles during her career in theatre.  She started off at Perth Repertory Company when she was just eighteen.  "I got a lot of maids to play.  I've played maids all my life to tell the truth, they're very good parts.  My son says I'm best playing maids and dotty old ladies!  Anyway I played all those maids and eventually I asked why I didn't get any more parts?  To which the management replied that I couldn't play everything with my Scottish accent.  I was horrified.  I couldn't believe I had a Scottish accent."

Helen Durward On Avis Tennyson ... continued