Ben Steed was interviewed by John Lumb for FRONTIER WORLDS fanzine back in 1981. He spoke at length about The Harvest of Kairos. We are pleased to present the interview here with the kind permission of fanzine editor Peter Anghelides.
When you meet a writer like Ben Steed, it dispels any lingering visions of a writer as an intense University type. This is not meant to imply that he is unintelligent: he is a relaxed, friendly man. He is younger than I expected, quietly spoken, and his hair is fair and curly. It is obvious from speaking with him that he cares about his stories, but he is not consumed by them. In June we met in Reading, and we discussed his career, but in particular The Harvest of Kairos, arguably one of the best Blake's 7 episodes.
One of the most impressive things about this script was the 'fleshing out' of Tarrant. "Tarrant has changed a lot," said Ben. "In the beginning he was very hard and nasty. We (the Production Team) didn't think he carried very well. We tried to cheer him up, and make the character more light-hearted." I said that he seemed a very mercenary character. "But he's softened up," he pointed out. "The trouble was that, at the beginning, both Avon and Tarrant were hard characters...although Avon's ruthless, he's got a soft spot for Vila, which comes out occasionally."
Ben said that he found Vila and Avon interesting characters to write for. "In both my stories (The Harvest of Kairos and Moloch) we concentrated on Avon and Vila. What I like about Vila is that he's comic. Chris Boucher likes him too. He is a first class writer, and he's very strong on humour. The only character I had difficulty writing for was Cally, but that's all. There's a new girl coming in called Soolin: she's lovely. She's blonde and scrumptious."
I asked about the financial aspect of filming Harvest. "That story went out as number five. They seemed to have a fair bit of money then, but part of my brief was to make it a cheap one. They'll tell you how many sets you can have and how many model shots. You suss all that out before you begin. In a way it doesn't matter. You can spend a hell of a lot of money on something second-rate."
I asked him if he went along to the studio during rehearsals. "Yes, it's something I enjoy very much. Although I don't go to all the rehearsals. The first thing that they do is a read-through, which is approximately timed. If there are any lines which sound grotesque, they'll ask the writer to change them. I think a lot of writers go to the actual recording, which is fun. You see the thing taking shape."
I asked Ben how long it took him to write the script. "A month all told. My agent fixed me up with an appointment with the producer. He asked me what ideas I'd got. My ideas were that our heroes have got the most powerful spaceship in the universe, and Zen, the most efficient carrier of information in the universe, and Orac, who is just one stage from God. The bare idea was that if you can get your heroes out of the Liberator, then you've got the viewers rooting for David and not Goliath. My first problem was, how will the bad guys capture the Liberator, and how will the good guys get it back. The only brief I got was that it might be interesting for Servalan to have a romantic attachment."
Jarvik, the 'romantic attachment', was portrayed by Andrew Burt, who brought the character very much alive. Both Ben and I felt that it was a pity that Jarvik was killed off: but Andrew did have other acting commitments. "I think the cast were sorry to see him go."
Had members of the cast complimented him on Harvest? "Well, it's a convention for people within the business to come up to you and say 'I enjoyed doing that one' or 'that one was very good'."
Then Ben spoke about two incidents during filming when things didn't quite turn out as planned. The first happened with the creature that fed on Kairopan. "It was a sort of spider, I suppose. Anyway, there was an actor inside it, and he had to shuffle along on his hands. He came to this ditch, tried to cross it, and the whole thing just toppled over. He was trapped inside, and you could hear him swearing."
The second incident occurred when Jarvik challenges Tarrant to a duel. "Jarvik had to say, 'you can have the advantage' and then throw Tarrant a knife. Unfortunately, the knife embedded itself in Tarrant's shoe. Luckily, it did not go into his foot. It was the expression on Steven's face. He looked down at his foot and said, 'Some advantage!'"
"The next season will be worth watching. Somehow, from a position of total weakness (stuck on Terminal) they've got to get back to a position of strength. A lot has been learnt from making the previous three seasons. The model shots seem to be more convincing. I think it'll be the best season yet. Vere (Lorrimer) the new producer is full of enthusiasm, although David Maloney was never lacking it."
"It's like Coronation Street. People put it down, but it's enjoyed by millions of people every week. So it can't be as bad as it's made out to be."
Wise words indeed!
This interview first appeared in the fanzine FRONTIER WORLDS in 1981. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of editor Peter Anghelides.