STEVENS: Where were you born?
: I was born in a
place called Maldon, in Essex.
AS: I understand that you were an only child, do you think it made you
CB: I don't know, it made me lonelier certainly, and so I suppose it
tends to make you more self-contained. When I was nine my best friend
who lived just across the street from me contracted meningitis and
died, and so losing your best friend at that age can make you feel more
isolated somehow, and makes you more self-absorbed. I've always found
it difficult to socialize and make friends, which I suppose explains
why I've got three kids of my own now, I've got my own unit!
ANTHONY BROWN: Did you read a lot when you were young?
CB: Yes I did. As a kid of about eleven or twelve I became something of
an addict of the romantic short stories that appeared in the women's
magazines, that my mother and my grandmother used to get. So I read
quite a lot of those, along with a lot of science fiction and anything
else really that came to hand. As I recall I discovered sex in
literature, with a book called Forever
and I remember I was completely rapt, it was a cracking story.
AS: When you left grammar school did you go straight to University?
CB: No, I went to Australia.
AS: Really? Why?
CB: Well at the time I had just missed National Service, they did away
with it the year before I was due to be called up. It was a stupid
system, but the one thing that it did do was give you the chance to
leave home. So when my generation's turn came there was no way to leave
home any more. Unless you were going to University and I wasn't because
I'd screwed-up my A-levels.
AS: Do you think it's essential that there is something to help you
make that break with your parents?
CB: I don't know if it's essential, but I mean everyone's got to leave
home at some stage, and it's one of the functions of University to
allow you, as parent and child, to break without having to make excuses
about it. Without having to feel that initial hurt, and National
Service was a way of doing that, University is a way of doing that,
going to Australia is a way of doing that I suppose, and after you have
made that break and come back, you are really just a guest in your
parents' house. So a mate and I saved up, and did the overland trip to
India, which you could do in those days, because the Middle East wars
hadn't started yet and it was still possible to go through Syria, Iraq
and Jordan without getting your head blown off. We drove to Calcutta,
it's the overland trip to Australia, which actually is impossible
because there is a large amount of water between Asia and Australia,
but anyway we eventually arrived in Australia, got ourselves jobs-- I
worked on the railway-- and spent a year in a country where
the ratio of men to women was ten to one, so it was there that I
learned to queue...
AS: What did you do when your year was up?
CB: I returned home, arriving on my mother's birthday, unannounced,
clutching a bunch of flowers and I think I had five shillings old money
in my pocket, which is about twenty-five pence. And there I stayed,
because basically I didn't have a lot of choice, I didn't have anything
left. I'd spent a year of boozing and carousing, in fact that was the
point I discovered what drug dependance must be Like. I'd spent six
weeks coming back on a passenger cruise liner where the booze was all
duty-free, and so about three days after I got home I started to shake,
I needed a drink very badly. It came as a nasty shock to discover that
I had become alcohol dependent. I worry less about it now, of course.
AB: What sort of work did you do when you got back home?
CB: I boiled ball bearings for a while, and then my father got me a job
with the company he worked for, which was Calor Gas and I became what
was laughingly known as a management trainee. I met my wife and at
twenty-two, I got married, I went to night school to get my A-levels
and then Calor Gas very generously sent me to Essex University.
Somewhat less generously to read economics, which I wasn't hugely
interested in. What do they call it? The gloomy science? I'm not sure
it's even a science actually, I got a BA not a BSc and then I came back
to Calor Gas and sort of worked off my debt.
AS: What made you start writing?
CB: I had been married for four years and up until that point we had
both worked. Although I was still at University I was getting an
allowance from Calor Gas, which wasn't a huge amount, but obviously a
hell of a lot more than one would get from the average University
grant. Then Lyn became pregnant and had to give up work, which left us
marginally strapped for cash, so I was looking around for means of
making money and writing was one possibility. I did some, what I
discover later were called, three-line quickies, for a television
programme called Braden's Week
and also I wrote a couple of short stories and sent them off to women's
magazines. I think I did a science fiction story as well, which I
whacked off somewhere and then sat back and waited for the money to
start flooding in. However the only thing that did sell, and looking
back on it, I was extremely lucky that anything sold at all, were the
three-line quickies I'd sent to Braden's
and for that I got paid the princely sum of five quid apiece, which was
a lot of money in those days. Later when I became a regular
contributor, they upped that to ten quid a throw and I started
averaging about thirty quid a week, which was very nice indeed. In fact
I was doing so well they actually gave me a contract on the last
series, where they paid me twenty-five quid a week no matter what.
AS: Did you then go on to bombard the BBC with scripts and ideas?
CB: No not really, I did a lot, of three-line quickies for other
people, for Dave Allen and like that, but strictly on a submission
basis, and by then I had an agent, a very nice guy called John Hays and
it was he who suggested Doctor Who
because they d take work from non-established drama writers and so it
was a way in. Although I had done a couple of sitcoms by then, John was
trying to broaden my range and get me to the point where I could give
up the day job. So I did a first episode on spec and my agent sent it
to the script-editor Robert Holmes, and then later I was called in by
the producer Philip Hinchcliffe and the three of us got together and
had a long chat. The episode I had submitted on spec was only about
fifteen minutes in length if that, but Bob thought he could use me. He
was trying to push Doctor Who
towards a more mature audience, which he was doing largely I think to
coincide with his own tastes, because he wasn't really a great lover of
AS: Did the fifteen minute script become “The Face
CB: No that story came later, the only thing that I can really remember
about the other script is the title, which was “The Silent
AS: So how did “The Face of Evil” come about?
CB: The idea owes quite a bit I think to Captive
, a novel by Harry
Harrison, and also probably to various other SF novels that I've read
over the years, but then anyone who says they write completely original
material is either insane or a liar, or possibly both. Anyway, because
I was new, Bob Holmes kept sending me away to write more and more
detailed story-lines, saying things like, "We need to know more about
this character, and this area needs developing." Until eventually the
story-line ended up longer than the final script! I still remember now
Bob saying to me, "Story-lining is all of the hard work and none of the
fun." Which is true, because all script-writers are basically dialogue
writers, and that's really what I prefer.
AS: I read somewhere recently that the original title for your first
story was “The Day God Went Mad”. What made you
think you could get away with a title like that?
CB: It fitted what I was doing, that's all. The story was about these
two groups of people who had become enslaved by tradition and by a
supercomputer who was God, so it seemed reasonable to call the story
“The Day God Went Mad”, particularly since the
machine was finally going off the rails and becoming a vengeful God,
but really I'm not hugely wedded to titles; I've always found titles
quite difficult to arrive at satisfactorily. And for the most part I
was quite happy for people to suggest and alter titles within reason.
AB: What did you think of the direction? Because Pennant Roberts can be
a bit variable.
CB: I was sat at the back of the gallery when “The Face of
Evil” was being done, and it was the first time that I'd
actually been invited to a gallery session, and poor Pennant was having
problems, as they always did, because they worked on a very tight
budget and time was money, and you flaming well had to get everything
done within the recording period because over-runs were damned
expensive, and you couldn't always get them. So Pennant was pushing and
something wasn't going right, and at one point he said, "Oh come on
it's only television, let's move on." And then he remembered that I was
sitting behind him and he looked back and said, "Oh well, er, I mean
it's very good television," or words to that effect, and then said, "I
hope I didn't upset you?"
But I learned some lessons from sitting at the back of the gallery,
lessons that were confirmed for me over the years. Pennant is a jolly
man who has a realistic view of what he is doing, he is not a major
stylist, but then they are few and far between, especially on video in
studio, on what was regarded as work-a-day television. Doctor Who
and programmes like it did a very useful job for writers and directors,
they were the beginners' slopes, where you were taught your trade. I
don't think for the most part it showed because people were excited to
get the chance, so they basically worked very hard to make the most of
what they had been given. But now unfortunately those opportunities are
no longer there, because people are not prepared to take chances
anymore and this has resulted in totally safe television. The only
thing that seems to matter now is that you don't offend anybody.
stories end with
something being blown up, however this didn't happen to the computer in
“The Face of Evil.” Was that your idea?
CB: Yes, all the story details were worked out by me, the only thing
that did change in relation to the end was that I didn't what to have a
scene where the Doctor actually gets to meet the computer. I remember
saying at the time, "Look this is supposed to be the computer
equivalent of God, an absolutely major super-brain. Now how the hell am
I going to write dialogue for that? You know I'm not clever enough to
come up with conversation for God!" And Philip said, "But you've got
to. We can't have gone through all this without having a confrontation
scene of some sort. You've got to have the Doctor and the computer
talking to each other, I'm sorry, but you have to do it." So eventually
AB: Wasn't Leela inspired by a Palestinian terrorist?
CB: Yeah, Leila Khaled, she was from a time when plane hijacking was
still considered to be an almost idealistic, brave and noble thing to
do. She was jailed for her beliefs and no one had been killed, she was
glamorous, she was articulate, but she also became the precursor of
some rather less appealing people and happenings.
AS: I've heard that Leela was created originally just for that one
CB: Yes that's right. From what Bob Holmes told me, I gather that Tom
Baker had always wanted to go solo, and so I suspect that's one of the
reasons why writers at that stage, were being asked to create
companions for their own particular episodes. Simply to keep him happy.
AS: Why did the idea fall through?
CB: I don't know really. I was just told that they liked the character
of Leela and that they wanted me to immediately do another four parter
with her, which I did and then discovered after that they intended to
carry on with her. Now whether that was a result of the casting or as a
result of the way the character was going I don't know.
AS: To my mind the character of Leela seemed to become more and more
diluted as the series progressed.
CB: Yes, that did seem to happen. The character was originally
conceived as a reaction against the little screaming companion type,
but as it went on things did seem to revert back somewhat, though
obviously not to quite the same extent as some of them had been.
AS: Leela got married you know.
AS: To a Time Lord no less.
CB: I didn't know that, and it does seem a bit strange, but to tell you
the truth I wasn't actually watching the programme at that point
anyway, because I'd become involved with other things.
AS: What provided the initial inspiration for your second story,
CB: Well, the storm miner was fairly obviously I think from Dune
robots themselves, well there could have been an Isaac Asimov influence
there I suppose, but I can't really remember. I
just like the idea of machine intelligences, and I liked the idea that
it is possible for intelligences to have human
characteristics, that develop as the artificial intelligence
develops. In other words, there is not a lot of difference between
human intelligence and machine intelligence once you reach a certain
AB: Both “The Face of Evil” and “The
Robots of Death” are unusual in so far as television SF goes,
in that although they are about insane robots and insane computers
killing people, in both cases it is an externally imposed insanity,
rather than a malevolence from within.
CB: That's because I don't believe in malevolent machines, I don't
actually believe in malevolence to be truthful, and I suspect most
insanity is imposed from outside. Now obviously there are some organic
failures in the brain which will produce symptoms of insanity, and as
we speak no one knows what schizophrenia really is, but I don't believe
there is such a thing as fundamental evil.
AS: Well I don't think in black and white either, but you must admit
there are some very dark shades of grey wandering around out there!
CB: Oh god yes, there are some evil bastards about, but I don't believe
in evil as an abstract. I don't think you can say, ")oh look at that
bastard. There is a chunk of pure evil.” I mean evil arises
out of situations, it arises out of inadequacies, pain and ignorance,
and fear, and I suspect it's awfully easy to stumble into evil and to
stumble into being evil, or into being what is perceived as evil, but I
don't believe it starts out that way. I often get depressed by the
way society appears to be going, where you hear strange politicians,
and God knows we've got a lot of those now, saying, "It's no excuse to
say that joy-riding and rioting arise because of unemployment," and I
find myself yelling at the television, "No one's saying that it's an
excuse, they're saying it's an explanation, you stupid twat."
AS: People often make the mistake of confusing explanation with
CB: Yeah. Just because I feel I understand why something arises doesn't
mean that I approve of it.
AS: And it doesn't mean you'll act the same way.
CB: No and it also doesn't mean that you stand there and condemn it as
evil. I think if we could possibly lose the word evil altogether it
would be a great help.
AB: The trouble is it's a lot simpler and easier to think in terms of
black and white, and so most people do.
AS: [LAUGHING] Do you think Tom Baker was an evil man,
people didn't like him?
CB: Good lord no, he was an actor.
AS: Some people described him as a monster though didn't they?
CB: Well he
a monster! He
was a big man, he was physically big, he
had a big personality and a big ego to go with it, and from a writers
point of view he was a pain in the butt certainly. I mean I went to a
read-through of one of my scripts once, when Tom was in full flow.
George Spenton-Foster, who is not one of my favourite directors, had
done what he always did and taken the cast out to lunch and got them
all drunk. So when I turned up at the read-through I was the only sober
one there, and Tom was sending my script up something rotten. I hadn't
been to many read-throughs back then, and I must say I was deeply
embarrassed, and at that point I really hated him. I went back to my
office and kicked a couple of filing cabinets until I could clearly see
the shape of my foot in the bottom drawers, I also remember expressing
at the time a great desire to see the bastard die in a cellar full of
rats! I got over it eventually and I liked Tom, on those occasions when
I met him after that, but he was a big guy, you know.
AS: What was Tom doing? Picking out all the double-entendres?
CB: Yeah, and it makes you paranoid about these things, because you
know that in the read-through, anything that can be taken in that way
will be, and eventually it gets to the point where you find yourself
spotting them and thinking, "Oh no, shit, I'm not having that line in,"
and taking it out and writing in something else that can't be taken
that way. Which is silly, but it's a sort of function of paranoid
AS: From what I've heard, it wasn't just writers Tom gave a rough time
CB: It was explained to me once why the gallery was so high up and had
this great long ladder leading down to the studio floor. Apparently if
a director really did his nut and went down to kill an actor, he would
hopefully have regained his composure by the time he reached him! On
one occasion I actually saw this happen, Tom had been a right pain all
day, and suddenly the director leaped to his feet and said, "Right, I
am going to kill the bastard," and headed for the door, but of course
by the time he had climbed all the way down the ladder it had changed
to, "Tom dear boy, this possibly is not quite the way we should be
AB: How did the story-line for “Image
CB: I've got a feeling that the inspiration for that one came from a
short story that I read, about a society which after growing up and
achieving scientific and technical expertise, built this spaceship.
Whereupon an alien, who had set the whole thing in motion, popped up out of hibernation, climbed in the ship, and flew away.
The population then collapsed into barbarism and eventually returned to
primitive life forms, went back to being rats as I recall. It was a
striking little story, and so I used it as my kicking-off point. I
think Nigel Kneale used a similar notion in Quatermass and the Pit.
AS: I thought the actual design of monster that appeared in the story
was a little-- unconvincing, it was a sort if green
CB: And it was inexperience on my part that made the thing look worse.
I mean, if I was writing it now, I would make the monster into
something that could be done as an optical or a video effect, or not
even shown at all. I certainly wouldn't spend three episodes building
up to it, because that's a major error anyway, you really do build up
audience expectations and then to have this cuddly caterpillar come on,
well it makes it even more of a let-down.
AB: Did you notice a difference when Graham Williams took over as
CB: The first thing I noticed when Graham took over was this extremely
weird framework he had come up with for the series, which involved
time paradoxes and various esoteric formulae, all of which were total
crap. Least I think it was total crap, I can remember once accusing Bob
Holmes in the boozer of making up scientific terms, and he had sort of
sucked his pipe and nodded. Then about a year later I came across the
term again and found out what it meant, and he was right! So I went
back and said, "you bastard, you let me sit there like a prat and say
that you'd made up this bullshit, and you hadn't at all, it was true!"
So maybe I am slandering the whole grand concept, but when I read this
particular piece of paper I thought, well this is no help at all, it's
got nothing to do with telling stories. Of course looking back, I can
now see that it was all really just Graham's desperate attempt to find
some new avenue down which to go, away from what had been attacked as
violent, corrupting and generally not good for the children.
I don't know if Graham ever came across Terry Nation, but I remember
Terry telling me in the bar one time, that whenever he got letters from
people complaining about scientific inaccuracies, he would just send
back this standard letter, which would say, “you will be
aware of the formula XYZ to the power of 17...” He said it
was all total bullshit and he didn't know what it meant, but he would
just bung it off and they loved it!
AB: “Image of the Fendahl” was your final story for
, why was that?
CB: Well I had a script aborted. While I was script-editing Blake's 7
I had this story idea which Graham liked and wanted to use in season
sixteen. I had it all worked out in my head, and we were going to go
ahead with it, when suddenly Ronnie Marsh, the Head of Series said,
"No, I'm sorry, but you can't write for another show in the same
department, while you're script editing and writing for Blake's 7
Which was fair enough I suppose, but of course I then had this idea for
a story and nowhere to use it, and it sort of sat there in the back of
my head like a... like a sort of...
AS: A sort of rock?
CB: No. It was more like something had died there and it was gradually
going rotten, you know, and bits of it start creeping into other
AS: Why did you let Terrance Dicks destroy your Target book
novelizations, instead of writing them yourself?
CB: I think that's putting it a bit strong, but basically you get half
the money and do none of the work, which sounds reasonable enough to
me. Also around that time I was working on Blake's 7
so I doubt I would have had the time to do them myself anyway.
AB: How did you become involved with Blake's
CB: David Maloney, who had previously worked on Doctor Who
as a director, was now working on Blake's
as a first time producer. He contacted Bob Holmes and asked him if he
would like to come and script-edit for the series, but Bob, who didn't
really want to do any more script-editing, suggested me instead. So I
went along and met David and we got on okay, and eventually he phoned
me up and offered me the job, whereupon I resigned from Calor Gas
instantly. I was very unhappy at Calor Gas by that stage anyway, and my
only regret about leaving was that I didn't go to the guy I was working
for and tell him to stick his job up his arse, and that is a sort of
regret. You know, I should have just stopped in and said, "Listen you
bastard, you can take your job and stick it where the sun don't shine,
and you're a miserable prick to boot." But I didn't, I went along and
said, "I'm sorry but I have to leave, I don't want to drop anybody in
it, I'll serve my notice, but I'd like to leave as soon as possible."
And I gave up the proper job and went to work for the BBC, and it was
the best move I ever made. It was the happiest work related experience
I've ever had before or since. It was great!
AS: How far was the series advanced, by the time you became
CB: Terry Nation, who created Blake's
had by that time, I think, written about six first draft scripts, but
really the series was still in its design stage and so it was great
fun to work on. I got on very well with the producer David Maloney, he
was really a very nice guy, who always listened to my opinions and
included me in everything. On one occasion we went to see Doctor
Christopher Evans at the National Physical Laboratory, he liked all the
concepts in the series I remember, except telepathy.
AS: The teleport was all right then?
CB: Yes, that would happen in due course he reckoned, anyway it was in Star Trek
so what the hell. David was also able to get tickets to see the press
preview of Star
, but he didn't however
take me, for which I wasn't highly chuffed I have to say. I think he
took Terry though, and when they came back David said, "Well
that's us finished, we can't possibly match that, we're dead." It
seriously depressed him.
AB: It didn't seriously depress you though?
CB: [LAUGHING] I didn't see it!
AB: I've heard that because of the work-load Terry Nation was under he
was delivering first, maybe second-draft scripts and you were
effectively writing the final draft.
CB: His scripts did tend to be a bit on the short side yes, because
Terry wrote a lot of action, I mean he was an action writer of the old
school if you like. He wrote casts of thousands and action, whereas we
could only afford casts of several, and although we could talk about
the action, you didn't get to see a lot of it. At one stage Terry did
say, "You can have second drafts or you can have the next episode, but
you can't have both." So we settled for next episodes and I did the
re-writes. Terry actually wrote tremendously quickly, I've known him to
write a script in five days, he simply sort of roared through it, and I
have to say when you write that fast it does from time to time show.
But I mean it was a hell of a work-load for him, thirteen fifty minute
episodes already commissioned with a date for production and so forth,
it was a hell of a strain. He could have said that he didn't want to do
all thirteen I suppose, but he's no mug, Terry.
AS: Did you have any say in who should be cast?
CB: David Maloney cast it, but I went along to all the auditions, and
then we would go back to the bar afterwards, have a couple of pints and
discuss it. I remember I was standing at the bar once, and David was
introducing me to various people, when suddenly this very pretty
make-up girl came up and had a chat. After she'd left, and I still
treasure the notion, David turned to me and said, "She just said, I see
you've cast Blake then," and I said, "What do you mean, see you've cast
Blake?" and he said, "She thinks it's you!" And that was my one moment
of stardom, the child was obviously drunk of course.
AS: Is it true that Ian McCulloch was at one stage considered for a
part in Blake's
CB: Yes, but Terry wasn't very keen on the idea, I think they'd had
some previous falling-out over another series he had created called Survivors
AB: Did you find that Terry Nation was at all protective towards Blake's 7
particularly once he'd moved on from writing it?
CB: Terry wasn't really like that as far as I could see, I mean he was
going to America anyway, so I think he was cutting ties. He didn't seem
hugely protective, but then he was a pro from way back, and there isn't
a lot of point with being hugely protective. I mean what you've got to
be protective of is your programme rights, and he and his agent were
very good at that, nobody screwed Terry. I mean on all the books and
videos it's Terry Nation's Blake's 7
but I'm sure he bled, I'm sure he did because we all do, but Terry bled
AS: In what way did your approach and Terry's differ in regard to the
CB: Terry had a much clearer notion of right and wrong than I did, and
saw the series as basically Robin Hood in space. Whereas I sort of
warped it a bit and tried to make it more ambiguous, so that in the end
it became more like Che Guevara and the Dirty Dozen.
AS So you didn't see Blake as a hero figure then?
CB: I saw Blake as an idealist who goes down the road that idealism,
and fanaticism to an extent, takes people. Although he believed that he
was working for a just cause and that his motives were purely
altruistic, I can't see how Blake could possibly have avoided being
brutalized to some extent, by the kind of guerrilla war that he was
undertaking against the Federation. This was shown clearly I think,
when Blake was finally placed in a situation where he was forced to
consider the outcome of his actions. To infer that the end justifies
the means is, to my mind assuredly wrong, because I don't think there
is an end, there are only means, and means are corrupting.
AB: Of all the characters that appeared in Blake's 7
did you have a favourite?
CB: I liked the character of Avon instantly and I liked the way Paul Darrow
played it. One of the particular things I liked about Paul was that he
learned the lines and delivered them, he and Michael Keating [Vila] had
that in common. They took the scripts, they learned them, they didn't
paraphrase them, and they didn't assume that they could do it better
than the writers. When you get characters like that you write for them,
it's more fun, there's no point in sweating over getting a line right,
if the actor then changes the line. In my case, I guess, it's probably
because I started in comedy and as you know, if you change one word in
a line, or add a word, you can lose it completely and it's no longer
funny. Most of the others had a tendency, for whatever reason, to
change lines, very occasionally it was an improvement, in most cases it
wasn't, but Paul gave good script, you gave him good one liners and he
did good one liners. Michael's timing was less good oddly enough, but
he did get better as time went on. So basically, if you play it
according to the script, you get a feed back process working, do the
lines properly and you'll get more to do, it's as simple as that really.
AS: I noticed that you would often borrow lines from films like Casablanca
CB: Yes that's right, Paul relished good Western lines and I used to
quite deliberately lob then in. I watched "Trial" recently, which was
one of my episodes, and there was a line in there which I had taken
straight from Butch Cassidy
and the Sundance Kid
to action Blake, that's what you're good at."
AB: Was Avon really as cynical as he made out, or do you think deep
down he was an idealist like Blake?
CB: Well I was always careful to make sure that Avon could have an
idealistic reason for doing something, and also a totally selfish and
cynical one, and you pays your money and you takes your choice. I don't
think to my mind the character was really sure of his own motives
anyway, I mean as far as Avon was concerned rationally, he always did
it for totally cynical reasons. His ambition right from the start had
been to get rich and then retire to a place in the sun, but finally,
when it came to the last episode, Avon, either despite himself, or
because of what had happened to him, believed in Blake's friendship.
No, I've sort of skirted round the word, he had come to believe in
Blake's love for him, and Blake was the last possible thing he could
believe in. Having lost everything that he had ever believed in, there
was one last possibility for faith, for belief, for love and when it
became apparent to Avon that Blake had betrayed him, he killed him and
Avon had absolutely no choice, but to kill him. The final irony of
course, was he then realized that he'd made a mistake, he was wrong,
Blake hadn't betrayed him at all. Which was basically funny, and which
was why, I guess, Avon smiles in the final frame.
AS: The last episode of Blake's 7
certainly had an impact, and from the reaction it got, it's a wonder
you weren't lynched.
CB: Yes, I know what you mean. My mother-in-law was talking to this
electrician once, who had came to fix something in her house. Anyway
they got chatting about television and suddenly she said, "My
son-in-law works for the BBC," and the electrician said, "Oh that's
good, but mind you, I'd like to lay my hands on that bugger who killed
everyone in Blake's 7
At which point she bit her tongue and decided not to tell him what it
was I did at the BBC.
AB: Was the final episode, "Blake," intended to end the series as a
CB: It was an ending in itself, but it wasn't necessarily the end
of the programme. If Blake's 7
had returned for a fifth series, then the episode would now be regarded
as a cliff-hanger, following in the tradition previously laid down by
AS: How then did Avon survive his last stand against all those
Federation guards on Gauda Prime?
CB: Well, don't forget you never actually saw him die did you? The
freeze frame ending does leave open the possibility that he may have
survived after all.
AS: So if there had been a series five, what form would it have taken?
Because surely after an encounter like that, Avon would have become a
CB: What I would have suggested, and what I would have tried to do,
depending of course on Paul's reaction, would have been to make Avon
over into a hero, and make over his personality as well, so that he
would have become Blake. In effect recreating what he'd destroyed, and
if you really wanted to play games with it, Avon would now actually be
called Blake, for some specific reason or other.
AB: Perhaps you could have a situation, where people just simply
refused to believe that Blake was dead. I mean the Federation had lied
before, why should anyone believe them now? Therefore the next time a
Federation installation got blown up, the whisper would go around,
"Blake did it."
CB: Yeah, it's like Elvis Presley being alive and well and living on
the moon, or as my kids say, "He's up in our bog!"
AS: One character who didn't appear in the final episode was Servalan,
and when I spoke to Jacqueline Pearce
recently I got the distinct
impression that she had taken it personally.
CB: Well it wasn't meant as a personal thing. As far as I was aware
she'd had her number of contracted episodes, and we were out of budget,
I mean there was no money left over for extra characters, I just had to
work with whoever was at hand. As writer and as script-editor I'd have
a list of people who were available for any particular episode, or were
required to go into any particular episode, and I'd put them in, but if
they'd been used up then that was it, I couldn't help them, and Jackie
had been used up. End of story.
AB: So you got on okay with Jacqueline then?
CB: Everything was fine as far as I was concerned. In fact I had a lot
of time for Jackie, she had a wonderful sort of big camp attitude to
everything. I remember she was once late for camera rehearsal, and so
drove up and parked her car outside the Television Centre, you know,
out the front, where the Rollers used to pull up and everything. Anyway
the next minute out came one of the Jobsworths and said to her, "You
can't park that there. You can't park that there 'ere, missus." To
which she replied "Nonsense, of course I can park it here. I'm a star.
Without people like me there wouldn't be any programmes, don't talk
rubbish man, and I'm late, so out of my way!" And she stomped past him,
and then there were phone calls to the gallery, "She'll have to move
the car!" I loved it, I thought she was great.
AS: How did you see the character of Servalan?
CB: I never really saw her as possessing any great depth or detail
somehow. I did on a couple of occasions, try to undermine the clear
lines of the character and introduce an element of ambiguity, as I had
done with Blake, but really she was an archetype. She was Terry's
villainness, and he wrote her as a villainness, and as she went on she
became more villainous and less villainous in a way.
AS: In what way exactly?
CB: Well, Jackie relished the part and sometimes the relish was a
little too apparent I felt, for her to be truly horrific. There was
something wholehearted about the way Jackie played it, which sort of
undermined any really scummy and truly unpleasant edge the character
had. So although she did terrible things, she did them with such a
flourish that you never really got that feeling of internal corruption.
What's that cliche about evil?
AB: The banality.
CB: Yeah, the banality of evil, well she was too big to be banal.
AS: I don't know. Speaking personally, it was the fact she was so
desensitized from her actions, that made her all the more disturbing.
She had this ability to do the most appalling things for no reason at
all, and at the same time be completely relaxed and calm about it.
CB: I suppose there was something feline about
her really, and actually now I'm thinking about it, something feline
about the performance as well. I mean if you were going to look for an
animal parallel, it would be a cat, and to basically say they're cruel
is to misunderstand how they work. I mean what they do is really an
instinctive sharpening of their hunting prowess, and although the way
they go about it is horrendous, you couldn't actually say a cat was
cruel. Because to say something is cruel is to impute intent, whereas a
cat has no intention to be cruel it just is, in the same way as
Servalan, just was, and so in the performance, perhaps you got that
feeling of the feline cruelty. A sociopath, someone who was basically
lacking a certain area of understanding, or empathy.
AS: Servalan always struck me as someone who wasn't interested in the
Federation, and only saw it as a means of gaining personal power.
CB: Well of course, that's what it was. She and people like her,
subvert organizations and ideas and movements, not because they have a
different view of what they should be, but purely because they can.
Servalan was just using the Federation to gratify her own selfish
needs, and anyone who got in her way was ruthlessly purged.
AB: After Travis was killed in the episode "Star One," I take it there
was never any thought of introducing another Federation regular for
Servalan to team-up with.
CB:: Not really, the trouble with series, is that the more regulars and
semi-regulars you introduce the more of a strait-jacket you're working
in. So to avoid that situation we would instead just produce one-off
characters, for Servalan to inter-react with and explain the plot line
AB: As far as you were concerned, was there ever an attempt on behalf
of the writers to develop a progressive, on-going relationship between
Servalan and Avon, or among any of the regular characters for that
CB: No, and this was quite deliberate, because with a drama series it
should be possible to show any of the episodes, apart from the first
and the last, in any particular order. So really from that point of
view, it would be essential to try and keep the relationships between
the regulars as simple as possible. Occasionally we would suggest that
one or other of them would have romantic feelings towards a person
outside of the group, but then that was convenient, because once the
episode was over you never saw them again.
AS: Usually Avon shot them didn't he?
AS: [LAUGHING] That's a bit disturbing really, isn't it?
CB: It doesn't say much for his love life.
AS: Both Jacqueline Pearce and Paul Darrow have stated in the past,
that on occasion they did try themselves to infer a relationship
between their two characters.
CB: Well that's true, they did used to do that. I remember it happened
once to one of my episodes, “Rumours of Death”,
where they fed in a relationship that was never intended, by
interpreting lines in a particular manner, but that still doesn't mean
there was a relationship there.
AS: But in your story “Death-Watch” ...
CB: Yes, I know they did kiss, but thinking about it, that must have
been another they snuck in. Anyway you could always take that as Avon
doing a Burt Lancaster, one of Paul's heroes, and just being macho and
dominating towards a female.
AB: Were the actors given any say in the way the series progressed?
CB: As far as I was concerned they got the scripts in time to learn
them and do them, but they were rarely, if ever, consulted about the
development of the overall line of the series, or about any particular
episode. I mean there were a couple of occasions when I did scripts for
particular actors, because I felt that they hadn't been given much to
do, but that wasn't done in consultation. I didn't get in a little
huddle with these people and say, "Who feels they haven't done enough
recently?", because as far as I'm concerned, and I'm sorry if it sounds
arrogant, but I don't think it's got anything to do with the actors
AS: How much contact did you have with the cast on a personal level?
CB: Not a great deal really. I mean we would gather together at the end
of the recording for a drink and that sort of thing, but I would always
steer well clear of any intrigue that was going on; simply because I
don't like all that incestuous gossip and back-biting that develops
over a period of time with any given group of people. I mean if you
think about it, soaps must be horrendous to work on. So quite honestly
I didn't get to know any of them particularly well, and to me they were
basically just the people they played. This of course went with my
natural inclination anyway, because as I've said before, I don't make
friends very easily and I'm not all that comfortable with social
AB: Paul Darrow wrote a script called “Man
of Iron”, for series four. How did that come about?
CB: I don't know. I never saw the script or knew anything about it
until it was mentioned to me recently. It certainly never came across
my desk at the time, and definitely wasn't commissioned by me. So why
it was written and who it went to I have no idea, but as far as I was
concerned it had nothing to do with the official scripting of Blake's 7
AB: Why did you only write two episodes for series four?
CB: Because that was all that I was allowed to write. The Writers Guild
at that time were pressurizing the BBC in an attempt to stop
script-editors writing for programmes, and so consequently I was told
that I would only be allowed to write two episodes for the new series.
The decision to write the first and last, came from a piece of advice
Terry Nation gave me in the bar once, when he said, "To make sure you
get your repeat fees when writing for a series, always write the first
and last episode, because then, even if they only re-show part of a
series, they'll still have to repeat yours."
AS: Do you think Vere Lorrimer was the best choice to replace David
Maloney as producer on series four?
CB: I have yet to meet anybody who doesn't like Vere and I like him
very much indeed. He's a sweet man, and by his own admission he was at
a loss on a couple of occasions with regard to certain scripts. We had
a long discussion one time, where I tried to explain a particular plot
point to him and I tried to explain it four different ways, four
different times and he still hadn't grasped it. Then eventually I
discovered he was talking about a completely different script, but
really, if people fault series four, and they do, I don't think you can
fault it from Vere's point of view. I think you probably can fault the
scripts, but as I've said to people on previous occasions, series four
wasn't series four it was series one Mk 2. It was the first series of a
new set-up and so really I think it's sort of unfair to judge on that
AB: I thought that the second half of series four seemed to work a lot
better then the first half.
CB: The problem was, that we had the go-ahead on series four very late
in the day, and so we were in a god-awful rush to get enough scripts
together, to select the directors and then get the first film block
rolling. After you've done that you've got a bit more time to think, so
that, I suspect, is why the second half feels better and works better
than the first, simply because we had more time.
ended with the Federation
still very much in control. Do you think Blake ever stood a chance of
CB: No, I don't think it was possible. Although on occasion it was
suggested that there were other freedom fighters about the place, they
were never of any real threat to the Federation. So really when you
came down to it, there was only Blake and his four companions, fighting
alone and against overwhelming odds.
AS: The Federation was here to stay then?
CB: No, I don't think it would have lasted forever. It's a fact that
most empires seem to develop a life of their own, they grow for
particular reasons, they carry on growing, they cease to grow, they
collapse in on themselves, they're replaced by something else. The
question is, does an empire collapse because of the outside forces
ranged against it, or do the outside forces arise because the empire is
AS: Then Blake's appearance could therefore have been an early symptom
of the Federation's eventual decline?
CB: I don't know.
AS: How did Star Cops
come about? Because I understand it was you who created the series.
CB: Yes I did. Star Cops
was originally a project for radio. I had worked out quite a lot of the
detail for it, and then for various reasons and coincidences, it
stopped being a radio show and became a potential television series
instead. Jonathan Powell, who was then head of series, commissioned a
script, and so off I went and wrote a two part opening story which
unfortunately he didn't like. He'd set his face against two part
openers for some reason, so I then had to go away and telescope those
two episodes into one.
AS: Did have much control over the series as a whole?
CB: Well devisers very seldom have control, they're usually sort of on
the outside looking in, or in my case shouting in. Star Cops was an
unhappy experience for me I'm afraid, it certainly wasn't a marriage
made in Heaven. Some producers you get on with and some you don't, and
unfortunately Evgeny Gridneff and I just didn't.
AS: What did you think of the other two writers who also worked on the
series, John Collee and Philip Martin?
CB: I like then both personally, they're nice guys. I remember sitting
down and having a drink with Philip, and hearing the horror story of
what they had done to him and his script, and having a lot of sympathy
AB: This concerned the episode that had been cancelled because of the
strike, I presume?
CB: No, this was about the one that got made! I remember he was pretty
steamed at the time, and I was pretty steamed about the whole thing
anyway, so we had a good session.
AS: Sounds like a sauna.
CB: [LAUGHING] Yes, it does really doesn't it, but anyway I thought the
writers were fine, it's just that to be perfectly honest I wanted to
write all ten episodes myself. I wanted to do a Terry Nation and I was
told that I couldn't because there wouldn't be time, but in my paranoid
way I suspect that it was just an excuse. I mean one reason you don't
let a writer do all the episodes is because it gives them too much
control, or rather if you bring in some other writers then the control
shifts to the producer. And my impression was frequently that Evgeny
Gridneff was more concerned with making sure of his own authority than
anything else. So instead I ended up writing the first four episodes
and the last one.
AB: How much attention did you pay in the script to describing the
CB: With series like Star Cops
, you have to look for ways
of keeping it simple and using as many of the vehicles, in as many ways
as you can. Although I remember in one script going into great detail
about the moon-buggy, I would mainly try and keep the details sketchy
and just describe the functions that they would be required to perform.
One thing that I would do regularly however, was to write in
suggestions as to where stock footage from the NASA space shuttle could
be included, because some of the film available is very beautiful.
AB: I noticed that most of the vehicles seen in the series, are in fact
designs that are currently on the drawing board, but equally most of
them seemed to be used the wrong way once they had made their first
appearance. The moon shuttle in episode three for instance looks like a
X-30 or a HOTOL, but that's purely earth orbital, you would never send
one of those to the moon.
CB: Well here, I'm afraid, I will have to apply the usual cop-out answer
of, if it was crap it had nothing to do with me, and if it was good, it
was my idea! Though thinking about it, I seem to recall liking the
loading modules in the final episode. That was really quite impressive,
and I certainly didn't specify anything like that.
AS: Did you ever have any disagreements with directors or writers about
CB: There was one or two occasions where it did seem to me that
Evgeny Gridneff and script-editor Joanna Willett hadn't really got to
grips with the basic physics involved in the series. I mean I'm not a
great physics expert myself, but at one point they did seem to think
that NASA had a weightless room stashed away somewhere, in which they
trained the astronauts, and they seemed convinced that if they could
get permission, they would be able to go and film in it. I mean I did
try to point out that you can't turn off gravity, and that basically
they achieved weightlessness by playing in water tanks and things, but
it was hard going.
AB: Were you happy about the way Nathan Spring's mini computer, BOX,
CB: No. What I wanted, and what I was quite specific about in the
scripts, was that BOX had to speak clearly with Nathan's voice. There
was to be no ambiguity about it at all, when BOX spoke, it had to sound
as if Nathan was speaking. I quite liked the idea that this guy who
instinctively mistrusted machines and computers, for whatever
convoluted reason, was placed in a situation where not only would he
have to rely on this machine, but also have the machine sound like him.
So in effect it would sound like he was talking to himself.
However when director Chris Baker saw this in the script he threw a
dickey-fit. "I can't do that, how am I going to know which angle to
shoot from? The audience will never know who's speaking, the audience
will be confused!" Well that was exactly what I intended, but I suppose
I can understand how Chris felt really, he was afraid I think that it
would make him look like a big prat, who didn't know what he was doing.
So unfortunately we lost that particular aspect, and with it the only
new twist in the set-up, and so BOX became just another ORAC.
AS: Why do you think that the series failed to take off?
CB: It's the perennial bleat of course, but I mean it was in a
crappy slot and put on at a lousy time, so consequently the figures
were very poor. You had to really want to see it, and sacrifice an hour
and a half of viewing time in the process, because there wasn't a
junction with any other programme, nothing at all. It overlapped every
fucking thing and when I think about it now it really makes me angry.
Of course I should have known that it was going to happen, and I should
have been prepared for it, because Jonathan Powell did say to me at the
time that it was the sort of programme that would make its own
audience. He did have this view that science fiction fans were so rabid
and undiscriminating, and so sort of desperate for the gear, that they
would tune in at any time in order to watch it, but I think quite
honestly, if they had put Star Trek:
in that slot it you would have got the same result.
AS: The series was never repeated either was it?
CB: One of the dangers of getting pulled after one series is that it's
in nobody's real interest to repeat. Because if it's repeated in a
different slot and it gets better figures, then it's a black mark
against the scheduler, and everybody feels bad about the thing being
pulled, but if it doesn't get any figures at all again, what's the
point of bloody showing it?
AB: Were there any ideas on your part as to how the series could have
progressed, if it had gone on to a second series?
CB: Evgeny did say to me at one stage, "Why don't you work out the
second season?" But it didn't seem to me that there was much prospect
of a second season, and being basically lazy I didn't feel like working
out a whole concept just to have it sit on the shelf.
AS: Do you think the failure of Star
damaged you personally?
CB: Well it didn't do me a lot of good. I thought at the time that it
would be okay, because I would at least have a series creator credit,
and that would look good on the C.V. and hopefully by the time it
mattered everybody would have forgotten that the series wasn't a
success. Well I don't know, I haven't had a hell of a lot of work since
I have to say!
AS: So what are you doing at the moment?
CB: Well at the moment I'm writing a book based on the five scripts I
did for Star
AS: The Soviet Bloc's gone now though hasn't it?
CB: Yes, it's a damn nuisance, I wish they'd waited, you can't trust
anybody can you? You can't rely on the bastards at all. I've been
picking new villains and thinking, if I don't hurry up these buggers
will be back in the fold as well. Anyway in one set of circumstances, I
have now substituted the Japanese secret service, and with another,
I've decided that the red Chinese will now be the logical people to
take over as bad guys, I've also, of course, incorporated some evil
AB: Is Doctor Krivenko still a Russian?
CB: No. Krivenko is now Chinese and so he's had to change his name too.
He's now Jiang Li Ho, which if you think about it, now makes him Doctor
AS: When's the book going to be finished?
CB: God, I don't know. It's taken me far too long already, so I can't
really tell you, but it's going to be a long book, it's going to run to
a least five hundred pages. When I first started out writing the thing
I set myself a daily minimum of a thousand words... fat chance! So I
thought, oh well, that was a bit ambitious we'll make it five hundred
words a day... fat chance! And gradually the minimum has come down and
down and down, until I now sit there and think, well I've done a
sentence and I've turned the page, We're all right today then, so I'll
go down the garden and sort shallots.
AS: Have you got past episode one yet?
CB: Yes, and I'm now finishing off episode four. What I've done is
write the book in two parts, break for adverts you see! The first part
is an extended version of episode one, it's the story you would have
got if it hadn't been chopped down, and into that I've now fed teasers
and beginnings for all of the other episodes. Then in the second half
of the book I pick up the remaining episodes as cases, so I'm currently
on case three, which is the fourth script, and I hope I'll finish it
fairly quickly, because I never really liked “Trivial Games
and Paranoid Pursuits”.
AB: Why is that? Because I thought it was the best one.
CB: Well it's a slim story you see, and although it has a nice
structure, it basically relies for the main part on funny lines.
However once that stories finished, I'll be able to get on to the one I
liked the best, which was the last episode, “Little Green Men
and Other Martians.” There was a lot of good stuff going on
in that one, you know, it's your standard private eye number, somebody
dies, mystery and all that shit, so I figure I should be able to make a
good last case out of it.
AB: Is the book going to be left open for a second batch of cases?
CB: Well that's the idea, but obviously I'd like to find someone to
publish the damn thing first, and then perhaps it could go on to become
as series of books.
AS: Does the book still end with them going to Mars, as in the
CB: No. Gauda Prime.
AS: That's a good ending. So Nathan Spring goes mad...
CB: And turns into Evgeny Gridneff.
AS: He is then surrounded by an army of black-clad Federation troops...
CB: And just before he can smile, he is shot repeatedly by a rather
bald and bearded, middle aged trooper, who seems to take a great deal
of pleasure in hitting him, and shooting him, and generally stamping on
AS: It's time to sort shallots?