The life of Paul Darrow – as told by the man himself.
Paul Darrow, much like Richard E. Grant and many others, is an actor whose work has been defined by a single role. For some actors this sort of role is both a curse and a blessing but for Darrow it’s become the cornerstone of a long, storied, career. One that here he talks about at length.
Darrow has one of the best voices, and one of the most instinctively great delivery styles you’ll ever hear and both are put to full use here. This is one of the most respected British character actors of recent history telling his own story in his own words and it’s a confident, relaxed and often very funny read.
The first discs here cover Darrow’s childhood, early career and quietly rather odd time at school. Starting with the magnificently British moment of his father politely asking the Foreign Office whether there was anything they’d like him to look out for on a pre-World War 2 motorbike tour of Germany, these discs give you welcome context and grounding. Darrow’s childhood was defined by the ghost of World War 2, and the constant sense of unease, and feeling of something big happening somewhere nearby seem to be motivating factors in his life. It’s fascinating stuff, honest, funny and at times very moving. It’s also, typically for Darrow, free of punch pulling. No one escapes his sardonic eye, least of all himself.
Fans will, of course, want to hear about Blake’s 7 though and that’s where the second half of the set comes into play. Darrow talks with tremendous love and respect for the series and for Terry Nation and Chris Boucher in particular. He rightly points out how extraordinary it was for Nation to write an entire series of thirteen scripts and it’s interesting to note this is still something viewed as the exception rather than the rule. He’s also filled with praise for Chris Boucher, part of the glue that held cast and crew together and a man whose legendarily skewed, left of centre sense of humour and love of classic movies permeates the series.
Darrow uses the meteoric rise of the series as a lens to view his career through. What’s especially interesting is how similar his story is to Anthony Ainley’s, and how well scattered it is with other equally famous names. There’s a sense here of something similar to the Australian TV system; a large but still very familiar group of actors, writers and producers coming up through the industry together. It’s curiously reassuring at the same time as oddly poignant; Darrow is especially honest about the difficulties of filmmaking and how random chance has steered his career as much as choice.
That conflict between the steely eyed resolve Darrow is known for and the amiable, relaxed approach to his career is one of the things that makes this a fascinating listen. The ending in particular is very revealing, as Darrow talks quite openly about why he hasn’t talked openly about some things. Simply put, he doesn’t want to cause any trouble and his honesty about his insecurity is both self-aware and truly endearing.
Verdict: For a man best known for a character whose every line was a snarl, it turns out Darrow is a true gentleman. Or to put it another way, Avon may be Paul Darrow, but Paul Darrow is so much more than Avon. 9/10