Jude Constable and Jackie Emery
David Richardson was an editor at Visual Imagination, working on Starburst, TV Zone and Film Review before he took over as line producer for Big Finish in 2007. According to the Big Finish website, David ‘makes everything happen, from script to the finished CD’. In addition to this ‘fairly gargantuan set of tasks’ he also has a creative role as producer of several of Big Finish’s Doctor Who ranges and has produced their Blake’s 7 output since the company acquired the licence in 2011.
Horizon: Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview on behalf of Horizon.
DR: My pleasure! Thank you for asking.
Horizon: Could you tell us about your role at Big Finish?
DR: I have two roles, really. As Line Producer for the company, I supervise the schedule for everything. I’m the one making sure it all happens – I’m in on project commissioning, and check that everything is on course from storylines to scripts to recordings to edits to reproduction. It would be straightforward, except at any given time we probably have about 150 things in different stages of production simultaneously. So a good memory is a huge asset in the role!
Then I’m also Producer in charge of several ranges – Blake’s 7, and over on Doctor Who – The Fourth Doctor Adventures, The Lost Stories, The Companion Chronicles, Jago and Litefoot, Counter-Measures and some new lines that are currently being worked on.
I start very early in the morning, finish very late at night, work most weekends. And you’ll never hear me complain because I love my job.
Horizon: What was your introduction to Blake’s 7? Did you watch the original broadcasts?
DR: I watched the series on its first TV run from The Way Back through to Blake, and I audio taped every episode (we didn’t have a video back then). So you see, for me back then, Blake’s 7 was an audio series after the original transmission. I loved the show: I liked the adult writing, the characters, the excellent performances from the lead cast, and never, ever in my wildest dreams did I think I might one day end up producing it.
Horizon: Do you remember any episode particularly clearly from when you first watched it?
DR: I think Shadow lodged in my memory, because I loved the whole Terra Nostra idea. Maybe we’ll return to them one day! And I adored Gambit - loved it! It was the first time Blake’s 7 dared to be camp and a bit crazy. I’ve not been brave enough to go that far yet with the audios, but maybe we will!
Horizon: What was your initial reaction to final episode, Blake? Did you really think they’d all been killed off?
DR: I did. And as much as it hurts, I think dead characters need to stay that way. I think it was extraordinarily brave of Chris Boucher to end the show in that way, but everyone remembers it don’t they? It had a huge impact.
Horizon: Were you involved in fandom when the series first aired? Did you attend any of the Blake’s 7 conventions back in the 1980’s?
DR: You know, I never got involved in Blake’s 7 fandom, and I have no idea why. I did attend one convention – I think it was in Chester – as I was a journalist for Starburst magazine and they sent me along to do a report and interview the cast. I was just bowled over by the friendships, the relaxed atmosphere, the interaction between the cast and the fans… More recently I attended the convention in Oxford, which was before Liberator Chronicles Volume 1 was out. It was exciting to pitch up with the first finished scene from Solitary and play it to the audience. Everyone looked so excited – that was immensely rewarding.
Horizon: Since you played that preview of The Liberator Chronicles Volume 1 to an audience of excited fans, two volumes of The Liberator Chronicles have been released, as well as two novels and the all-cast audio drama Warship. So what has the past year been like for you?
DR: Ha, ha – busy! Oh, so very busy, but rewarding beyond words. Both the first Liberator Chronicles and the first Blake’s 7 novel, The Forgotten, were a critical success and the sales were decent – certainly good enough for us to increase our output to four box sets this year. 2013 is the 35th anniversary of the series, and to celebrate that we have those four box sets, the full cast episode Warship (plus tie-in e-book novelisation), two novels and the audio-book of Paul Darrow’s Lucifer. It’s a lot of releases, and a lot of hard work for myself and the team, but I wanted to celebrate the anniversary in style!
We’ve now recorded all of 2013’s output and I couldn’t be happier with what we have. It’s a good sign when I personally cannot wait to hear the finished edits of some terrific scripts. And I think we have some amazing stuff coming up, thanks to some very talented writers.
Horizon: In Liberator Chronicles Volume 1 we heard narrations from Blake, Avon and Vila and in Volume 2 we also hear from Cally. What are the things you admire most about these characters?
DR: Actually, I admire all the characters. I think what Terry Nation did so well was to create a line-up of clearly defined, but disparate, principal characters. These are people who, in any other circumstances, would not be together, but they are forced by circumstances to work as a group and function – sometimes with a great deal of friction. It’s a recipe for excellent drama. I particularly like the relationship between Blake and Avon in the first two series, and that’s something I think Peter Anghelides embraces so well in Warship. There are some beautifully written scenes between them in that.
Horizon: What were the reactions to The Liberator Chronicles Volume 2 and the second novel, Archangel?
DR: Very good. I’ve met countless people at events who say they really like them, have bought them and have listened to them many times. The cast are all very enthusiastic and like the scripts, and media reviews have been really excellent. I’ve seen a few negative comments on line. Some of the criticism is justified and we work hard to improve them. Some of it comes down to, I think, personal taste and I can’t do anything about that – you can never make everyone happy. But if you were to ask me if the series has gone down well, then I’d say it has been a great success and that we’re enthusiastically working ahead into 2014 now.
Horizon: Jenna has now joined the other original crew members in the Big Finish audio productions. There are many (including Sally Knyvette herself) who felt that the character was underused in the TV series. What ideas did you have for Jenna when you started work on her episodes?
DR: We just set out to give Jenna the stories that she deserved. And that’s one of the joys of the Liberator Chronicles format, in that it places characters centre stage and makes them the star of the show. Having said that, even in the full cast episode everyone gets a major slice of the pie. I think Peter Anghelides has done a stunning job on it.
Horizon: There’s a tremendous amount of excitement about the whole cast recording of Warship. It’s quite a jump from the two-handed format you’ve used so far. Can you tell us how it came about?
DR: Warship was an idea I’d had since we got the Blake’s 7 licence, but I always thought we’d be doing it as a standard narration until Andrew Mark Sewell at B7 Media encouraged us to develop it into a full cast production. And from there it grew into something quite marvellous.
I am possibly more proud of this than anything else I have made. When I heard the first full edit, I had a tear in my eye as the end titles rolled. It just sounds like a Blake’s 7 TV episode that we’ve never heard before – and it’s one that I’ve always wanted to hear.
Horizon: How did you go about commissioning the script for something that would be so momentous? Did you know what you wanted it to be, or did you leave it to your writers to come up with ideas?
DR: I work both ways. Sometimes I’ll go to a writer and say “Pitch something to me”, but usually I have the germ of an idea I want them to play with. With Warship, the brief was a story set between Seasons B and C, a big space battle and a set piece. Everything else is Peter Anghelides and he’s done a fantastic job.
Horizon: Another thing that is causing huge excitement is the return of the character Del Grant in The Armageddon Storm. Can you tell us how that came about?
DR: Again, it was on my list of things I wanted to do when we got the licence. I wanted it to be a return that matters, hence the idea of doing a big story on the scale of an action movie – an epic three-parter! Del Grant is so fondly remembered, I didn’t want to bring him back in a small role – hence he gets a trilogy.
My only concern was whether Tom Chadbon would want to return to a role he played in one episode about 35 years ago! Thankfully the answer was yes, and he loved doing it. I mean, really loved doing it! He had a great time working with Paul for two days, and he sounded exactly the same as he did in Countdown.
Horizon: Without giving away the ending, might you consider bringing him back for future stories?
DR: I know Tom would be keen, and he was wonderful to work with (and he didn’t sound any different!) It would just depend on whether we had the stories for Del Grant.
Horizon: Were there any particular challenges with regard to developing Avon’s relationship with the Grants, together with the emotional implications that must bring, while remaining true to canon at the same time?
DR: Actually it’s so beautifully conceived in Countdown that I don’t think it was a challenge, no. It’s not challenging when a character and relationships are so brilliantly devised in the first place. You just have to work out where it goes next.
Horizon: Volume 6 of The Liberator Chronicles will contain Blake’s Story and Jenna’s Story post Star One. Are these are stand-alone stories or might we hear more about their adventures after they left the Liberator?
DR: They are standalone stories, which cover a big sweeping storyline and fill in a lot of information that was not revealed in the TV series.
Horizon: How do you approach a return to those storylines that are held in such high regard by a large body of fans?
DR: It sounds glib, but you just do it. Nick Briggs, who got me the job in Big Finish, told me when I joined: “When you make something, it’s always best to make it just like you would want to hear it yourself”. And he’s right. If you start trying to second guess how others might perceive it, then you get hung up in worries and compromises and, I think, make an inferior production. I just make the show that excites me.
Horizon: Fans are very excited that Tarrant will be appearing in a story in Volume 6 of The Liberator Chronicles. Can you tell us how Incentive came to be written, and about the return of Tarrant?
DR: I’m excited too. Steven is such a brilliant actor, in a show filled with brilliant actors, and I really wanted him on board. I have to thank Paul Darrow, who put in a kind word for us and put Steven and me in touch. I think it’s too early to say much about Incentive – or how it ties into Blake’s Story and Jenna’s Story.
Horizon: Tarrant’s character has sometimes been described as inconsistent. How did you approach it?
DR: I think it was only inconsistent because writers had seen Blake’s 7 before starting work, and confused Tarrant with the character of Blake. But that didn’t happen too often. We just tried to stick with the Tarrant as conceived by Terry Nation who – I will say time and again – created the most astonishingly brilliant line-up in this series.
Horizon: It is well documented that Steven Pacey deepened his voice when he made the TV series, because he was a young actor playing a character envisaged as older. Did that raise any issues?
DR: People’s voices deepen over time anyway. Steven made the character sound older and more authoritative than himself when he did the series.
Horizon: In Incentive, Paul Darrow and Steven Pacey are joined by a new character, Bracheeni, played by Adrian Lukis. What can you tell us about him?
DR: We are very lucky at Big Finish in that a number of very talented, high profile actors just like working for us. And Adrian is one of those – someone who will happily come in for a guest role, and who can play any number of different parts because he is so versatile. For Incentive we needed a really good, heavyweight actor to play off the combined power of Paul and Steven, and as always Adrian did us proud.
Horizon: Liberator Chronicles Volume 5 includes a story, Three by James Goss. Is there anything you would like to tell us about it?
DR: Three is about Servalan, and her ruthlessness. How far will she go to protect herself? I think James Goss’s script is phenomenal – a two-hander, centred on Servalan and a reporter. He thinks he’s got the scoop of his life – but it’s actually something far more sinister. Jacqueline Pearce just adores that script. She says it is the best Blake’s 7 script she has ever read, which is a huge honour. That was a very special day in studio.
Horizon: Of the Seasons A and B crew, only Gan has not yet featured. Very sadly, David Jackson is no longer alive to reprise his character. Would you consider re-casting Gan?
DR: No. I’m not really into recasting. We did it with Zen and Orac, bringing in Alistair Lock, but he had played the role before in the re-imagined audios.
Horizon: Is there a possibility of Dayna and Soolin returning?
DR: I know this will be unpopular with some, but I feel I’m making just The Liberator Chronicles, and so it’s unlikely the audios will go into Series D while I’m producing. I’d love to work with Glynis Barber at some point, but there are no plans for Soolin stories at present. I’d also love to work with Josette too, and if she’d like to step aboard for some Series C stories there’d be a very warm welcome for her.
Horizon: Apart from Del Grant, would you be interested in bringing back any other guest characters from the original series?
DR: Yes. We have recorded with another one, but it’s not out until 2014.
Horizon: In The Liberator Chronicles released so far, you’ve introduced two new characters – Nyrron and Lian. There have been two stories featuring Nyrron, and you’ve hinted at more to come. Might you also bring back Lian? Do you have plans to introduce semi-regular characters?
DR: I think a character’s return has to be governed by the story. Nyrron’s story is a big, sweeping mosaic that we will keep returning to. Lian’s story, I think, has been told. Which saddens me a little, as Beth Chalmers really is one of my favourite people on the planet.
Horizon: Are there any anecdotes from the recordings that you can share with us?
DR: As you can imagine, recording Warship was an absolute hoot – getting everyone together in the same room, playing those characters again after so long. And yet it was like they’d never been away. I remember a very funny out-take when Alistair Lock as Zen said something like “Alien vessels at 50,000 spacials and approaching”. And someone forgot to say their next line, so Zen ad-libbed, “And they’re a bit closer now…’ No one else spoke. “Getting very very close now… Nearly here…” and then someone realised they had a line!
Liberator Chronicles Volume 2 all went by in a blissful whirl! The Magnificent Four and Wolf were both big days, because we were also recording sections from other later episodes too. So we kind of knuckled down and got on with it, albeit in a relaxed and jovial fashion. I remember Gareth and Beth had a fun time on False Positive – I have a lovely photo of them being giggly, which I’ll send you to go with this interview.
Horizon: Is there any character that poses particular challenges for converting from TV to audio – or conversely one that is particularly easy to do and slots readily into audio form?
DR: I don’t think so. I think if you have the voice, then the image is in your mind because we know these characters so well. We’ve had fun building up the character of Gustav Nyrron, who will be back again after (or perhaps before) his appearance in Wolf. What’s interesting is that every listener will have a different visual of him. We know what Anthony Howell looks like, but what does he wear, etc? No two mental images will be the same.
Horizon: A lot of the humour of the original series was visual – for example, Blake and Vila at the beginning of Seek Locate Destroy, where they communicate effectively and amusingly just through their expressions. How would that be translated into an audio performance?
DR: The more I do this job, the more I’ve come to realise what really good actors can do with their voices, how they can play with subtlety and nuance. To work well with a microphone, as opposed to being on camera or stage, requires an actor to be a vocal technician – and these people are. So I feel we can do anything. The cast are giving us all that is required from the scripts, and so much more too.
Horizon: There were two audio releases in 2012 and there will be five this year. You’ve moved from the two-hander format to fuller cast audios. Paul Darrow has been commissioned to write three books and you’ve held a writers’ competition. What are your reflections – and how do you see things developing in 2014?
DR: It all feels great! We set out to make good, authentic and popular stories featuring the original Blake’s 7 cast and all signs are that we have succeeded. There are certainly no plans to reduce output in 2014. The future of the full cast audios relies purely on sales – if we can make them viable, we’d love to investigate more of them, and I have some great ideas for what we could do. So spread the word about them!
Horizon: Is there anything in particular that you think fans might like to look out for?
DR: I think the ending of The Armageddon Storm might be of interest to a number of fans.
Horizon: Would you interested in attending another B7 convention?
DR: Whenever the next convention happens, we will be there. Just try and stop us!
Horizon: And finally… if you could take any of the Blakes 7 characters to a bar, who would it be, and why?
DR: Ginka. I think I’d warn him not to get a job with Servalan.
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