Date of Birth: 12 February 1945, Wales, UK
Birth Name: Gareth Daniel Noake Thomas
Nicknames: Gareth Thomas
Gareth Thomas, best known for his role in the popular BBC science-fiction series Blake’s 7. He was an accomplished classical stage actor who gained television fame in the title role of the BBC science-fiction series Blake’s 7 in 1978. Conceived by the writer Terry Nation as a more adult alternative to Doctor Who, Blake’s 7 was hugely popular with the public, ran for four series, amassed 10 million viewers, sold worldwide and retains a loyal fanbase despite the disdain with which some critics treated it at the time.
Thomas’s character, the political dissident Roj Blake, framed for child abuse while on the run, gathers a motley bunch of outlaws to do battle with the evil Federation. The series explored complex morality Blake’s fanaticism made him a compromised hero and his relationships with the other characters, notably the scheming antihero Avon (played by Paul Darrow), were never entirely comfortable.
After two series, Thomas hankered to return to the theatre and departed. The character was still mentioned missing, presumed dead and so, fearing that casting directors would assume he was still in the show and so unavailable for other work, he requested that Blake be killed off definitively. His bloody demise at Avon’s hand precipitated a memorable series climax in which the regular cast were all shot dead.
Thomas was born in north London, the younger of two sons of Kenneth, a barrister who had been a junior at the Nuremberg trials, and his wife, Olga (nee Noake). A peripatetic childhood was spent in Aberystwyth, London, Edinburgh and Leamington Spa, when his father became a managing director for the John Lewis department store chain.
Thomas went to King’s college, Canterbury, and, in an attempt to extend his studies for as long as possible, he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London, in 1964. After a stint as an assistant stage manager and bit part player at the Liverpool Playhouse, he made his West End debut as an understudy in Three Months Gone at the Duchess theatre (1967), going on – at short notice and without rehearsal for the indisposed lead actor, Alan Lake, for one matinee performance.
He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company for its 1968-69 season, and played small parts for directors including Trevor Nunn and John Barton. Immediately fulfilling his wish to return to quality classic theatre upon leaving Blake’s 7 in 1979, he rejoined the RSC, giving a vigorous, aggressive Orsino in Twelfth Night (directed by Terry Hands), Cassio to Donald Sinden’s Othello and a strong performance as the Irish stoker Mat Burke in Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie. In 1987 he played Glendower and the Lord Chief Justice in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 and Fluellen in Henry V for Michael Bogdanov’s English Shakespeare Company.
Other theatre work included Frank in Educating Rita (on tour, 1983), the title role in King Lear (a favourite part, Northcott theatre, Exeter, 1989), Cliff in John Osborne’s Déjàvu (Comedy theatre, 1992) and Colonel Pickering in Pygmalion (Edinburgh Lyceum, 1996). He was Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Dundee Rep, 1997), Dysart in Equus (Salisbury Playhouse, 2000), Oberon/Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the drunk Mr Dearth in JM Barrie’s Dear Brutus (Nottingham Playhouse, 2000), Chebutykin in The Three Sisters (Nuffield theatre, Southampton, 2002) and Ephraim Cabot in O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms (New Vic theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme, 2010) in a performance described as “masterful” by the Daily Telegraph.
Blake’s 7 was not Thomas’s only brush with science fiction he was one of the workmen who discover mysterious remains in the London Underground in the Hammer film Quatermass and the Pit (1967). On television he was in Star Maidens (1976), an Anglo‑German co-production concerning a planet of domineering women, and he played the scientist Adam Brake in the memorably atmospheric HTV children’s series Children of the Stones (1976). In Knights of God (1987) he fought against a militant religious order whose leaders were played by Julian Fellowes and John Woodvine.
Thomas’s extensive small-screen career also included the BBC’s How Green Was My Valley (1976, with Stanley Baker) and semi-regular appearances as Area Commander Bulstrode in the popular London’s Burning (1989-94). He was twice nominated for a Bafta: for his first major screen role, in Jack Gold’s television film Stocker’s Copper (1972), and for his portrayal of a struggling hill farmer in the series Morgan’s Boy (1984).
A prolific radio actor, he was Mog Edwards in the 1988 production of Under Milk Woodwith an all-star cast led by Anthony Hopkins and starred in the Doctor Who spin-off Dalek Empire for the audio company Big Finish, for whom he reprised the role of Blake in 2011.