This time last week I was on my way to London for a weekend convention devoted to the 40th anniversary of Blake’s 7 – Terry Nation’s dystopian sci-fi series which ran from 1978 to 1981. It was a fantastic weekend; I had such a good time; and now I am home and finally calming down from all the excitement I wanted to write a bit about what being a fan means to me.
There are two things about Blake’s 7 which have kept me hooked for 40 years. Looking at the show itself, its huge appeal was and is that it is massively character-driven. There was no budget for spectacular special effects, models were built in peoples’ garages out of anything they had lying around, such as the infamous 2-hairdryers spaceship.
Instead of loads of explosions, monsters, and epic space battles, this show had intelligent (and sometimes not so intelligent) scripts, the characters grew with the series, they became our family, our friends, the people we hung out with on a weekly basis. We rooted for the good guys, but we loved the bad guys equally well. These were not disposable villains, they were their own strong characters with their own motivation. Just as Blake and his crew made sense, the Federation also made sense and I’m sure just as many fans would choose to be the arch-villainess Servalan or her sidekick Travis as would wish to emulate the worthy rebels Blake or Cally. However, the point is we knew them all, we loved them all.
We also relished being fans of show called Blake’s 7 in which there were never 7 crew members (you had to count the two computers in to make up the numbers), and from which Blake himself disappeared entirely after the first two seasons – delightfully perverse.
It helped, as a female fan, that the leading ‘romantic’ male – Avon – was played by the utterly delectable Paul Darrow – in black leather; every sardonic line uttered impeccably through cruel but kissable lips in a voice that slid into the ears like liquid chocolate glides down your throat. I’ve got the audio-book of him reading his autobiography and, still, after all these years, that voice! In the series, he would kiss the girls, then he would thump them or kill them, and then he would turn away and never look back. We couldn’t get enough of him! At the convention we gave a huge round of applause to the costume designer who first put him in the black leather.
For the later two seasons, as cast members left, some new faces joined the crew. Guess what? We loved them too! We embraced them, their characters grew, the show continued to be character-driven. The end of the third season was very hard on me as the gorgeous ship, the Liberator, died; for the ship and its computer were characters in their own right and, no, there has never been, nor will there ever be, a ship so beautiful. Through the fourth season the stories slid inevitably down to a final shoot-out with Avon in full Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid mode, surrounded by Federation guards, raising his weapon to take one last soul with him….
At the end, the bad guys endured and the good guys were blown away – the emperor of all perverse storylines.
For me, that was it for a while. The show was over, we didn’t have video tapes or regular repeats, although I have a novel by Trevor Hoyle based on the series and perhaps that dates back to the earliest days.
All of which brings me to the second strand that leads to fandom of such enduring proportions – the time and the place. When Blake’s 7 started, I was 18 years old, I was working with people who understood the sci-fi genre and with whom I could happily discuss each episode after it aired. If the characters in the series were friends and family, part of that feeling came from discussing them with real friends and family. By the time the final episode aired, I was 21 and I had a 4-month-old baby. The four years that the series ran were the years when I matured and worked out pretty much who I was; and part of who I was turned out to be a sci-fi geek.
I think everyone who becomes a fan – whether it is of a particular band, a TV series, a film franchise, comic books – retains one thing and that is a sense of childlike wonder. The object of the fandom is keyed into that like a genetic code and no matter how long elapses, hearing a tune or revisiting a story immediately releases the wonder and you are once again as you were when you first encountered the object of your passion. Yet, over time you accrete new experiences to add on to the original bedrock of your fandom and so your relationship with the object grows ever more complex; a pearl growing larger day by day, year by year.
For me, after a lull, the next proper resurgence came in the 1990s. Once again, I was working with people who were themselves into the sci-fi genre, who understood what that meant. There were monthly Blakes 7 publications that I bought at the newsagent on my way to work. The whole series was released on VHS and suddenly it was possible to relive the stories. My babe-in-arms had grown into a young lady, I was able to attend a convention (Who’s 7 1996 – a combination Dr Who and Blake’s 7 effort), I had my coffee every day at work in a Blake’s 7 mug! Myself and two of my best friends had Blake’s 7 evenings where we watched our way through the entire series and when I think of being a fan now, that is all part of what I think about. From this era, I have books and magazines, a copy of Paul Darrow’s fiction book “A Terrible Aspect” signed by Paul (Avon), Gareth Thomas (Blake) and Martin Bower (designer of the Liberator teleport bracelets).
Time moved on, people moved on, and ultimately I found myself working in companies where no-one cared for sci-fi and other things took precedence. Even then, though, Blake’s 7 remained near and dear to my heart; the transition took place from video to DVD and I dutifully collected all four seasons on DVD, as you do. My Season 1 DVD came with a tiny model Liberator and the cover was signed by Gareth Thomas – Blake himself. Then there was the internet, allowing all of us fans to geek to our hearts’ content.
My recent return to the fan fold came about in February 2016 when I was discussing my Blake’s 7 fandom with my grandson and I decided to look into which year the Who’s 7 convention took place. The first thing that came up was a link to the page for Cygnus Alpha 2, due to take place in April of that year. With a few tickets left for sale, I took no time at all for consideration and booked myself a place. Through that, I found out about Big Finish who produce excellent audio books and dramas using original cast members and new talent. Now, with three Cygnus Alpha conventions under my belt and a little group of friends who I’ve met through these, I know that, for me, Blake’s 7 is a once and always love.
So, 40 years a fan…. and counting!
Last weekend I had the honour of meeting Roger Murray Leach who designed and partly built the original Liberator ship for the series. I was able to tell him how important the ship was to me, that the first shot of the Liberator in the series had me hooked for life. So here, in writing, my huge thanks to him and to everyone who makes being a Blake’s 7 fan such a joy.