One of the things about science fiction fandom is that there are friends you only ever see at cons, who you may not even communicate with outside cons, who are yet good and dear friends you fall upon with cries of joy and take up the conversation with as if it had not been months since you last spoke. For me Gareth Thomas was not just one of these friends, but the one I'd known longest. Nearly twenty-one years ago I decided that it was time to go to one of these cons I'd been hearing about in books and magazines over the years, and when I checked the con listings in the small ads in one of those magazines, I found there would be one only an hour's drive away, with one of my favourite actors from one of my favourite shows on the guest list.
So I went to the con, and to Gareth's panels. He was funny, and thoughtful, and he appreciated his fans. When he wasn't in a panel he was in the bar, talking to anyone who wanted to stay and chat, about all sorts of things. He talked a lot of the craft of acting, and about live theatre, not just the tv shows that made him famous. He talked about other things as well, entirely unrelated to his job.
He did it again at the next con I went to where he was a guest - and with his actor's prodigious memory he remembered he'd talked to me before, even though I was a stranger he'd seen only once some months earlier. And so it went on, and somewhere between the cons and the stage doors and the theatre bars he slipped from being "actor I am fan of" to "friend I hang out with in the bar at cons". There are people who are not science fiction fans themselves, but who like hanging out with fans because they enjoy the sort of wide-ranging conversations fans have. Gareth was one of those people, and in turn fans enjoyed hanging out with him for reasons other than those that made him a guest of the con. I remember with fondness one bar conversation with Judith and Gareth that rambled through sundry topics with no connection to science fiction but of interest to fannish types, including the latest on the Sutton Hoo dig. He was quite literally the person I'd known first and longest in fandom.
I was still a fan of his acting, mind; as were other people in a group of us who used him as an excuse to have a theatre weekend outing every so often. I love live theatre, and was a Friend of my local theatre years before I ever met Gareth, but he was an excellent excuse to travel to theatres elsewhere and spend the weekend hanging out with like-minded friends. Gareth would occasionally join us in the theatre bar beforehand for a tea or coffee and a chat about the production. In particular he loved Shakespeare, and he loved making it more accessible to people. It would probably have amused him that I finally managed to set down the first few words of an obituary post while I was waiting in a theatre lobby bar to meet friends before we saw a new production of King Lear.
Most of my older books have at least a minor character who could have been played by Gareth were the book ever to make it to radio or tv. This wasn't subconcious. I didn't *expect* the books to sell to those markets, but writers aren't immune to the fantasy casting game any more than fans in general are. I am terribly envious of one of my friends who did get to hear Gareth speak her words in the form of a Big Finish recording.
Because the thing with Gareth was that he was a superb actor, capable of far more than the roles he was famous for. He was a pragmatic man who reminded us in those con panels and bar conversations that simple logistics meant that more people would watch him in one episode of Blake's 7 than would ever watch him live on stage in his entire career; but he was also a man who deeply loved his job and wanted to play as broad a range as possible. I saw him hold a room spellbound one evening at Redemption, when he had been given a panel slot to read his favourite scenes from Shakespeare. It had been intentionally scheduled against a big draw item in the main hall, so that those who went to the reading did so because "Shakespeare" rather than "Blake". One man, performing selected scenes from a book he held while perched on a table or chair at the front of a small conference room. No scenery, no effects, nothing but that beautiful and controlled voice. You could hear a pin drop. A different evening panel at a different con, but much the same thing - Gareth doing a voice performance in one of the side tracks in the programme. For one piece he wasn't even in the room. He went through the connecting door to the next room, so that we heard only the voice of a Welsh coal miner trapped after a cave-in. Nearly twenty years on, the hairs are standing up on the back of my neck just remembering that performance.
He was an actor I greatly admired. He was a significant part of how I got into con-going fandom, and thus a large part of my social life. And he was my friend, the person I'd known longest in fandom even if I hadn't seen him in some years. And I miss him every time I think "That would be a great role for Gareth" and then remember that I will never see him on stage again.
Mirror of http://julesjones.dreamwidth.org/314725.h