Paul Darrow

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Name: Paul Darrow
Also Known As: Paul Valentine Birkby
Occupation: actor
Medium: TV, film, theatre
Works: Blake's 7, Doctor Who, Drake's Venture and others
Official Website(s):
Fan Website(s):
On Fanlore: Related pages

Paul Darrow (born Paul Valentine Birkby, 2 May 1941 - 3 June 2019) was a popular actor most known to media fans for his portrayal of Kerr Avon in the BBC science fiction show Blake's 7 (1978-81).

He also twice appeared on Doctor Who, in Timelash (Doctor Who Episode) as Tekker and in Doctor Who and the Silurians as Captain Hawkins. Darrow's starring as Thomas Doughty is one of the major reasons for the fannish interest in the made-for-TV movie Drake's Venture, mostly due to the parallels of this role to that of Kerr Avon.

a portrait of Darrow, printed in 1988 in Southern Comfort #4, the artist is Theresa Buffaloe.

Intricate and Involved Relationship With Fandom

Darrow and co-star Michael Keating (Vila Restal) at Scorpio Con 1986

Paul Darrow was a popular Guest of Honor at cons and had a close relationship with several big name fans. This personal involvement is at least partially responsible for Darrow's role as major player in the Blake's 7 Wars (also see Open Letters by the Darrows, Paul Darrow's Statement Read Aloud At The 1989 Gambit Convention), in the course of which Darrow also expressed his ire at slash fanworks involving his character.

Darrow visited widely on the convention circuit, dined with fans who traveled to see him, and joined with them in speculating about the psychology of his character [Kerr Avon]. Surrounded by fiction writers, Darrow himself wrote a book about the early life of his character, Avon. [1]Camille Bacon-Smith, Enterprising Women

He also was very involved in some print zines, specifically Horizon Newsletter.

Darrow's pro book Avon: A Terrible Aspect about his Blake's 7 character Kerr Avon (1989) is almost universally disliked by the fandom. Nonetheless, despite periods of severe illness, Darrow continued to be involved in producing content in the role of the character as well as about the character right up until his passing in the early summer of 2019, primarily for Big Finish, for which he reprised as Avon in a large number of audio plays. Among these Big Finish productions is a further trilogy of novels about Avon written by Darrow, titled Lucifer, and Darrow's autobiography You're Him, Aren't You? and the associated audiobook, read by Darrow himself.

Darrow and Avon

In an interview for Starburst Magazine during the filming of series 4 of Blake's 7, Darrow discussed his relationship to his character.

How much of Avon is Paul Darrow? I think Avon is a lot like I would want to be, but not as cold and ruthless. You see you have to put him in the circumstances the programme presents, he's living in an extraordinary situation and you've got to be an extraordinary person to be able to cope. He's also a genius at self-preservation and completely self-centred. I don't think I am, I hope I'm not. I do have an affection for him though. He does things we wish we'd thought of doing in a certain situation, and he's not afraid of anything. He's not even afraid of death.Paul Darrow in the Starburst Magazine (1979) Vol 2 No 6, interviewed by Ralph Scott.[2]

Upon his return to the role for Big Finish, Darrow reflected on the influence of Avon on his life:

Has the character of Avon ever really left you? That's a very good question and a tough one to answer. I suppose it's never really left me in a way; a part, by a process of osmosis, inculcates itself into your psyche. [...] It's always with you to an extent if you play it for a long period of time. [...] I think yes, to a certain extent, it does linger.Paul Darrow in Vortex(Big Finish Magazine) Issue 36, interviewed by Paul Spragg.[3]


The cover features a photograph of Darrow as Kerr Avon (in series 4) blurring into a white background.
Cover of Paul Darrow's autobiography.

At this point, Darrow had already titled his autobiography You're Him, Aren't You? (2006) after being recognised as the actor who played Avon in the street, and all chapter titles in the autobiography are references to / quotes from Blake's 7. In the autobiography, Darrow writes

Blake's 7 took four years of my life. I've been an actor for forty years.

How can it be that something that constitutes but ten per cent of my working life has had such an influence upon my life as a whole? On TV, I have performed in many different programmes: series such as Emergency Ward 10, Dombey and Son, Murder Must Advertise, Doctor Who, Making News and The Legend of Robin Hood. In the theatre, I've played such parts as Cassius in Julius Caesar, the title roles in Luther and Macbeth, Elvis Presley and many others that I sometimes struggle to remember.

But...

I walk down the street, or am shopping in a supermarket, and rarely does a day go by - this is quite true - that somebody doesn't say to me, 'You're him, aren't you?'

I do not complain. I don't mind being forever Avon.Paul Darrow in his 2006 autobiography, You're Him, Aren't You?[4]

Darrow in Fanworks

Darrow appears as RPF character in several fanfictions within the Blake's 7 fandom, most notably in the fanzine Totally Imaginary Cheeseboard and its sequel The Other Side of the Coin, in which Darrow and his character Kerr Avon switch places.

Cover of The Other Side of the Coin by Gail Bennett

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

Fan Events and Fanworks in Darrow's Memory

Following Darrow's passing in 2019, many fans were inspired to activities in his memory, alongside several public-facing obituaries.

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

The Horizon fan club planned a 2020 convention called Forever Avon, 'a one-day fan event memory of the legendary Paul Darrow, in aid of The Dog's Trust.' The event is titled after the above quote from Darrow's autobiography. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event had to be postponed to 2021.[5]

Also on Horizon, fan KentishSpaceRat proposed to produce 'an unofficial short story book in memory of Paul Darrow and to raise money for the World Wildlife Fund', equally titled 'Forever Avon'. It, too, had been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but as of early September 2020 is planning to be released in late September/early October.[6]

The third issue of digital fanzine Rebels and Fools (August 2019) is dedicated to the memory of Paul Darrow, with Kerr Avon featuring on the cover, an editorial addressing Darrow's passing and several fanworks within the zine seemingly inspired by his memory.

Some Darrow-Centric Zines

Some Darrow Fan Clubs

References

  1. ^ Enterprising Women by Camille Bacon-Smith, pg 35-36 (1992).
  2. ^ Starburst Magazine (Marvel Monthly) Vol 2, Number 6 (1979), p.15, interviewed by Ralph Scott.
  3. ^ Paul Darrow Vortex(Big Finish Magazine) Issue 36 (February 2012), p. 5, interviewed by Paul Spragg.
  4. ^ Paul Darrow, You're Him, Aren't You? An Autobiography Big Finish, 2006, p. 4.
  5. ^ Horizon Forum, http://www.blakes7online.com/news.php?readmore=384 (Accessed 24/08/2020)
  6. ^ Project Thread on Horizon Forum, includes the initial proposal from August 2019, as well as all updates and list of contributions. (Accessed 13 September 2019)