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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Vale Gareth Thomas 1945-2016

Creative Commons image 

So, what is it with me that I only hear about these things months after the event? Like Parke Godwin, the wonderful American novelist who did British heroes better than many British writers? I only heard about his passing because I was looking up stuff for a post about his Arthurian fiction.

In this case, I only heard about it because I was at a Christmas party where someone mentioned it. It happened in April. 

Still, never too late. Gareth Thomas was, most famously, in Blake's 7, playing the title role. If you're not as old as I am, you may not have heard of it, though it does still seem to have a fandom, including young fans who have made their own episodes, with original characters, appearing on YouTube. Blake's 7 was a British TV space opera which started, in the best British style, on a dystopian Earth, where everybody lived under domes because of a nuclear war centuries ago. The air outside has long cleared up, but it's convenient for the government to keep everyone together, where they can be controlled. There are secret police, drugged food and water, a caste system and stupid piped music playing in the streets! There are also rebels, and one of them, Roj Blake, played by Gareth Thomas, had been captured, tortured and had his memories wiped and replaced, then released. When a former comrade persuades him to attend a secret meeting, he's captured again, accused of child molesting, to put his fans off him, and sent off to a penal colony, from which he escapes with a sort of Dirty Dozen in space. After that, it's space opera for the rest of the series. 

Blake was never my favourite character - that was his comrade Kerr Avon, a smouldering gorgeous anti-hero. But that voice! I have always said I'd have dated Quasimodo if he had a beautiful speaking voice and Gareth Thomas was no Quasimodo. 

He was a RADA graduate, England's version of our own NIDA, and you have to be the best to get into that, and once you do, they train you very well. 

And he had an impressive resume, including some Shakespeare and stage, screen and TV, mostly TV. He was working well into the 2000s. Really, Blake's 7 was only two years in a long career, and not even the beginning of the career, but somewhere in the middle. There were two more seasons after he left and he returned only to be killed off in the last episode. 

I remember him in The Citadel, based on a novel by P.C Cronin(I've read the book, lovely story). The lead role of a young doctor in a Welsh mining town was played by Ben Cross, another fine actor who has done quite a lot of good roles and, in recent years, played Sarek in the first new Star Trek movie. Gareth Thomas played his mentor, an older doctor.

And that's the thing. He didn't have to play young heroes. Even in Blake's 7, when he was in his prime,  he wasn't a dashing romantic hero, despite his green and brown Robin Hood-style costume. He was a veteran rebel leader who could always control his anti-hero sidekick Avon, get him to do what he wanted, kicking and screaming, but doing it. In later years he played older characters and they were memorable. 

He seems to have done quite a bit of children's TV too, including stories based on novels, such as some of Jenny Nimmo's beautiful fantasy novels; of those, he was in Emlyn's Moon and The Chestnut Soldier.  In Knights Of God, which was a sort of Arthurian story set in a future dystopian England, he played a Welsh fisherman who had brought up a boy who was the long lost heir to the throne - the rest of the royal family had been wiped out and replaced with a sort of Knights Templar order who were ruling with fists of iron. Gareth's character was the leader of the Welsh resistance and, good heavens, he fell comfortably back into that role, didn't he! In one scene he was disguised in what was definitely a trooper costume from Blake's 7. That mini-series also featured Patrick Troughton as a sort of wizard-like character called Arthur whose son was embarrassing him by being the country's dictator. I think that may have been his last role before he died. 

I once got to see Gareth Thomas at a science fiction convention in England, where he had been brought in to replace another guest who was sick. He signed a postcard for me, which was all I had on me and we chatted briefly. In England in those days, actors really earned their pay at media conventions - in Australia we only ever had one guest and they were guests. They had to do a speech, perhaps be on a panel or two and help to judge the masquerade. For the rest, they were treated as guests. (Those were the days before the big events they have now) 

In England they performed. They practically ran the events. So I saw him and his then-wife, make-up artist Sheelagh, and Paul Darrow(Avon)and his actor wife Janet speaking, running the charity auction and generally clowning around. And then they mingled with the attendees. 

He did a fair number of historical roles, including a Puritan officer in By The Sword Divided, and a policeman in a miniseries whose title I can't recall, which was about an event bs k in the 1900s where they were sent from London to break a strike in Wales. 

You know, I always thought he could have played Aragorn; the description of Aragorn in the novel Lord Of The Rings sounded a lot more like him than fortyish, sexy Viggo Mortensen, who played him in the film. Aragorn looked a lot younger than his real age - he was actually older than elderly King Theoden, whose childhood he remembered - but he was a grizzled fiftyish Ranger who had seen a lot of action. Don't get me wrong, I think the casting of the film was excellent and Viggo Mortensen did the role beautifully. But when I was re-reading the novel, it was Gareth Thomas's voice I heard in my head. 

Ah, well, too many have left us and here's another part of my younger years gone. Vale, Gareth! 


A latte beckons said...

I was absolutely thrilled by Blake's 7 when I was about fourteen, I used to sneak out of bed to watch it. I was madly in love with Avon, oh dear, not a good role model!

It's sad that Gareth Thomas is gone, and thanks for the career summary -- I think I only ever saw him in Blake's 7, but it's good to know he had a full career outside the show!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Would it help to know that Tanith Lee was also in love with Avon? So much that she wrote Kill The Dead as a tribute to him. The hero was a very Avon-like character. And she was a lot older than fourteen at the time! ;-)

A latte beckons said...

Oh, that is good to know!

I did name the character of Darrow from the Chanters of Tremaris series after Avon, too :-)

Sue Bursztynski said...

Tanith Lee's hero was called Parl Dro. :) Jenny Pausacker wrote him into her Quentaris novel, as an actor who helped the heroine. Avon - or Paul Darrow - seems to be all over the place!