Vintage Drama: The Blake's 7 Wars

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Title: Vintage Drama: The Blake's 7 Wars
Creator: whyarepangolins
Date(s): July 10, 2020
Medium: Reddit
Fandom: Blake's 7
External Links: Vintage Drama: The Blake's 7 Wars, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Vintage Drama: The Blake's 7 Wars is an essay on Reddit by .

Some Topics Discussed

  • "tl;dr Actor lights own fandom on fire, proceeds to throw gasoline around. Slash gets blamed, everyone dies. Well, some people, many years later, of natural causes, because this was a long time ago."
  • The Blake's 7 Wars
  • more

From the Essay

I now present THE BLAKE’S 7 WARS, a vintage fandom drama from the long ago year of 1988. I was smol at the time, so my source for this is Fanlore and also rumors of the murky past exchanged in hushed whispers. This drama has everything. Commercialism vs. community, creators and fans getting to close, entitlement, misunderstandings, an entire fandom tearing itself to pieces, slash fangirls getting blamed for everything, and all without the internet.

Paul Darrow was extremely close to the early fans and a frequent guest at fan run conventions, along with his wife (relevant), an actress who had a minor role in an episode. He was very attached to his character. As I believe events demonstrate, too attached.

In the days of our elders, B7 fans had to walk both ways uphill to the post office to mail each other zines, newsletters, and the bootleg videotapes used to recruit new fans. By such primitive methods, they created one of the earliest fandoms that had all the characteristics of a fandom as we understand it now, i.e. one with a real sense of community, holding conventions and generating fanworks. The actors were generally quite surprised and flattered to be so beloved by fans. Many were frequent convention guests. One actor (not relevant) reports fanfiction being passed around set, with the smutty stuff getting around the most no matter how many people claimed to be scandalized.

The gen fans complained that explicit works made the whole fandom look bad, made the creators and actors who had been so nice to everyone uncomfortable, and also this is a kid’s show, what if a kid found all this porn? That last point is…interesting…in the case of B7 because a) this was the era where people mailed each other zines like cavemen, it’s not like smut was popping up in the hashtags and b) we’re talking about a series that begins with Blake, the hero, being framed by a fascist government for child molestation. (Also, maybe The Powers that Be should have stopped reading so much fanfic. On set. Pervs.)

It must be said that The Powers that Be (TPTB) weren’t just getting a little too close to fandom (they totally were, Terry Nation wrote an intro to a fanfic once), fans were getting a little to intrusive with TPTB. Darrow’s wife had to release a public statement asking fans to stop sending her and her husband so much porn. All the porn. Just absolutely burying them in filth. This is one of many things that the gens used as fuel in the fire against other fans, especially slash fans. The also used the infamous quote from Paul Darrow, ‘Why is Gareth [Thomas, who portrayed Blake] always raping me?’ (Interesting you were reading enough slash to be able to comment on the frequency of certain tropes… Even if people were mailing it to your wife.)

WWI was touched off by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Blake's 7 Wars were triggered by an announcement by Paul Darrow that he and Terry Nation were planning for-profit conventions in the US. Fans started freaking out, because everything had been fan-run and not touched by dirty capitalism before. The fandom was largely split between the people who found this a tasteless cash grab by those they considered friends and family, and people who thought it was fine if the creators wanted to get paid for, you know, working by appearing at a convention. The first group was legitimately concerned that the commercialization of fandom would kill of the wonderful fan culture that had developed, and worsen the existing issue of TPTB having too much influence over fandom activities. The second group believed that both types of conventions would be able to exist in harmony. Everyone managed to overreact like crazy and lose their damn minds in a remarkably short period of time, given the fact that the entire debate was happening via snailmail. Emotions were high, misinformation was rife. The famous Name Withheld Letter (relevant) went out claiming, among other things, that this announcement meant actors would no longer attend fan-run events.

How is all of this part of the same drama? Well, in early 1989, Paul Darrow releases a public letter identifying one of the Secret Slashers as the author of the Name Withheld Letter (that one that shat all over his idea for commercial conventions). A very strongly worded letter, calling her a liar, scoffing at the idea that slash could be considered literature, and asking everyone to choose sides between him and the Secret Slasher. He literally says, ‘Her evil may triumph if the rest of you say nothing.’ His wife ALSO publishes a letter alongside it, calling slash tasteless and then outs the Secret Slasher by her full name, while wondering why slash authors all use pseudonyms. GEE, IT’S SUCH A MYSTERY, totally reasonable lady. A later mailing by a BNF on the Darrows’ side doxxes all three Secret Slashers, including their home addresses.

Peak drama occurs when Terry Nation reads a letter from Paul Darrow aloud at a convention. In it, Darrow thanks his supporters, claims that he and his wife were disinvited from the con, and again asks fans to choose sides. He references Pontius Pilate, so now you have people who are offended at the religions reference, con organizers who claim the Darrows were never disinvited, people arguing about slash, people who are super confused about what slash has to do with the whole pro vs fan con thing, and British people who are all, ‘this sounds like an American problem, please let us drink our tea in peace.’ The few fans with any sense of perspective think Nation and Darrow should have shut up and just planned their professional con like professionals and none of this would have happened.

Fan Comments

[Splendidissimus]:This is amazing. As a dedicated slasher since who started with Star Trek TOS, and who actually remembers my parents having a couple Star Trek fan newsletters, I feel a surprising connection to this drama, and I'm going to see if there's anywhere I can watch this terrible amazing show.

[jijikittyfan]:Some interesting additions - as was rather active in the fandom at the time this was happening, and friends with some of the principals.
1. The proposed Darrow/Nation conventions were to be bankrolled by a rather wealthy American fan. Said fan had been accused of some financial improprieties with previous conventions they had been involved with.
2. Darrow also managed to tick off Gareth Thomas (Blake himself in the series) over what were claimed to be threats against a family member of Thomas's. Thomas was present at the convention where the 'Pontius Pilate' letter was read out to the audience, and he was definitely NOT pleased. I was in the audience for this, and Thomas's anger was quite visible.
3. Best guess on the timeline from my memory was [The Blake's 7 Wars] took place over a period of roughly two years or so, give or take six months. Activity was mostly via mailings and ramped up steeply around conventions. The one thing I learned from all this that proved to be true even years later is that it is a very bad sign indeed when an actor wants to be overly involved with fans and fandom. I would dispute that the drop in fanzine production after the event was completely a result of the implosion, though it did contribute. At that point, the show was no longer being aired by PBS in the US at all and many fans were moving on to newer things. (Dr. Who fandom was going through a similar drop in popularity at the time). This was something of a normal cycle in fandoms in the pre-internet era. It was awful and stressful and nasty to live through at the time, but it's all history now. It does indeed deserve a place in the record books. Thanks for doing a great job writing it up!

[CRtwenty]: Just goes to show that fandoms were insane long before the Internet existed.

[alphamone]: Kinda sad that even 15 years after this drama people were still complaining about the existence of Slash. Shit like wanting "yaoi warnings" was still a thing in the late 00s.

And so many fandoms have been through similar drama that the first few paragraphs almost seemed like a barely modified "fandom drama history" boilerplate, if that makes any sense.

[shebbsquids]: Just seeing the phrase "yaoi warning" gave me a sudden, vicious flashback to my Hetalia phase.
I always thought it was weird how people would tack that onto a fic summary when slash/"yaoi" easily made up over half of the fics for that (or any similar) fandom. Especially if, like Hetalia, the creator was in on the idea and deliberately put a lot of male/male fanservice into the work to draw in more of those fans. Like, who would genuinely be shocked to see a slash fic in that fandom?
Still, even worse than a "yaoi warning" was those fangirls who would jokingly(?) call slash ships "sinful" all the time, and would support legalizing gay marriage specifically for the sake of their ships. Oof.

[Iguankick]: Thank you for this. Vintage hobby drama is amazing stuff and in many ways laid the foundation for the sort of insane, polarizing madness we see in communities today. Only, you know, a lot slower.

I'd heard bits of this story, but never explained in such clear detail of what had happened and how exactly it had unfolded. A lot of that is unsurprising, and I think that maybe a lot needs to be placed on the backs of the slash fans for not respecting boundaries. Of course, the backlash was also a bit much...

I've heard that Terry Nation was... difficult at times and had issues with fans and fandom in general. And working with others. And intellectual property laws. And other things.

[whyarepangolins, original poster]: I think everyone needed more boundaries, although a bit of the craziness was more forgivable then than when similar things happen today because by now everyone should see it coming...

[hatedral]: This is amazing. Makes you sad how many amazing hobbydramas rot in some pre-WWW fully analog drawers. Or maybe there's still some 1980s USENET postings to find?
[whyarepangolins]: There have to be some letters out there with victorian era drama over terrariums or something

[aurelie v]: I joined B7 fandom in the 2000s and I feel like there were still aftershocks of this, but I never knew the full story. Thank you for this amazing post!

[whyarepangolins]: ... for some weird reason I used to think this drama was about Blake/Avon shippers vs. Avon/Tarrant shippers and I was mostly confused that enough people would like Tarrant for that to be a thing.

[Freezair]: What is it about sci-fi, especially TV sci-fi, that so effectively taps into that primal part of people's brains where all the fan-neurons live? The most fandommy fandoms always seem to be attached to sci-fi stuff. Maybe it's just all of them wanting to live up to the example set by Granddaddy Star Trek. Or maybe those kinds of shows just appeal to people with gently overactive imaginations that make them take things too far. (And I definitely count myself among those sorts of people... certainly I did some profoundly stupid things in the name of fandom back in the day.)

Even though I grew up in the Internet era and had a world of fanfic, in all varieties of citrus flavor, at my fingertips, a part of me is sad I never really got to experience oldschool fanzines. Downloading a PDF just isn't the same! I mean, not that I'd know, but IT JUST ISN'T THE SAME!

[whypangolin]:When the fandom finally did move online there was a little drama over that--some fans hated the idea wanted to stick with paper zines.
[AnimeEnemy]: Not gonna lie, AO3 is a dream, but boy what wouldn’t I give to hold my favorite fics in my hands. I know it’s a legal nightmare, but one can dream.

[CongregationOfVapors]:My favourite original slash series starred out as a B7 fanfic (according to the author). I have never watched B7, but your post has been a very interesting read.
[whyarepangolins]: If that author was Manna, that's basically how I got into the fandom. I first ran across B7 in the notes of an original story that was a fandom parody, but later I ran across it again with that series and checked out the tumblr tags and the rest was history. (The tumblr fandom for B7 is somehow super lovely and only crazy in a good way.
[CongregationOfVapors]: It is!!! I've been following her Administration series for over a decade. I tried watching B7 but got sidetracked before I got into it. Always meant to give it another try but haven't found the time.
It's wonderful to hear the the fandom is lovely.)

[ceeceea]: Farscape owes so much to B7. B7 was obviously a huge influence on Farscape's creation, and Grayza's styling being so obviously based on Servalan's was just the culmination. The Peacekeepers are a deliberate nod to The Federation (which is of course a nod to Star Trek), it's a ship full of outlaws, absolutely every character is morally grey, etc. Farscape is a lot weirder, more candy colored, and has a far less bleak ending (relatively), but honestly, I can't even really say it's less dark. I love them both so much.

[deleted]: This is delightfully juicy drama - reminds me a lot of Who fandom drama, unsurprisingly, albeit without the controversy of a reboot.

[AnimeEnemy]:Great write up! I find amazing how old fandoms thrived before the internet on mail and wits alone. I guess the one thing that never changes is fandom drama.

[spannerwerk]: First watched the show on VHS back in the 90s, growing up! I remember getting into the fandom back in 2005-ish via the internet, and there was tension back then between the different types of fics. I wonder how many of those old sites are still going...
[whyarepangolins]: I think they've all died down. The main fic archive got moved over to AO3 and that aspect of active fandom moved over to tumblr and becameAvon/Vila shippers.