Tag Archives: Blake’s 7

Scarred For Life Vol 1 – the 1970s

Life means life, so when you read Scarred for Life volume one: the 1970s – Growing up in the dark side of the decade, a celebration of everything that scared you rigid in the 70s, from public information films (PFI) to TV programmes, that’s exactly what you get…scarred.

Over the years those scars may have become feint distant memories but they come screaming back to haunt you as you eagerly explore its 740 pages.

Like secondary schools at the time it’s comprehensive, not in the Grange Hill way you understand – which is also featured in the book along with its still nightmare inducing swimming pool incident – no wonder its authors, Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence admit ‘it is fairly huge.’

final cover front and back1

Exhaustive is putting it mildly as chapters wise it covers everything from the afore-mentioned TV to PIF to board games and ice-lollies to comics, all in glorious detail with numerous images to help return the things that you spent the last 30-40 years trying to forget.

It really is a delicious dystopian sweetshop of the 1970s, with it hard to know what section to consume next. Answer, all of them.

Engrossing, informative and entertaining beyond belief it successfully wrestles the 70s away from those programmes that just take the piss with inserts of ‘comedians’ doing vox pops and showing how the 70s was oh so un pc.

Just scrolling through the content is enough to whet your appetite and demonstrates their true love for the cultural touch points this decade produced, whether it be TV show, advert or toy. It really is all here. Even down to the Fleetway Annual homage on the front cover, what’s not to love.

I’ve not felt this excitement and giddiness about devouring the contents page(s) – all five, count ‘em – since reading Kim Newman’s Nightmare Movies when it was first released in 1987. The book sets the scene perfectly, it may as well be me laid on the carpet, head propped in my hands. The Amityville Horror, Bigfoot, The Bermuda Triangle, Watership Down, The Pan Book of Horror and the Usborne Book of the Unexplained – that IS my childhood and it is all gloriously revisited.

You are hooked from the off. Obviously if you were born in that decade, felt its cultural ripples or grew up in the 70s you’ll get the most out of with instant recollections of I remember that, I had that and remembering moments from childhood that were long forgotten but smash back into your conscience as if they never left.

That intro is so evocative at transporting you back to that time in your house, it’s almost like time travel itself, regressing like Christopher Reeve in Somewhere in Time as the words wash over you or seeing the decades and décor roll back like Rod Taylor in The Time Machine watch the constantly changing shop window.

Each entry even provides suggested viewing and suggested further reading; this is very clearly written by fans for fans. I’ve had to keep a note book alongside me as a read it so that I can just keep track of my future viewings and reads.  My Amazon account is going to take something of a bashing.

We also get regular appearances by ‘the art of the title sequence’ breaking down some of TVs greatest every opening credits. These are the shows we want on our Netflix, Amazon Prime, ITV Player and BBC iPlayer, or even BFI player.

Essential, it’s damn near perfection. The ‘I did not know that’ facts come thick and fast as well, such as the creator of Shadows, a supernatural anthology series for children was from the same person that created Rainbow.

The chapters are like longer versions of features from TV Zone, SFX or the – all too short lived – Cult TV magazines, a spin off from SFX. It’s refreshing long form writing that never out stays it’s welcome.

It’s absorbing and makes you want to consume it in one, or certainly as few sittings as possible, but is also designed as such that you can easily dip in out of chapters or subjects that interest you. I guess the only shame is a lack of an index, but minor quibbles aside the contents pages are in plenty of detail in that regard.

Brimming with programmes I’d seen (Grange Hill, Blake’s 7, Worzel Gummidge), those I knew of and had read about (The Tomorrow People, Doomwatch, The Stone Tapes) and those I’d not (Beasts and 1990) it’s an interesting and a great package bursting with familiar, heard of and new delights aplenty. You can’t help but read it (crossed legged on the floor of course) and smile.

As well as all the television moments, the highlights for me were evoking vivid memories of The Doctor Who Exhibition in Blackpool; I never even met anyone else who went! The still-scare-the- bejusus-out-of-you public information films, particularly the Lonely Water, which, complete with full horror tropes, plays out like a 70s version of It Follows, and the escalators one with the red wellies ripped to shreds. Shudder!

It gives you one of those joyous crick necks where you’ve just been staring down for such a long period of time, like when you just read through The Guinness Book of Records. You could easily lose yourself in it pages for days on end.

A celebration of the odd, strange and macabre that hit our screens, shops, book shelves and magazine racks.  And even if you didn’t it effortlessly captures that period’s output and shows us that it wasn’t just as is oft portrayed, as just about wearing flares and disco dancing.

Today is often referred to as a golden period of television and writing for television, something which is said to only recently herald from the States, but this volume clearly shows that writing and content was king not just in dramatic output but children’s dramatic output. Windy Miller, we aren’t in Camberwick Green anymore. And everything else, from 2000AD to Roy of the Rovers tackling hooligans, is just as rich.

Doctor Who and hiding behind the sofa is just the tip of the ice-berg. An assault on the senses, it doesn’t just capture my childhood, it is it. Observations are just so spot-on, it’s a landmark dissection of this period and all the great and frankly demented things it had to offer.

If volume two, which focuses on the 80s – my mouth is watering already – is of the same standard, length an fun to read – and with the likes of Blake’s 7’s ending, Adric dying in Doctor Who, The Adventure Game and Mr Noseybonk to name but four things I’m expecting to make an appearance – these two encyclopaedic volumes could well be The Godfather Parts 1 and 2 of books about popular culture. If you were a child of the seventies or grew up in that decade it is an offer you can’t refuse. A definite a must buy.

Available soon from Lulu.com for £16.99, that’s great value at just over £1.69 a year!

The magnificent Blake’s 7: Robin Hood in space

With the death of Blake’s 7 actor Gareth Thomas it’s time to strap on your transporter bracelets to The Liberator and THAT ending for ‘Robin Hood in space’.

Such was the basic premise of Blake’s 7 back in 1978, and that idea was pitch perfect for one of the most beloved TV series of the last 40 years. Always seen as something of Doctor Who’s younger sibling, it springing from the mind of Who-alumnus, Terry Nation, for many it was never held in as high regard or as beloved. But, for me, I probably loved it even more than the fellow in the blue box.

You can see the similarities to Sherwood’s finest with its original character set-up, with Gareth Thomas headlining as Roj Blake, who leads a rebellion against a tyrannical regime (hey, even in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Norman Soldiers were likened to Nazis). More ‘Marauding’ than ‘Merry Men’ his reluctant heroic crew, perhaps sharing as much with the likes of The Dirty Dozen and The Magnificent Seven as much as with those from the trees of Nottingham.

We are then introduced to corrupt computer genius, Avon, (Paul Darrow), essentially Will Scarlett, a man who you wouldn’t trust as far as you could throw him, even if he was classed as your friend, but you would far rather he be your friend than your enemy. Avon quickly become the show’s favourite, with his sardonic wit and no nonsense behaviour, he had the same appeal as the likes of Han Solo.

Master thief, Vila, steps up as your Much the Millers Son, as he is essentially the light-hearted comedian who is something of a coward. Avon and Vila were the perfect foils for one another and have the zingiest dialogue this side of the galaxy that is still as crisp and clever to this day

Gan, is clearly the Little John of proceedings with his mighty frame and heart, but I’m not quite sure how a smart arse computer, Zen, fits into it all Merry Man wise, um, Friar Tuck…well he is at least the voice of reason and calm. The rest of the original crew were made up of Jenna, a smuggler, and Cally, a telepath, and these feisty, gung-ho women were clearly reminiscent, in their fighting spirit, of Maid Marian. After all, you have to remember that this was the late 70s and that women did as much of the rescuing as well as the being rescued.

The ship, The Liberator, a wondrous design whose Corgi model once bestowed my birthday cake as a child, which was a brilliant backward-looking design with its (Lincoln) green bubble at its rear, so my hats off to you Matt Irvine for a ship that even outclasses the Millennium Falcon for being so ugly and impractical – Einstein would have a fit on the Physics front – that it is a thing of beauty.

If Blake and his crew represent Robin Hood and his Merry Men, then the Federation forces, personified in the obsessive, psychopathic Space Commander Travis, complete with eye patch, and his superior, the ruthless Supreme Commander, Servalan, represent Sir Guy of Gisbourne and the Sheriff of Nottingham, respectively. You only have to look at the mid 80s rebirth of Robin of Sherwood on ITV, and latterly, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, to see how similar the working relationship between Servalan and Travis was to that of the Sheriff and his lapdog.

The show was quite revolutionary in terms of structure – the arcing plot is ahead of its time, something seen as commonplace in the likes of the Battlestar Galactica reboot – and characterisation. It also features a surprisingly cynical world view with a healthy dash of dystopia and dash of moral ambiguity, this is no Star Wars black and white – which premiered in the UK the same year the show was launched – instead there are massive grey areas in the ensemble cast, like we see in everything from 24 to Lost and The Walking Dead, people who aren’t just the well-rounded, good-looking good guys of programmes like, say the original Star Trek.

It may have had its peak and troughs throughout its four-year series, not to mention cast changes galore and Blake jumping ship come the end of series two, but it had a fantastic concept, multiple major character deaths and perhaps the finest ending of any TV show past, present or future, an ending from which Planet of the Apes writers would find hard to get out of, an ending that gave my chin carpet burns from the force it struck the floor, an ending that had the balls to kill off the entire remaining cast and still have Avon going out (or did he?) in the coolest TV moment of my life.

Not bad, essentially being a kids tea time programme and taking in political intrigue and terrorism (remember the IRA were still out in force) and harrowing deaths of beloved characters. The sets may have wobbled and it was probably filmed in one too many quarries, but hey that is BBC budgets at that time for you, but the writing still holds true and is pretty blistering stuff most of the time, clearly helped in part with many of the main actors being RSC trained.

Thomas came back for that last episode having left after series two and he claimed never to have watched an episode. That’s a shame and a real loss, despite its somewhat dodgy sets and special effects it had some great Orwellian dystopia which meant that it was well-ahead of its time, especially in that time slot. And, story wise it still really shines today and remains relevant with terror and political intrigue riding high in the headlines and a major staple of TV drama, the rebooted ‘gritty’ Battlestar Galactica was of course dubbed ‘The West Wing in space’.

And these unjust times of political unrest and times of terror Blake et al  would fit in perfectly. Stories about anti-government dissidents and corrupt, totalitarian governments never seem to go out of fashion (it’s no coincidence that the series villain was a woman – just as Thatcher came into power), and surely that’s doubly true of this era of terrorism.

Crucially, it had drama and conflict in spades, and most of this came from within the crew, especially between Blake and Avon or Avon and Vila, which was full of crisp, foil-bag fresh dialogue that even JJ Abrams or Joss Whedon would be proud to have scribed today.

Although it has been resurrected as an audio drama, getting a new lease of life in a series of audio adventures which has attracted a whole host of talent from Bond and genre fave, Colin Salmon as Kerr Avon and guest stars from Ashes to Ashes’ Keeley Hawes and new Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch.

Like the Who audio adventures it has also lured back cast members from the original series, Michael Keating and Jan Chappell, all of which shows there is still plenty of talent and interest in the project.

It keeps threatening to return to screens with aborted attempts from Sky and the Syfy Channel in recent years. With the return of Star Wars to the big screen and another Star Trek series in the offing, as well as on the big screen, we are in the same alignment as when Blake’s 7 first materialised on our screens.

And after all in this world niche audiences for The Walking Dead and original dramas produced for the likes of Amazon, with The Man in the High Castle, and Netflix, with House of Cards, or Sky Atlantic with Fortitude, then there is nothing to stop the return of The Liberator and its crew.

Who knows, perhaps the real life death of Roj Blake, from heart failure and not shot by Avon, could be the right catalyst for his rebirth. Roj Blake is dead, long live Roj Blake?

As Zen may have stated: “Probability of reboot, 80%.”