Obituary: Paul Darrow – Actor who played the ‘Machiavellian’ Avon in BBC TV’s Blake’s 7
Paul Darrow will be best remembered as the dour, dangerous, increasingly unhinged Avon, a glowering Machiavellian presence in Terry Nation’s critically panned but cult-attracting late-1970s BBC Television hit Blake’s 7.
It was a role that stamped itself indelibly on Darrow’s career, and to which he recently returned in audiobook adventures for Big Finish.
Born in Chessington, Surrey, he grew up in London and trained at RADA alongside fellow contemporaries John Hurt and Ian McShane, making his West End debut in JM Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World at the St Martin’s Theatre in 1960.
A season at Cheltenham Rep, a six-month tour as the Pilot Officer in Arnold Wesker’s Chips with Everything and the title role of Dracula – played with “silky stylishness” according to The Stage’s critic – at York Theatre Royal in 1963 quickly followed.
With Northampton Rep, he was a cunning, strong and vigorous Edmund in King Lear (1965) and joined the 20th-anniversary cast of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap as Sergeant Trotter at the Ambassadors Theatre, London, in 1971.
He proved a more than capable foil as the son to Paul Eddington’s father in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Bristol Old Vic in 1973 and revealed subtle comedic skills as the gnome-fixated gardener Leonard in Alan Ayckbourn’s Time and Time Again the following year.
With his profile raised by Blake’s 7’s four-year run on the BBC, he became a box-office draw in the 1983 tour of Joyce Rayburn’s Don’t Start Without Me, at the Criterion Theatre in Ray Cooney’s Run for Your Wife (1985 and 1987), and was “compulsive to hear and watch” in Frank Williams’ Alibi for Murder in a 1989 tour.
Alan Bleasdale’s Are You Lonesome Tonight? saw him as a latter-years Elvis Presley at the Queen’s Hornchurch in 1988.
A decade later, he brought his signature world-weary charm to Captain Vimes in Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! on tour.
He ventured into producing with his own Satchel Productions in the early 1990s at the Redgrave Farnham and a three-play repertory season at the Connaught Worthing, where he also appeared in Frederick Knott’s Dial M for Murder and Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight, as well as directing Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking.
His other television work included the heart-throb consultant Mr Verity in Emergency – Ward 10 (1965-66), a villainous Sheriff of Nottingham in The Legend of Robin Hood (1975), Anthony Eden in Ian Curteis’ Hess (1978), James Carker (Dombey and Son, 1983), Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Ron Grant’s sci-fi comedy-drama The Strangerers (2000) and Law and Order: UK (2009-14).
He wrote a 1989 novel about his Blake’s 7 character Kerr Avon’s early years as well as an autobiography, You’re Him, Aren’t You? in 2006.
In 2014, complications from an aortic aneurysm led to the amputation of his legs.
He was married to the actor Janet Lees-Price from 1966 until her death in 2012.
Paul Darrow was born Paul Valentine Birkby on May 2, 1941, and died on June 3, at the age of 78.
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