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Gareth Thomas 1945 – 2016 April 16, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Sorry to see that Gareth Thomas, the Welsh actor, passed away this week. He was the eponymous Blake in Blake’s 7, a series whose ambition and scope despite rickety sets and on occasion curious effects remains laudable. It’s difficult at this remove with television saturated with science fiction and so much of it good, to quite recall how rare even half-way decent SF was in the 1970s.

And Blake’s 7 was pretty good with an unusually sceptical take that placed it firmly in a late 1970s, almost punk, sensibility. The Federation (always thought that was a deliberate and sarcastic nod to Star Trek) as an appalling and corrupt tyranny might have to be overthrown, but those who were rebelling weren’t purer than pure – Avon is the standout character with his characteristic cynicism/selfishness, but while Blake had a moral centre he wasn’t above cutting corners or making questionable decisions. That he didn’t appear for most of the fourth and final season seemed somehow fitting, and that closing sequence…

Other roles he had included Star Maidens, a curious, in part deeply sexist, Anglo-German SF series from the mid to late 1970s. It is, as they say, very much of its time – depicting a rogue planet ruled by a matriarchy where Blake is one of the male servants who escapes. Such japes – eh? But credit where credit is due, the spaceships were pretty great.

He was also in the genuinely creepy (to my ten year old self) Children of the Stones.

Subsequently he seems to have devoted much of his energies to stage performances but he was a fairly constant presence on television nonetheless.

Difficult not to feel that he was, like so many who enter SF as actors, defined by a single character he played. Still, what a character.

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1. ejh - April 16, 2016

Star Maidens wasn’t the one where they had the command “adopt the position of respect”? I’ve remembered the phrase but never previously been able to place it.

Children of the Stones is supposed to be very good: I didn’t see it at the time (probably because it was on ITV) but as it’s all on YouTube I might look at it some time soon.

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WorldbyStorm - April 16, 2016

Hmmm… my memory isn’t quite that good re Star Maidens.

COTS is good for its time. It had a particular resonance for me like Quatermass 79. My dad was a teacher and an archaeologist with a specialism in early Christian sites. Ring forts, stone circles, whatever were where we tended to visit on holidays in Ireland. I loved them but always found that it wasn’t difficult to conjure up an air of menace.

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dmoc - April 16, 2016

You and me both. I was scared witless by COTS (I was about 7 at the time); and Quatermass really had me worried about those bloody stone circles. You could never trust them after that.

Steware Lee in a short clip about COTS and 70s kids’ TV vs. modern (and I really am glad I had my childhood in the 70s/early 80s – no idea at the time how lucky I was).

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dmoc - April 16, 2016
WorldbyStorm - April 16, 2016

Yeah, it was weirdly powerful. Do you remember ‘The Changes’? That was another one that was great. In part the fact the medium was so restrictive was part of it.

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Starkadder - April 16, 2016

I saw the repeat of COTS on the satellite the Children’s Channel as a child. I loved it, but the theme music was so scary I had to turn down the sound while the credits rolled.

RTP Gareth.😦

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WorldbyStorm - April 16, 2016

That theme music!

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Brian Hanley - April 16, 2016

RTE obviously showed it at some stage because I remember it certainly put the shits up me.
Used to like Blake’s 7 as well.

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WorldbyStorm - April 16, 2016

Did they? I never knew that. I can only remember the fairly rubbish reception on BBC for a lot of programmes (BBC Wales I’m presuming it was).

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2. ejh - April 16, 2016

It’s a funny thing, and you obviously get this with Doctor Who too, but people always mention the effects and how unsophisticated they look, but they rarely mention the acting, of which exactly the same thing can be said. There’s a reason the acting is like that, which is that it’s aimed at kids: but by the same token, I can’t remember any of my contemporaries ever saying to me “oh aren’t the effects silly in Doctor Who”. Maybe we grew out of the show before we started to notice that sort of thing. Or maybe Star Wars changed things in that respect.

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WorldbyStorm - April 16, 2016

I think it did. I think effects suddenly became too prominent in terms of importance. The acting wasn’t great in Dr. Who, in parts, but it wasn’t awful or not most of the time. But it was definitely unsophisticated.

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3. gendjinn - April 16, 2016

Sorry to hear that. My daughter has gotten into Blakes7 and we’ve been working through the series over the past few weeks.

Many actors with tiny parts had far bigger careers than all but Michael Keating.

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WorldbyStorm - April 16, 2016

Ah, I showed the creature Blakes 7 this week, she enjoyed it in parts. Mostly Servolan. Can’t say I’m too fond of the second incarnation of Travis but Avon was still almost contemporary in his cynicism. I’ve never seen the third or fourth series bar one or two episodes, they’re on the list. What are they like?

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gendjinn - April 16, 2016

Servolan is certainly a hit, as well as the strong female characters on the crew. It’s nice to have the wee one see situations where women are just as powerful, good and bad as the men without anyone even thinking to think about it.

The second Travis does come into his own over the long haul, but still much prefer the original. The rest of the seasons without Blake are much the same in quality, the storyline changes after repelling the alien invasion. Everyone is scrambling to establish a power base and there are many intertwining stories with a much diminished Servolan.

Though the hole Blake leaves is never adequately replaced and one cannot help but wonder that the dissident struggle against tyranny story arc would have been a lot more subversive had he remained.

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WorldbyStorm - April 16, 2016

It is interesting, that re the male female dynamic. Well ahead of its time compared to other then contemporary shows.

That’s interesting re Travis. And the loss of Blake. I’m working through it, now midway through Season Two.

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gendjinn - April 17, 2016

Thinking about Blackstuff or Beiderbecke there were similar strong, independent female characters in contemporary fiction. Of course they weren’t in a post-patriarchal society like Blakes 7. Then there were Star Trek, Space 1999.

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WorldbyStorm - April 17, 2016

I’m a bit dubious about the first Star Trek in relation to gender roles (though it wasn’t the worst) but others definitely.

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gendjinn - April 17, 2016

Oh, I meant ST & S99 were not good examples – Uhuru for example.

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WorldbyStorm - April 17, 2016

+1

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4. roddy - April 16, 2016

What were ye all watchin in the 70’s down there anyway?Did yez never hear of “Bonanza” or “the saint”?!

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WorldbyStorm - April 16, 2016

The 70s Saint, Ian Ogilvy. Sure did. As well as the Moore one from the 60s. Bonanza. Well,yeah, when I was younger. But SF (the other SF!) was the thing by the mid 70s, even pre-Star Wars, for me.

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gendjinn - April 17, 2016

The Saint, The Persuaders were pretty great. Was never one for the horse operas, always rooted for the natives.

Now Wanderly Wagon, Magic Roundabout, Battle of the Planets & Ivor the Engine will always hold a special place in my heart.

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Dr.Nightdub - April 17, 2016

Ah, the 70s…

The Virginian taught you all you needed to know about good and evil and being upright and sticking to yer guns an’ all. Though Trampas had a bit of an untameable anarchist about him.

Wacky Races had Dick Dastardley as a pantomine villain but at least showed us how to recognise the bad guys. Muttley was basically every Labour Tanaiste in a coalition government, ever.

Scooby Doo gave us hope that the pesky kids could always make a difference.

Camberwick Green and Trumpton taught us that the English were off their heads; Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew – they needed an Irishman in there just to complete the rhyming couplet.

In retrospect, Magic Roundabout was basically the adults telling the small kids to take drugs.

I have no f***ing idea what Wanderley Wagon or Bosco were about, thankfully I was aged over 10 before I was exposed to the Staters’ notions of childrens’ TV.

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gendjinn - April 17, 2016

I must point out that the dog on Wanderly Wagon had a drivers license.

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Dr. X - April 18, 2016

Intergalactic federations are all very well, but a dog with a driving licence? That’s taking the suspension of disbelief too far.

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Brian Hanley - April 17, 2016

That was the real cultural divide back then- being sneered at by Dubliners for only having RTE’s ‘culchie shite’. Sneaky snake, O’Brien, Judge (he also taught us how to cross the road safely), Mr. Crow…they beat the strange eastern European cartoons RTE used to show to fill in the gaps anyway (and the National Film Board of Canada stuff)..

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WorldbyStorm - April 17, 2016

I was only saying recently seeing the inside of the Wanderly Wagon at the RDS one year in the very early 70s and seeing it was effectively an empty prop was a genuinely disillusioning experience in my life. I’d loved that programme up till then.

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6to5against - April 17, 2016

Its with Fossetts now isn’t it. I had the same experience. Couldn’t believe they didn’t decorate the inside, if only to preserve the memories of their middle aged clientele.

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crocodileshoes - April 17, 2016

Lolek & Bolek, anyone?

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WorldbyStorm - April 17, 2016

I just looked that up, I genuinely don’t recall it.

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Dr. X - April 18, 2016

I always thought the Virginian was a 60s show. I remember my Da saying that all the women in Cork were “mad for the Virginian”.

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5. ejh - April 17, 2016

That wasn’t Mole, was it? Last time I was in Prague there was a big cardboard* Mole in the airport.

[Well probably not cardboard. Plywood? What do you call those two-dimensional advertising things anyway?]

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Dr. X - April 18, 2016

Here in the former DDR he’s “Der Kleine Maulwurf”, and is still a cultural icon.

You can get English language versions of the kids’ books that feature him and his friends by the way.

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6. roddy - April 17, 2016

Bonanza was never that hard on the”natives” as far as I recall and Dan Blocker (Hoss) was very sound politically.

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gendjinn - April 17, 2016

Good memory, they all blur together for me.

BTW Bonanza ranch has fallen into the hands of a lackey of the Carlyle group.

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6to5against - April 17, 2016

I always preferred high chaparral to bonanza, but it never gets a mention these days. Also, loved the virginian. An interesting thing about TV is that these were all true family shows -watched in our house by everybody from 4 to 80+. I have to make an effort now to find TV common ground with my kids.

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WorldbyStorm - April 17, 2016

The high Chapperel that brings back the memories. Very true re true family stuff and the fact of multiple to channels, niche programming, etc makes it more difficult again.

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gendjinn - April 17, 2016

I too must confess a soft spot for the High Chaparral, I recall they incorporated storylines about the racism between the native Mexicans and the new Yankee overlords when the border moved south.

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Dr.Nightdub - April 18, 2016

Another unique point about The High Chaparral: it was the only cowboy-and-Indian TV show to have its own set of Airfix figures. Can’t remember if the brother or me had them.

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7. roddy - April 17, 2016

WBS,thats enough of “the other SF ” if you don’t mind!

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WorldbyStorm - April 18, 2016

Its meant in a loving way!

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8. roddy - April 17, 2016

Bonanza was the only show in tv history that featured a father (Ben) who appeared to be barely 2 years older than his son (Hoss)!

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9. Dr. X - April 18, 2016

While we’re on this subject, I have to ask . . . does anyone else remember a show called “Freewheelers” that RTE would have put out circa 1979? I used to watch it religiously, but I’ve never ever met anyone else who can recall seeing it.

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WorldbyStorm - April 18, 2016

Yeah I do only saw it a few times though

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Dr. X - April 18, 2016

Thanks, I was beginning to wonder if I had imagined the whole thing.

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