Apparently it is acceptable these days to be a “Doctor Who”fan. Not so long ago “who” fans or “anoraks” as they were known were outcasts of society and as someone who mingled with these fans I am of the opinion that they should probably still be outcasts but who am I to pass judgement. My involvement with “fandom” began around 1992 when I made the leap from being someone who watched the show to someone who was involved in one of the many secretive cult like “Who” groups that were prevalent in the Cambridge area in the early 90’s. It all happened by chance really as this kid called Colin James (who these days is a popular karaoke performer in Harlow) introduced me to a guy called John Dorney at school. Colin and Dorney were both from the year above me and with an image to uphold at school I referred to them as “drama” friends rather than “Who” friends since conveniently they were part of both groups.
Dorney invited me one weekend to a meeting in Cambridge and it was there that I first realised that most “Doctor Who”fans were weridoes. The meeting was at a little terraced house down a back alley opposite an adult bookstore and on entering the safe house I was amazed to see about 30 grown adults packed into a tiny living room. Sitting in the centre of the room on a tatty old blue velvet armchair was an elderly looking man who was introduced to us all as “David Fisher the man who wrote many classic stories.” In reality he was a guy who wrote the scripts for a few lousy stories that were on TV in the mid 70’s but for these fans he may as well have been Tom Cruise or the Pope because basically he was someone who had been involved in the show. The meeting was really boring as the host an emaciated looking guy called Joe feigned interest in Mr Fisher’s sketchy recollections of the show and then subjected us all to a 4th generation pirate video of “Stones of Blood” on a tiny black and white TV screen that was perched above his fireplace. The story in question was about as badly planned and executed as the meeting and I’ve never watched it since and hopefully will never watch it again. Unsurprisingly after this tedious meet up Joe decided to disband the fan group and that probably should have been that but for some reason I had stars in my eyes and decided that it was time for Hertfordshire to have it’s own Doctor Who group.
I got together with Dorney and a dubious chap named Ian Richardson and pretty soon we convinced the local milkman, Dave Crerar to join with us and form a new and more powerful group. Richardson was an internet and publishing wizz kid, Dorney was a hardcore Doctor Who encyclopaedia and I was someone who wanted to get famous so the notion of trying my luck via Doctor Who conventions really appealed to me. Crerar didn’t really have anything to offer except for the fact he had a car which we once drove to the pub in but after I missed an appointment for a part time job at McDonalds which he had organised for me we never saw him again. Anyway before we knew it we had a monthly magazine “The Hourly Press” and started having meetings at Dorneys house for anyone who we could convince to show up. I found a few pretty normal folks from Hertford who joined our group whilst Ian went curb crawling in Cambridge looking for homeless people to fill out Dorneys living room. Probably the best thing about those early meetings was the location as Dorneys parents lived in probably the oldest house in the world. The ceiling was about 4 ft above the ground and held up with wooden beams that were probably relics from Noahs ark. At night Dorneys house came to life with all kinds of creeking and howling sounds which would all make for a great episode of “Most Haunted” but I digress.
After a few months I decided the time had come to cut the crap and start bringing in some celebrities so first on our radar was long time Doctor Who writer and script editor Terrance Dicks. The main reason I invited him was because I found his phone number in a copy of the North London telephone directory that my Dad had brought home by mistake from work and never taken back. Some times it just takes that little bit of luck to get the ball rolling ! We invited Terrance down to the old church hall in Sawbridgeworth because it only cost 25 quid to rent for a day and because it was near the train station so it wouldn’t be too far for him to walk. How cheap is that ? But it is the truth. Terrance was great entertainment as he told us all kinds of amusing anecdotes about his time on the show and even hung around for a few swift pints at the King Willy afterwards. Suddenly the local freemasons who frequented that pub had a bit of competition as there was a new weird and secretive group getting drunk that night ! At around the same time I managed to find a few other telephone numbers in “Who’s Who” which my Dad had also brought home for some inexplicable reason and returned.
I couldn’t afford to pay people for interviews so I called them and I would leave my old stereo tape recorder with a phone on speaker in one room and ask the questions on a cordless phone in the other room. It never failed to work as it seemed that BBC types had a hard time telling a sqeaky voiced kid to bugger off although there were a few times people weren’t too happy at my requests for interviews. Paddy Russell wasn’t best pleased when I asked to speak to “Mr Paddy Russell.” Apprantly she was a woman. One other very well known actor started to answer my questions before deciding that his ongoing argument with his (now ex) wife was proving to be too much of a distraction and finally hung up on me. I also felt a little awkward when I called a number asking for a certain Director and was told by his tearful wife “he just left me!” Nevertheless I spent several months randomly calling actors, producers, writers etc and the more I called people the more they directed me towards their friends or other minor celebrities that they probably thought it would be funny to harrass. I got a lot of good interviews for our magazine whilst Dorney got to work actually writing articles and Ian bribed shopkeepers in Cambridge to stock our ‘zine. Everything was going pretty well with the meetings as well. Ian had introduced us to a guy called Phillip Featherweather who always wore an egg stained tuxedo and lived in a Greek Orthodox monsatery as well as an array of other less interesting but fanatical characters. It was obvious by late 1993 that we were ready to take the next step and host a convention ……….
To be continued.