ACTOR GARETH THOMAS DIES FROM HEART FAILURE
by Andrew M. Collins
Gareth Thomas, most famous for his portrayal as the fanatical freedom fighter Roj Blake in the iconic BBC series Blake’s 7, died yesterday from heart failure aged 71.
He was born in Aberystwyth, Wales on February 12th, 1945 and spoke Welsh until the age of 6, when his family moved to England. He was educated at the King’s School in Canterbury, then spent one year at Oxford studying English and History.
He then studied acting at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) for seven terms from 1964 to 1966. His first theatre role(s) were The Shepherd and 2nd Lord in The Winter’s Tale in 1964 whilst in his first term at RADA.
His first theatre role after leaving RADA was as understudy for the actor Peter Jones in a play at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, in 1966.
The Bafta nominated (Stocker’s Copper – 1972, Morgan’s Boy – 1984) actor’s first screen appearance was in The Prussian Officer (Granada TV) in 1967.
He then had brief appearances in Quatermass and The Pit, The Avengers and The Wednesday Play before gaining a proper role as Ron Radley in Parkin’s Patch in 1969. The Yorkshire Television Saturday tea time show only ran for one year.
Many TV roles followed, before he landed his signature role as Roj Blake, a fanatical resistance leader of a band of criminals in Terry Nation’s gritty sci-fi drama, Blake’s 7, which ran from 1978 – 1981.
Surprisingly, he never watched a single episode, even though it was this series which gave him the most prominence with the public and gave him the role for which he will be most remembered.
Although low budget, the series was massively popular with an average of 10 million viewers each episode. What it lacked in decent sets and special effects, it more than made up for with searing, witty scripts and finely honed, complex and often highly motivated characters.
Most notable was actor Paul Darrow who played Avon, Blake’s nemesis and constant foil, to superb effect. It still remains one of the most unrivalled and unmatched parings of on-screen antagonists.
Gareth Thomas’ character was surprisingly killed off at the end of series 2, causing much upset with fans. He was bought back for the blood thirsty finale and 52nd episode at the end of Season 4.
The other notable series he had a leading role in was the Children of The Stones – a haunting, eerie tale of a bizarre village, Milbury. He played the scientist Adam Blake in the peculiar ITV seven part mini-series which was aired in 1977.
Many TV roles followed, including Coronation Street, London’s Burning, Morgan’s Boy, Heartbeat, Midsummer Murders, How Green Was My Valley and Torchwood, with his last screen appearance being in Holby City in 2011 as Gareth Harper.
He returned to his role as Blake in 2012 to do voice work for the audio series Blake’s 7 : The Liberator Chronicles.
Aside from TV acting, Thomas was a seasoned theatre actor, having appeared in numerous Royal Shakespeare Company and English Shakespeare Company plays.
Described as a “fine actor” and a “real gentleman”, his death has caused much outpouring of heartfelt comments from his friends and colleagues.
A statement from the official Blake’s 7 website read: ‘It is with deep sadness that we have to announce that Gareth Thomas passed away this morning, 13th April 2016, from heart failure. Our thoughts are with his wife Linda, and his family and friends.’
The actor Stephen Grief who appeared in many episodes with Thomas wrote on Twitter : ‘Very sad to hear of the death of my good friend Gareth Thomas. We were at Rada then Blake’s 7 and onwards. He was a proud Welshman.’
Actor and comedian Robin Ince tweeted : ‘If excitement I displayed during the titles of Blake’s 7 could be bottled, we’d have a perpetual motion machine by now. RIP Gareth Thomas.’
It is a sad loss of one of the great journeyman actors of British TV and a fine stage actor.
He is survived by his wife Linda.
For more information, visit the largest Blake’s 7 site on the web: http://www.hermit.org/b7/
The official Blake’s 7 fan club site, Horizon, can be found here : http://www.blakes7online.com/news.php