MITCH BENN: What Blake’s 7 taught me about politics

Actor Paul Darrow in a scene from the television show Blake's 7. Photo: Don Smith/Radio Times/Getty

Actor Paul Darrow in a scene from the television show Blake's 7. Photo: Don Smith/Radio Times/Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images

MITCH BENN on Rory Stewart, why good guys can be bad and what sci-fi can teach us about politics.

We seem to have arrived at one of those awkward lulls, don't we; not much is actually happening Brexit-wise but it's still difficult to talk, think or indeed write about anything else.

The big story politically is of course the Conservative party's inevitable descent into solipsistic self-mutilation in search of a new leader. The battle to be declared First Among Equally Undesirables is surprisingly fraught given that, as the increasingly right-about -everything commentator Ian Dunt pointed out on Twitter, the Tory leadership chalice is not so much poisoned just now as radioactive.

It's hard to see how whoever wins can survive his (let's face it, it's going to be a he) victory for long given that the one stance he must take to secure the job - unflinching enthusiasm for Brexit, no-deal if possible - will doom his premiership from day one.

As I said last week, bizarrely, the one candidate who has a chance of making a go of it is Boris Johnson, given that he's both cravenly self-interested and casually mendacious enough to pledge undying support for Brexit in order to win the leadership and then abandon that pledge as soon as he's done so.

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Since no candidate is honest enough to admit openly that Brexit was and is a cataclysmic mistake, perhaps the candidate dishonest enough to pretend it isn't while knowing it is could be the only hope.

Having said that, Rory Stewart, the candidate whom 80% of voters believe invents statistics at random, seems to have spotted a gap in the increasingly niche and selective 'sanity' market.

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He's not (yet) managed to bring himself to acknowledge that Brexit itself is utter folly but has at least gone as far as decrying no-deal as the economic suicide attempt that it would be. It's a bold move; perhaps he's gambling that with all the other hopefuls barging each other out of the way in pursuit of the swivel-eyed loon vote he can quietly help himself to the still relatively un-crazy Tory contingent. I'm not sure there's enough of them left for him to succeed but I suppose it's encouraging that at least one candidate is bothering to try.

Meanwhile, the rest of the country looks on helplessly as our new prime minister, and the fate of the nation, is decided by the 120,000 or so ageing members of what is currently the fourth most popular political party in England (fifth in Scotland). Boy, I'm glad we're taking back control from all those faceless Brusselcrats, aren't you?

Whenever this world gets too tedious or depressing I take refuge in my beloved science fiction, and as such I was saddened this week to note that Paul Darrow had passed away.

Blake's 7 has become something of a byword for cheap and awful British television sci-fi, and not entirely without justification, but when it was good it was great. In its earlier series it dealt with some pretty grim dystopian themes of social brainwashing and thought control; its later series descended into campier space opera and would have been hard to sit through had it not been for the presence of Darrow.

His character, Avon, was introduced in the second episode as a smirkingly amoral side-kick to counterpoint the ethical uprightness of the heroic rebel leader Blake. But when the actor playing Blake (Gareth Thomas, who himself passed away in 2016) quit after the second series, Avon was promoted to lead character status.

So for the last two series, you had an adventure show aimed at older kids and adults whose protagonist was, to put it mildly, a complete bastard.

This gave wonderful levels of moral complexity to an ostensibly simple story; where Blake had battled the forces of evil in the name of freedom and justice (his ship was even called the Liberator), Avon carried the fight on more out of sheer spite, especially as his interactions with the main villain, the slinkily evil Lady Servalan (played by Jacqueline Pearce, who died last year), became ever more perversely flirtatious.

Avon was, on paper, a ridiculous character in a ridiculous show, but watching Blake's 7 today, if you can look past the dated visual effects, it all still works, and it works largely because Darrow and his castmates are selling the hell out of it. Oh, and he had the single coolest voice ever to emerge from a human face. He will be missed.

I think it may have been Blake's 7: 'The Avon Years' which introduced me to the whole idea of moral nuance; that 'good guys' can be as flawed as 'bad guys', that almost nobody believes that they are the bad guys and indeed which side is which is often a matter of perspective. That might be why I've never joined a political party.

So why not bung on a couple of old B7 episodes in Paul Darrow's memory (much of it appears to be up on YouTube)? Who knows, it might inspire you to keep up the good fight, rebelling against the brainwashing Brexiteers.

(Except maybe don't watch the very last episode. That's all I'm saying.)

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