Starfleet Experience

11-12 October 1997 at Nottingham

Friday; en route

The coach to Nottingham is crammed full of people. Wedged in a corner, my simultaneous attempt to jot down notes for "Blakes 7 Rebel On" and eat an egg and bacon baguette tidily is unsuccessful, and I forgo the slice of walnut and parsnip cake for the time being. Ten minutes out of town the interior lights fail, so I put my pen away. I arrive at the Stakis hotel around 8.30pm, and spend several minutes wandering its labyrinthine corridors in search of my room. Will I ever find the Way Back?

A littler later I set off in the wrong direction to look for Judith P. These corridors would tax Theseus, but purely by accident I come across a lift, so I get into it. The lift descends, I get out, and there is Mr Thomas who promptly gives me a beaming smile and a greeting before getting in. Either he has an exceptional memory, or he notices that a strange woman has stopped dead and is goggling at him, from which he correctly infers that we have met briefly before. Hey, this is a great con and it hasn't even started yet.

Judith, Gareth, Chris and Janet

Judith, in 4th series Avon costume and a great haircut, is in the downstairs bar past the Robin Hood pictures and the framed Nottingham lace. She is accompanied by her walking stick as her knee, amongst other things, is giving her considerable pain. The bar is relatively quiet, but there are a number of con organisers sitting there with her. We chat about various things, including what is likely to be happening tomorrow; so far there doesn't appear to be a printed programme. Will there be a masquerade? Judith is thinking hard, I can tell.

She announces that she has brought the brown Blake shirt with her, too, looks at me speculatively and suggests that we might work up some dialogue between us. Help! I haven't the physique to wear a Blake shirt, brown is not my colour, and my performing skills are nil, though otherwise the idea is quite attractive. Perhaps after a couple more drinks I just might.....Judith is looking purposeful. She fishes out a pen then hesitates because her Avon shirt is 4th series and the Blake is 2nd; life's full of problems for perfectionists. However before we can plunge headlong into creativity, Gareth appears and the masquerade conversation moves elsewhere, vanishing into the night.

Having had an unduly busy week my brain decides to start shutting down earlier than usual so I can't remember most of what was said. A few memories break through the mist, however. Cockney rhyming slang - Gareth compliments Judith on her new barnet (Barnet Fair = Hair), and further explains that Brassic, meaning skint, arises from Boracic Lint. Such erudition, and on a Friday night too. Later, Judith demonstrates a few bars of her Cushy Butterfield filk. Gareth suggests she sends him the music and he'll ask his wife to sing it. While she's at it, she can send her lament The Road to Dundee, written on that doleful occasion when we discovered he would be unable to attend May's Fantasticon because of work commitments at Dundee (Doleful for us fans, that is. I'm all for actors getting paid to act).

Has she got the music on her person? No. I foolishly offer to write down the dots, though I've not done any notation for the best part of thirty years, but luckily nobody holds me to it. It transpires that Judith doesn't know Fog on the Tyne. What's more, she hasn't ever really listened to Bohemian Rhapsody, or Bowie's Major Tom. Good Heavens! A shocked Gareth has to enlighten her.

There is an influx into the bar, several members of the British Cardiac Patients' Association. We mingle for a heart to heart conversation. They tell us about open heart surgery, and Gareth draws on his experience of acting out a heart attack in his episode of Casualty, then the talk drifts towards politics, and the unctuous Tony Blair. I end up talking to the organisation's chairman and inadvertently move into work mode, telling him about grant applications to charitable trusts in Cambridgeshire; help me, someone, or I'll be handing out business cards any minute now.

Around midnight Judith and I say goodnight and take the lift to the third floor where her room is. The lift stops but the door does not open. We press the button, but nothing. Perhaps it is just a third floor problem, so we try the second. Then the third again, fourth, fifth, first, ground. Nothing. Hmm. What company made this lift? The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation? We are trapped. You just never have a teleport bracelet about you when you need one, do you? Nothing for it, we shall have to press the alarm button.

So we do that. It's quite a loud noise, but nobody seems to have heard. Judith makes herself comfortable on the floor and starts to compose a filk, based on Five Hundred Miles Away from Home, about being stuck in a lift at a B7 convention. I am deeply impressed by her creative flow, all done on iced water and tomato juice with a merest hint of Worcester sauce. I keep pressing the button. Where is everybody? "Oh I'm three floors awa-ay from my ro-oom," warbles Judith from below, "We are stuck, just our luck.....", then stops to think up some more rhymes for "stuck" which fit the situation. Well now, I can think of one.

By the time a flustered hotel person releases us, she is well into the third verse. We walk to the other lift and this time reach our destination. After saying goodnight to her I feel impelled to return to the bar to tell people of our adventure and Judith's fortitude in adversity. One of the con gentleman kindly buys me a restorative malt whisky, which makes it all worthwhile.

Back in my room, I have a cup of soothing tea (peach and raspberry, I brought it with me) and consider eating the cake, but I'm not really hungry. It's well past one o'clock, time for sleep. Unfortunately this is not a view shared by people nearby, who are still chattering noisily well past three, when they decide to turn up the volume on the tv instead.

I eventually get to sleep around four o'clock and am almost immediately awakened, it seems, by an alarm call, as I'm giving Judith a hand setting up her dealer's table. After a shower and a cup of tea I go in search of her, wishing I knew which of these doors conceals the noisy people so that I arrange for a controlled explosion in their immediate vicinity.

Judith is already in the dining room, attired in the Blake costume. She sets me a good example by choosing a healthy dried-fruit-and-muesli breakfast, but I have a grease crisis coming on and ignore it. The breakfast bar has all the usual things I never get at home, plus, rather surprisingly, haggis, Lorne sausage and cloutie dumplings. Excellent. After too many cups of coffee I follow Judith to locate the dealers' rooms in the Assured Meetings suite. There are three of these, Byron, Milton and Victoria, with other stalls set up in the corridor. One of them belongs to the artist from whom I bought a splendid teeshirt at Fantasticon; it has Mr Worf doing the weather forecast - "Today will be a Good Day to Die."

Having set up the table and stuck some pictures of that dark-haired guy with the nose, whatisname, you know, Blake's assistant, on the wall in the Victoria room - is Blu-tack the greatest invention of the 20th century- we repair to reception to register and check the programme. Starfleet officers with walkie-talkies are calling to one another, and several Klingons are fetching and carrying equipment and shifting furniture. The programme isn't ready yet, we discover, but the opening ceremony is scheduled for 10am.

So at 10am Judith and I enter the hall, which seems strangely uncrowded, and seat ourselves at the front. A little later we are told the ceremony will be delayed and we are offered thirty minutes of First Contact instead. Having watched it fairly recently, we return to the dealers' room and Judith's delectable zine display. I am able to resist the urge to buy, principally because I already own copies of most of them. Judith expertly reels in a couple of potential customers.

Back to the hall. Following the opening formalities, Gareth is introduced and bounds onto the stage to say hello (the second guest, Ed Bishop, is expected later that morning.) Gareth has an almost empty plastic glass in his hand, which he promptly finishes and tosses carelessly over his shoulder onto the floor. Immediately the stage is invaded by a security detail who arrest him for breaking litter regulations, put on the handcuffs and sternly march him away to gaol. Alas, whatever shall we do? Advice is at hand. Mr Thomas, we are told, will be let out of gaol when we have all made a financial contribution to the Children in Need Appeal. Goodness, that's a relief. Judith, naturally, has a teleport bracelet in her suitcase upstairs, but we might not have been able to smuggle it to him.

We are further informed that we are all liable to be arrested. For a small payment, any attendee may nominate another attendee for incarceration, until his/her friends are minded to bail the victim. We hand over some cash for Gareth's bail fund and exit the hall. My friend Janet has arrived from Shrewsbury and the three of us return to the dealers' room so that Judith can extract money from her. She also draws in other passers-by, attracted by the enthusiasm and patent sincerity with which she describes the zines - Judith would have a great career as a double-glazing saleswoman.

We are still not sure what the timetable of events is, except for video showings. Janet and I peer into the small bar (there are three) where Gareth is still ensconced in a cozy cardboard cell (that's Blake's 7 for you, no expense spared) in the far corner. No guest talk yet, evidently.

I'd earlier asked the hotel for a quieter room, so I navigate my way to my original one - eventually, there are rather more corridors here than on Liberator - and repack my bags, not forgetting to balance the slice of cake on top. I take my stuff up three flights of the impressive staircase to my nice new room and go back downstairs. Gareth has obtained his release, and is rumoured to be signing autographs in the downstairs bar. Things are pretty quiet in the dealers' room, so Judith decides to relocate downstairs, with those of her zines which display a picture of Blake on the cover, in the hope that a fan may buy one for Gareth to autograph; Judith is one class operator.

Judith, Gareth, Chris and Janet

Off we go, Judith and her stick in front, Janet and I following with the zines and bags. Gareth greets with fortitude the sight of these being dumped on his signing table. We squash onto the end of the sofa next to the young lad who is doing the administration of the queue, not a very onerous task at the moment, probably because few people have realised there is an autograph session under way. There are some nice photos for sale, too, including a particularly good one of Blake and Cally. In between occasional signings, Gareth chats to us. The question of the casting of Cadfael arises, and also the detail of the production; surely the twelfth century was muckier than that? We come out in favour of historical verisimilitude; I feel visitors to the Jack the Ripper Experience should have the opportunity to have their liver removed if they so desire.

It's 1.00pm. Ed Bishop has arrived, a very familiar face and voice. Judith has been showing Gareth a print out of the copious information on his career she has gathered for her webpage (I promise I will get those reviews to you by the end of the month, Judith, honestly) and reveals that the two men previously worked together on Frederick Raphael's "After the War" in 1989, together with Jan Chappell. Shortly after this the committee take their two guests away for lunch in the dining room. We gather up Judith's zines and march off in the usual formation, only to discover that the dealers' rooms are locked, so we brave the lift to take them up to Judith's room instead, then descend in search of food. Janet has not eaten today and is urgently in need of caffeine also.

The food in the Maverick bar is not at all bad. (What is the connection between Maverick and Nottingham? Was James Garner born here? Now the Byron room I can understand.) We share a bowl of nachos with different dips arranged in the colours of the Mexican flag, or so J+J tell me; I can never answer the flag question in quizzes, so this could belong to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands for all I know. There is also a vegetable combo, which sounds like it should include a bored man twanging a double bass at intervals, a Caesar salad and several more dips.

It's past two o'clock, when the guest talk is set to start, but happily it's been put back until half-past. Judith gets out her exercise book and sets us to thinking of exciting, original - no teddy bears please - open-ended questions suitable for both gentlemen to answer. Janet and I can't think of any, but Judith can. Bet you'd never have guessed that if I hadn't told you. She and Janet have the advantage of having seen Mr Bishop in U.F.O., which I have not. It's a good job for me that con-goers don't have to prove they are true SF Media fans before gaining admittance, because I hardly ever watch tv and don't know Babylon V from Deep Space Nine. I can just about recognise Fox Mulder.

The talk gets under way, with Ed and Gareth balanced on the only two bar stools in the hotel, apparently. I forgot to pack a notebook, so I've not got a record of all the questions but I think Judith kicked off with a "compare and contrast your roles" type question regarding Blake and Straker. I've forgotten the answer, if there was one. As is usual with Q&A sessions, the digressions are the thing. Gareth, who has recently filmed an episode of a children's tv series called Animal Ark (Calf in the Cottage) in which he plays a farmer, has a good anecdote about the dangers of lying prone underneath a cow in a milking shed, and the importance of keeping your eyes open just in case....

Someone asks about appearing in adverts, and doing voice-overs. There is currently a dispute about advertising payments, and Gareth cannot do voice-overs in any case as he no longer lives in London where the opportunities for that kind of work exist. Someone in the audience suggests Gareth would be great as Tony the Tiger, and Ed perfect for a Fiat Uno (Don't ask me why, I'm hopeless at cars). Gareth talks about the dangers of an actor being closely associated with an ad. Could you hymn the wonders of dog food and still audition for Hamlet?

He cites the experience of the actress who had fifteen years as Katie in the Oxo ads and then sank without trace. This leads into, depressingly, a discussion on the pros and cons of being typecast. Gareth, like many other fine actors, has avoided typecasting only to find that versatility has worked against them. Playing the same type of role over and over again = big money. Deploying and developing your skills in a variety of ways = Equity minimum. These days, he says, he would advise a young actor who has landed a regular role to stick to it like glue. I don't doubt he is right, but it's a sad comment on the current state of drama.

They then talk about techniques of acting on radio, of which Ed has much more experience than has Gareth, and the iniquities of payments for repeat showings on UK Gold. Gareth gets 17.00 total, not per episode, for the third showing of Blake's 7; were it to be shown again on terrestrial BBC, the repeat fee would be considerably larger. Who is UK Gold's major shareholder? The BBC.

Some hardy perennial questions: what role would they most like to play? Ed picks the Hitler role in Brecht's "Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui", and Gareth, Othello or Falstaff. Now there's an idea, he'd be perfect. In the same conversation Gareth asks the audience to define in four words what theatre is. He passes on the perceptive answer, got from a colleague's small daughter, that it is "Real At The Time." Amen to that. He is concerned that drama, in its broadest sense, has become all about escapism and not about genuine involvement, traditionally the focus of theatre. The likes of "Jurassic Park", while spectacular, do not engage the audience in any sort of dialogue. Amen to that, too.

Do they ever see fellow actors from their respective series? Ed says no, Gareth says occasionally, citing his Casualty episode with Michael Keating. Have Gareth and Ed ever worked together? Both actors hesitate, Judith waves her print-out at Gareth who promptly catches on. Indeed yes, he says, in that Frederick Raphael thing, and with Jan Chappell too. Ed then picks up the cue as well. Gareth also tells us that her performance as St Joan was the best he has seen.

Do they ever watch their own performances? Gareth says no, never, Ed says yes. Are there any parts they would refuse? Ed won't have anything to do with armaments, or cigarette ads designed for vulnerable communities. Gareth's packet of Marlboroughs is sitting on the table. Ed adds that nevertheless he likes the occasional cigar. Both of them have turned down parts, though extremely rarely, because they felt uncomfortable with the views represented within the play and the interpretation required of them. What do they think of each other's shows? Answer - they've never seen them. Neither of them watches much sci-fi. So that makes three of us in the room.

Ed has an anecdote about Sean Connery, Gareth of Donald Sinden at the Royal Shakespeare Company, who when asked to envisage Gareth in period costume suitable to his personality suggested "skins?" He follows this with a wicked impression of Sinden's Othello. He also does a lovely take of Alan Bennett's observance of social niceties; "all supermarket cashiers bite their nails (says AB). You're not all that surprised when it's Tesco's, but you expect better of Sainsbury's."

Other reminiscences cover "London's Burning," "Troilus and Cressida" for John Barton at the RSC, associations with Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins, and on one occasion being made up as Blake before getting out of bed in the morning for a day's filming on location. Being married to the make-up lady had its advantages. Ed contributes a story involving a large water tank in which he was to be filmed swimming, until he saw a technician using it to satisfy a basic human need.

Judith asks another question, "What was the medallion Blake used to wear?" Gareth is stumped. Whatever it was, I shouldn't think it could have been a St. Christopher. Another one from Judith; "What would they do if they won the Lottery?" Gareth would mount a production of Othello. Ed would settle a sum on each of his three daughters - shades of Lear - then put some money into Gareth's Othello. The audience likes this idea.

The session comes to an end with much deserved applause for the guests. We troop out and I go and change my shoes before going out into the rain to locate a film for Judith's camera. I find a Boots and decide to get two films for luck, and am somewhat surprised to be handed a free complimentary Father Xmas toy. Back at the hotel, I generously donate the Father Xmas to Judith and we all go down to the gaol bar to get some drinks.

I am quietly drinking a glass of wine and doing no harm to anyone when a shadow falls across the table. Two Starfleet Officers loom over me. It seems I am about to be arrested; that is, says one of them, as long as you don't mind. In a desperate plea for clemency I point out that I haven't finished my drink, but I am assured I can take it with me. Oh well...... I am conducted to my cell where I am handcuffed to the chair by the junior officer, and thanked for my co-operation.

A couple of minutes pass. The Senior Officer pops back to check I am not panicking, but warns me that my friends haven't quite decided yet whether to bail me out. I take a another sip of wine. The Junior Officer sticks his head around the door to see if I have any messages for them. I tell him to say I want Vila Restal to come and undo the lock, please. "Pardon?" he says? I must have a word with his parents, they're obviously not fully acquainting him with his cultural heritage. I tell him to just say that I need Vila NOW, though they probably knew that anyway. He promises to tell them straightaway.

A moment later there is a commotion outside. I could easily stand up and watch, but I'd rather sit and fantasise about Vila, frankly. Shortly after that, I am released and walk free. Judith is over at the bar, minus her gun, and there is a red stain on the carpet. Goodness, real violence? No, it's what's left of Judith's tomato juice. If Starfleet will put wobbly tables next to gaols, it really shouldn't be surprised when they get caught up in attempted jailbreaks, now should it?

After all this excitement, coming on top of two and a half hour's sleep, I need a rest and a nice cup of tea. I retire to my room for a bath and a change of earrings.

An hour later the three of us reassemble downstairs and start thinking about an evening meal. Should we venture outside into the real world? Are you kidding? The smoke in the Maverick bar is uncomfortably thick, and Judith's asthma is affected, so we have a meal brought out to us in the reception area. Janet has something or other and curly chips, while Judith and I, who are not overly hungry, share sweet and sour something, beansprouts and fried rice. Again, we are pleasantly surprised by the quality, and also the quantity. While we are eating Gareth and escort walk by. We offer them some chips, which are gracefully declined. Their loss is our weight gain.

Afterwards we go to the downstairs bar, which is very quiet. Where is everyone? The guests pass into the dining room to eat, followed some time later by a horde of Klingons - is there an official collective name for several Klingons, or have I just invented one? And does anyone know what so many Klingons, not to mention the occasional Borg, are doing at a Blakes7/ U.F.O. con? The horde disappears around a corner, and very soon we hear weird, loud noises which go on for some time. Cabaret, I presume.

Janet and I go to check out the disco upstairs. Too loud, too loud, for me at any rate, and we withdraw for the time being. Later we go back for a second attempt, Judith with us. It's even louder, and we retreat again. Gareth is sighted coming towards us so we perch on a convenient table and intercept him for a few minutes. We also get a passing Starfleet person to take some photos of the four of us before Gareth goes and does his duty in the disco. He doesn't stay long. I don't blame him. He's been working the previous week, will be driving back to the North York moors tomorrow evening to film an episode of Heartbeat (that heart motif again) at 6.30am on Monday morning, then driving back to Leeds the following day for more filming. A tiring schedule.

Judith retires for the night. Janet and I return to the downstairs bar and find it packed, so we go up to her room for a long chat before we too call it a day.

The next morning I wake up early, so have plenty of time to pack my bag, including the still uneaten cake - I'm beginning to wish I hadn't bothered buying it, but I'm too much of a peasant to throw it away; I'll eat it on the way home this evening. I switch on the tv to hear the news, but it's Sunday morning and only kids' programmes are showing; so that's what the Teletubbies look like.

After a long drawn-out breakfast Janet and I hump our bags along to Judith's room as she is not leaving until the following day. Judith herself is back in the dealers' room, but not many people are in evidence yet. It is a sunny day outside, and Janet announces that she will get a bit of fresh air and see the sights of Manchester. We remind her gently that we are in Nottingham. Close, she says. I go and hand my keys in, queueing behind a massive Klingon who is getting change for the phone. These Klingons are really impressive. I have a secret desire to dress up as one myself, but I loath wearing make-up; I can see this would be a bit of a problem for a Klingon wannabee.

I end up downstairs where Gareth and his escort are doing the Telegraph crossword. Most of the clues are already filled in, but assistance is required for a fragrant climbing plant whose second letter is "w" and whose last is "a". I knew I should have packed a nursery catalogue....Another clue requires the name of an island in Gulliver's Travels. I usually handle the garden and literary questions in quizzes, but I'm no help with either of these; I have failed, I am sorry. Glancing at the other clues, I spot one I could have done; an actress named Dame Peggy --------, but Gareth has managed this one all on his own.

Looking at my watch, I realise Judith has been marooned in the dealers' room for quite a while, so I go to check what's happening there. Nothing much, so she decides to join the party downstairs. We pack up her things and set off as per usual, Judith and stick followed by me carrying the bag and files. I know how Vila feels about Orac. Janet is in the lobby so the three of us descend together. Ed and his party have joined Gareth, as this is officially an autograph session. Ed is wearing a rather fetching bow tie today.

Gareth doesn't know it, but Judith is about to give him the third degree. I've passed onto her a couple of reviews of a play based on Decameron, performed at Derby Playhouse in different years, and we want to know which one featured Gareth. So, where were you on the night of 3 November 1970, Mr Thomas? Been there, been that, got the costume.

A diversion; a committee member approaches and asks if the guests would like to see a Klingon fight re-enactment? Everyone re-assembles in the main hall, where most of the floor has been cleared. So far there is a distinct lack of Klingons, bellicose or otherwise. An announcement is made; there will be a slight delay as Klingon number 1 cannot get his nose to stay on. Various helpful professional suggestions from the distinguished guests include superglue, blu tack, faith, Klingfilm or a six inch nail and a hammer.

Ah, here we go. An impressively large and convincing Klingon strides onto the floor snarling something about finding his brother. He looks the part, I am impressed. He picks a fight with the Starfleet Security Officer sitting in the front row. Having demolished him, he discovers another Klingon has entered stage right and is lurking behind him. This one is shorter and heavier, and has lots of curly grey hair. "You are not my brother, he was much taller," he cries in anguished disbelief. Emotional lot, these Klingons.

They argue the toss briefly, then they have a fight. Klingon Number 2 grabs Klingon Number 1 by the hair, and a great lump of it comes away in his hand. "Aarggh!" screams Number 1, "for that you shall die!" or something like that, anyway. Number 2 yanks out another tuft, number 1 goes ballistic. The fighting and grunting continues, something else shoots onto the floor; the nose, perhaps?

Both gentlemen end up prostrate on the floor, to thunderous applause. We all leave the room, and in the corridor I bump into Georgina, an acquaintance made at the recording of Space Cadets in July. She lives in Nottingham but has only just arrived at the con. Ed and party go for lunch before the afternoon's auction. We are still living off breakfast and go back, accompanied by Georgina, to the serious business of finishing the crossword. What is this climbing plant? As it ends in "a" I am convinced it must be the Latin name, and am working my way through the alphabet starting from Actinidia when Janet says "Sweet pea." Then Judith remembers Laputa from Gulliver's Travels, and corrects an earlier answer from "dazzling" to "snazzily." I slink to the bar for a morale-boosting drink.

What should we do with this gen-u-ine Gareth Thomas hand written crossword now it's finished? We suggest he put it in the auction, I've seen people pay real money for weirder things, but he demurs. Janet commandeers it as a souvenir; is she going to become a fully-fledged Sad Person and have it framed by her bedside?

It's auction time. Ed and Gareth are on stage with a motley collection of items, including a hammer. Is it a Klingon war-hammer? Apparently not. It's just there for the distinguished auctioneers to use if they wish. Gareth leaves it alone for the moment, the table doesn't look very robust. Before the auction begins the model-making prizes are handed out, and the raffle is drawn. Janet is lusting after the Star Trek mirror, and has a ticket with two of the winning digits, but alas! Never mind, she has her crossword for consolation.

Gareth gets under way with the first item. Most of the things on the table relate to Trek or series that I'm not familiar with. They include a Tom Paris clock, a painting of Worf, a Bird of Prey, trading cards and playing cards, and several photos. The only Blakes 7 merchandise is writing paper. Gareth and Ed keep things going very nicely, though Gareth says plaintively that he can't count higher than five. Ed does a good American Auctioneer turn, and is not afraid to bang the hammer to the manner born. That really is a gorgeous bow tie he's wearing - now if he would only auction that I'd be in there bidding.

We go straight into the second guest talk. What started them acting, someone asks? Gareth replies that initially he entered drama school after university because he wanted to carry on being a student. Ed was at Harvard in 1959 studying business administration, and eventually ended up in England on a Fulbright scholarship to R.A.D.A. He tells us that he once looked up a survey of occupations while at Harvard; lawyer was at the top of the list for social prestige, with actor second last, and migratory farmer at the bottom. What would they have done, had they not become actors? Gareth says something in historical research, probably the Viking period (I should have brought my Erik Bloodaxe Rules Okay tee-shirt). Ed says lawyer, and adds that his mother has told him it's still not too late to enter teaching. As he has recently collected his senior citizens' bus pass, he's not too bothered.

Would Gareth reprise his role as Blake, if the opportunity arose? Probably. Has he ever sung on stage? Occasionally. What does he think of the idea of a Blake's 7 musical, and would he sing in it? Nope.

There are lots more theatrical anecdotes. Gareth recalls an early appearance as Brer Bear, in which he and Brer somebody else found themselves saying each other's lines on stage and had to extricate themselves while carrying on their duologue. Much later, in the English Shakespeare Company's '80s tour of the Henry plays, Gareth's character had to hand a letter to Henry V (Michael Pennington) which he needed in order to denounce the traitors in his camp. One night in Toronto, Gareth forgot to bring the letter on stage, leaving Michael Pennington to extemporise as best he could. He bought him a very large drink afterwards to compensate.

Gareth further reminisces about an occasion in the RSC's Twelfth Night, in which he played Orsino, when his mind went blank in the middle of a scene and he had to make it up as he went along. Apologising afterwards, he was told not to worry, as his improvising was in perfect iambic pentameter. Acting, says Gareth, is a tough job. The adrenalin rush of going onstage is similar to that produced by a minor car crash.

Judith asks Ed how he keeps his American accent up to date. Well, he drawls, I take my accent out and water it once a fortnight, and I drop a Buick on any Englishisms.

More on typecasting. Ed says he wears a suit because he gets to play a lot of men in suits. He once auditioned for a US army role, in which there were two parts available, one a private and one a sergeant. He commented half-jokingly that he never played enlisted men, only officers. He didn't get offered either part. Gareth tells of sitting in a restaurant booth one evening and grumbling to his agent about the similarity of the roles he'd been playing. Given his background, King's School, Oxford etc, why did he never get offered upper-class roles? Three days later he was unexpectedly offered, the role of Lord Charles Beresford in "Edward V11". He asked the director what had made him think of him? "I was sitting in the next booth," was the reply.

It's closing time alas, but not before Gareth has promised to attend Redemption, work permitting. We applaud our guests, who have both been an absolute delight, and go back to the gaol bar to say goodbye. A Klingon is breaking down the door of the cardboard gaol. Such strength.

I leave to catch my coach. Judith and Janet, I am later informed, share some hotel fish and chips. Gareth unfortunately has car trouble and has to await the late arrival of the RAC, so they fortify him with some of the chips. Janet helps Judith pack up her table and gets sold a reduced price Avon. It's always nice to take your loved one back home a present, isn't it, and they'd eaten all the chips.

I ended up giving that cake to our son when I got home. He said it was ok.

Chris Blenkarn

Back to Conventions

Back to Blakes 7 Index