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Interview with John Ainsworth, June 2017

Interview with John Ainsworth
Jackie Emery and Diane Gies

John Ainsworth is a director and producer at Big Finish Productions, with a long list of Doctor Who credits to his name. He has taken over the reins from Cavan Scott as producer of Big Finish's Blake's 7 range, and as we look forward with great anticipation to the forthcoming new audio box sets, we were delighted that John has given us an interview. We began by asking him about his background, and how he came to join Big Finish.

John: I was part of a group of Doctor Who fans who, in the 1980s, started making their own original Doctor Who audio dramas which were released on tape cassette under the name ‘Audio Visuals’. They were quite crude to begin with, but by the end of the run the quality was very good indeed. This indirectly led to the formation of Big Finish by Jason Haigh-Ellery, who had been peripherally involved with Audio Visuals and saw the potential in it as a professional company. Although I wasn’t directly involved with Big Finish initially, when Jason and the Big Finish team came to see the stage play ‘Deceptions’ that I had directed, Jason then said ‘You should be directing for us’. Almost immediately I was offered the chance to direct 'The Plague Herds of Excelis', part of the Bernice Summerfield series. I’ve been producing and directing for Big Finish for the last 15 years.

Horizon: What were your first impressions of Blake's 7?

John: I must have been about 13 when Blake’s 7 was first shown. I remember being very frustrated when I realised that it was going to be shown on Monday evenings, as my mother had booked me into judo classes on Monday nights. So I missed most of the first series on its first run, because I was out earning my yellow belt! I enjoyed all of Blake’s 7, but the third series was definitely my favourite. I think it looked a little more polished, and Servalan, who I loved, was at her height, being featured in quite a few episodes and having managed to escape from her white office on Space Command HQ.

Horizon: Did you get involved in Blake's 7 fandom?

John: As much as I loved Blake’s 7, I was never really involved in fandom. I was a member of an early Blake’s 7 group called (I think) ‘Seveners’. It was run by a lady, whose name I’m afraid I’ve forgotten, who I believe became quite ill and was unable to continue running the group.

(Editor's note: This lady was Carole Fairman, who together with Pat Thomas, started Seveners - the first B7 fan club, and the precursor to Horizon. When Carole became too ill to run the club, Diane Gies and her sister Sharon came on board to help Pat - and the rest is history!)

John: I did go to a convention (with Jason Haigh-Ellery!) at a hotel somewhere near Reading, I think. I can’t remember a great deal about it, but I do remember that the guests, which included Paul Darrow, played a Blake’s 7 version of ‘Blankety Blank’! I accompanied Jacqueline Pearce to Deliverance ’98 and did a few interviews on stage there. That’s where I first met Stephen Greif, something he always remembers and mentions to me whenever we meet.

Horizon: You are good friends with Jacqueline Pearce; you've directed her in a play, and recorded an interview tape with her. How did you first meet her?

John: I wrote to Jacqueline when she was living in Cornwall, asking her for an interview for a fanzine called ‘Cottage Under Siege’. We met, first in London, and then I went to Cornwall to see her. We did the interview, but stayed in touch and became good friends. Casting her in ‘Deceptions’ and recording the interview tape with her all came out of our friendship. She’s an amazing actress, and she is always great to work with.

'Deceptions' was a two-hander play that focused on the relationship between a psychiatrist (played by Jacqueline) and one of her patients. The interview tape was made sometime in the late 1990s. I showed Jacqueline a clip from every episode of Blake's 7 that she appeared in, and she would comment on it, and share any memories she had of the episode.

Horizon: At Big Finish Day 2016, Cavan Scott announced plans that included full cast audios set in Seasons 1 and 2, and the recasting of Gan and Dayna. Will you be taking those plans forward?

John: When I took over as Producer on Blake’s 7, Cav handed over to me all his plans, which were for three boxsets of four stories. Two of these boxsets featured Blake. Unfortunately, very shortly after I took on the role, Gareth passed away, and this necessitated the abandoning of most of the Season 1 and 2 stories. I brought forward the Season 3 boxset, and one of the abandoned Blake stories was adapted to fit the Season 3 format. Some of the other abandoned stories have been re-shaped as short stories for a forthcoming anthology to be released by Big Finish later this year.

We had planned to re-cast Gan, but that was no longer necessary with the abandonment of the Season 1 and 2 boxsets. We have, however, re-cast Dayna with Yasmin Bannerman who is terrific. I should say that we did first invite Josette to return, but she declined.

I am, of course, very sad to not be working with Gareth on Blake’s 7, but I did have the pleasure of meeting him when he was starring in the ‘Dalek Empire’ series, and I directed him in ‘Return of the Daleks’.

Horizon: As producer, what themes would you like to explore in B7?

John: I’m quite keen on exploring more of the politics of the post-galactic war Federation – particularly as we know by the fourth TV series that Servalan is no longer president, and is believed dead. And, of course, I think there are interesting parallels to be drawn with Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency.

Horizon: Are you looking to produce more full-cast or smaller scale audios?

John: For the moment at least, we will be focusing on full-cast stories all set in the Season 3 timeframe. There will be a new boxset of four stories released every three months from July. Some of the episodes may well focus on just one or two members of the crew on an adventure of their own, but we will always have stories featuring the entire regular cast.

Horizon: What can you tell us about the forthcoming release?

John: The first boxset to be released has the subtitle, ‘The Spoils of War’ and will feature four adventures that slot into different points during the third TV series. The first episode, ‘Liberation’ by Steve Lyons, was intentionally written to focus on Dayna by way of reintroducing the character and Yasmin. This episode is set immediately after ‘Powerplay’. It had always bothered me slightly that Dayna seems to very quickly fall in to being a member of the crew, and I wanted an episode that showed more of a transition from her fiery independence in ‘Aftermath’ to her being more of a team player in ‘Volcano’.

Also set shortly after ‘Powerplay’ is Christopher Cooper’s ‘Outpost’ which is a Tarrant and Vila episode, and shows them getting to know each other. Sophia McDougall’s ‘Close Enough’ is set some time after ‘Rumours of Death’, and is very much an Avon and Cally episode. The final story is ‘Solus’ by George Mann, which is set later in Season 3, and features Servalan in a bid to acquire the Liberator.

Horizon: Sophia McDougall tweeted that in her episode Avon would sing ‘How Much is that Doggie in the Window’. Did he?

John: I’m afraid, due to copyright reasons, Avon doesn’t sing ‘How Much is that Doggie in the Window’ any more, but we did replace it with something else!

Horizon: Del Grant has been a popular returning guest character, and the Federation President, played by Hugh Fraser, has been a popular new character. Will they be returning, and would you consider bringing in other guest characters from the original series?

John: I’m certainly interested in bringing Del Grant back at some point, but for the moment I’d like us to concentrate on the crew as seen on TV – not least of all now that we have Dayna back. Hugh Fraser’s President may well make a return in the coming adventures.

Horizon: There have been interesting explorations of the backgrounds of some of the characters, bringing in some of their relatives, eg Vila’s father and Dayna’s mother. Will there be more of this type of drama, as well as action adventures?

John: I’m definitely keen to explore the characters of the crew in more detail. I think it’s the characters that make Blake’s 7 so interesting and enduring. So, yes, we’ll definitely be looking to show more of their history.

Horizon: Are there any plans to make B7 stories set in Season D? Glynis Barber has said she’d be happy to play Soolin again. If that’s not possible, would you consider having her back in her other role as the Season 1 Mutoid?

John: For the moment, the next few boxsets will all be set in Season 3. After the initial release I’ve mentioned above, all the stories will be set in the same time period – between ‘Death-Watch’ and ‘Terminal’ and will be consecutive, allowing for story arcs and character development. These box sets will be grouped in threes, giving a total of 12 stories, which will effectively be a ‘season’.

I think it’s unlikely, due to rights issues, that we’ll be setting any stories during the fourth TV series. However, it would definitely be good to work with Glynis – the Mutoid connection has certainly been considered. I’d also like to find a way of featuring Sally as Jenna, although the story continuity does make this tricky.

Horizon: Will there be something special for the 40th Anniversary next year?

John: Yes :-)

Horizon: And finally, the light-hearted question we like to end on: If you could take any B7 character to a bar or out to dinner, who would it be – and why?

John: This is a great question! After thinking about this, I quickly came to the realisation that it would have to be Cally. I think she would be an interesting companion and the easiest to have a conversation with - even if we disagreed on certain subjects, she would at least listen to my point of view.

Horizon: Thank you very much, John Ainsworth!


Click here for details about the forthcoming box set 'Spoils of War'.

Big Finish's range of Blakes 7 novels, audio books, The Liberator Chronicles and the full cast audio adventures are available here: B7 from Big Finish


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