Blake's 7 star Jacqueline Pearce dies, aged 74

Jacqueline Pearce as Servalan in Blake's 7 -
Jacqueline Pearce as Servalan in Blake's 7 -

Blake's 7 star Jacqueline Pearce has died at the age of 74 shortly after being diagnosed with lung cancer, her friend John Ainsworth has said.

The actress, best known for playing Supreme Commander Servalan in the popular BBC science fiction series, died at her home in Lancashire. 

Ainsworth told the Press Association: "She was outrageous, she was very honest and very straightforward, which didn't always go down very well, but you knew where you were with her.

"She liked a glass of champagne and liked everyone to have a good time with her, and of course she was a brilliant actress and everyone who worked with her remembered her very fondly."

Pearce was born in Woking, Surrey in 1943 and had a difficult childhood after her mother left the family when she was 16 months old – leaving her living between her father's house and that of a foster family. She trained at the stage school RADA and Lee Strasberg's Actor's Studio in Los Angeles, before embarking on her acting career.

She first rose to prominence in the mid-Sixties when she appeared in two Hammer horror films – The Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile. With her striking dark looks and classically trained delivery, she was a refreshing contrast to the often rather bland actresses who populated such schlocky fare and in The Reptile in particular, she gave a full blooded, rather touching performance as a young girl turned into a reptile when she joined a Malayan snake cult (really).

Indeed, Pearce was actually an actor of considerable depth and emotional range which was not often exploited. An exception was her performance in Measure for Measure (1979), part of the BBC Shakespeare series, in which she brought a sort of intense sexual power not often seen in the role of Mariana.

But these were eclipsed by her cult roles, particularly in the hit sci-fi series Blake's 7, in which she played the fantastic villain Servalan. Created by Terry Nation, who created the Daleks for Doctor Who, Blake's 7 lasted for four series, with Pearce appearing in all of them, and was shown on BBC One between 1978 and 1981. Her co-star Gareth Thomas died in 2016.

She also won new fans for her role as the evil Chessene in the 1985 story The Two Doctors which brought Patrick Troughton back to the role of the Time Lord (starring opposite the then-current Doctor Colin Baker as well as Frazer Hines’s Jamie McCrimmon, a companion from the Troughton era). The story was filmed on location in southern Spain and Pearce rose above the intense heat – and faintly ludicrous storyline – with gusto, becoming one of the most memorable villainesses in the show’s history.

She later returned to the Doctor Who universe, opposite John Hurt's War Doctor, in the Big Finish audio series.

In 1988, she made a strong impression in another time-travelling TV show, the chilling Moondial, in which she excelled as a cruel 18th-century spinster, Miss Vole (even if her 20th century role, that of ghost hunter Miss Raven) was a little underwritten).

She continued to act into the Nineties and Noughties, appearing in Russell T Davies’s Dark Season and Daniel Deronda, as well as on the West End stage in productions such as 2001's Dangerous Corner.

On Instagram, Davies posted a tribute to Pearce, saying: "What a woman. I worked with her on Dark Season, 1991. She walked into her first rehearsal – a room full of kids and a 15 year old Kate Winslet – and announced, 'Sorry I’m late, I was up all night f---ing a Russian priest.' Glorious. Night, darling xxx"