Welsh actor Gareth Thomas, most famous for playing the rebel leader Roj Blake in ’70s BBC space opera Blake’s 7, has died at the age of 71.
In a long a varied career Thomas had roles in a huge number of TV shows, including Torchwood, Heartbeat, Baddiel’s Syndrome and Morgan’s Boy, an ’80s BBC mini-series about a Welsh farmer that he claimed was one of his favourite roles. His rich voice also helped win him several Royal Shakespeare Company roles: Orsino in Twelfth Night, Cassio in Othello and Mat Burke in Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie.
But for telefantasy fans he will always be Roj Blake in Terry Nation’s Blake’s 7, the man who escaped a future totalitarian nightmare, stole a space ship called the Liberator and formed a crew or rebels from convicts with varying – not always selfless – reasons for following him. He starred in the show for the first two series before leaving, but made guest appearances in the finale episodes of both series three and four. Although in the series three finale it turned out Blake was just an illusion, he appearance in the show’s final episode was real, and his cameo, in which he was shot dead by one of his former rebel colleagues, Avon, was part of what became one of the most infamous final episodes in TV history.
The show at the time was criticised by critics for being Star Wars on the cheap, but sci-fi fans could see past the cash-strapped production values to the complex, multi-layered tale it was telling. It was an influence on Babylon 5 and in 1997 Gareth Thomas even put on his old Roj Blake costume (right) to present Babylon 5 creator J Michael Straczynski with an award at a Wolf 359: The Alliance convention in Blackpool.
RIP, Gareth Thomas. You will be missed.