For anyone who was wondering when the “Doctor Who” story was going to be “continued” as promised …. now you know how it feels to be a “Jericho” fan. That being said here is the next installment ……….
Organizing a “Doctor Who” convention is harder than you would imagine. My first attempt at hosting one ended in dismal failure because I only sold one ticket (to Dorney). The sad thing was that I had actually convinced one of the actual actors who played the Doctor on TV to drive down to the St. Thomas More church hall in Harlow for a mere 100 quid. Given that the going rate at that time for convention appearances was about 1500 I was amazed that the actor in question agreed to attend for such a meagre fee. I don’t want to cause any issues with the actors union so to protect his anonymity we’ll refer to him cryptically as a man whose last name suggests he makes bread but his first name isn’t Tom. Anyway for some reason it didn’t occur to me to actually advertise the convention and so with a heavy heart I had to call back the star in question and tell him that the convention was cancelled due to lack of interest.
Some people don’t learn from their mistakes Paris Hilton, Briney Spears, Saddam Hussein or Kenny from “Southpark” for example. I on the other hand see the value in failure because it helps you to prepare better the next time around unless of course your failure was an attempt to prove that swimming with Great White sharks is safe but anyway the point I am getting at is that the next time I advertised the hell out of the convention. We didn’t manage to get a Doctor to attend because frankly we didn’t have the 1500 quid that a certain white haired scarecrow impersonator wanted and to make matters worse two of the other Doctors were already dead which meant they were very infrequent convention guests ! Well my thought was that if you can’t get the Doctor you get the next best thing, his assistant. Some people might even say an assistant trumps a Doctor particularly if you’re watching a “Carry On” film but anyway we were lucky enough to get two of the Doc’s onscreen companions to come. The offer of “travelling expenses” was enough to lure them. In fairness they probably thought that “travelling expenses” was code for “a small but adequate appearance fee.” If that was their assumption then they were in for a surprise because I was a man of my word and “travelling expenses” meant literally that as I painstakingly figured out the cost of petrol for them to get from their London homes to the site of the convention. I was cheap then and I am cheap today somebody has to be otherwise there would be no one to patronise the frivollous about their foolhardy ways.
We held the convention at my high school because it was larger and less expensive than any other location. I also thought it would be cool because the place was haunted and I was really hoping an apparition would appear in front of a celebrity. As ever I overlooked a few details in the planning and it was only on the day of the event that my Dad pointed out the fact that we had made no provisions for refreshments. This was easily solved as I ran to Sainsburys and bought some orange juice for the attendees and some wine for the the guests to get smashed on in the Biology lab we were using as the hospitality area.
As the day began the anoarks started to arrive and before long my school hall was full of odiferous greasy haired young men, a few bearded women, a couple of dwarves, 5 or 6 haemaphrodites and a herd of Tanzanian Wildebeast. Quite a motley crew. As you can imagine I didn’t tell any of my friends about this whole thing so I was a little mortified when someone from the local radio station showed up to do an on air interview with me. All the cool kids at my school were probably driving around town looking for pubs that allowed underage drinking when across the radio waves I was revealed to be a sci-fi loser. I got off fairly lightly as only about 17 or 18 THOUSAND people heard the bloody radio interview and went on and on about it for the next 5 years !
Whilst my social standing was descending to the level of a sub amoeba, the convention was starting to take off. Since I had recruited the guest speakers I basically let John Dorney interview the guests who I wasn’t as fascinated with and kept the big guns for myself. The interviews took place on the same school stage where only weeks before I had done a pathetic attempt at an American accent as Riff in the school play of “West Side Story.” Dorney had played a character called “Action” in the same show and I was afraid he was going to see some real action at the convention because I had him interview writer Gary Russell. Just before going on stage Russell had been browsing through a copy of our Fanzine which included a vicious attack on his career but none other than the same Mr Dorney who beckoned him on stage. Luckily either out of embarrasment or shame Russell made no mention of the article and kept the fans quite entertained or at least that is what I was told. I didn’t actually see the interview because I was trying to locate the next guest who had gone AWOL from the Biology lab. I eventually found her reclining on the back stairs that lead to abandoned school attic. The backstairs were notorious for two things; people kissing and people seeing the grey lady ghost that roamed the school. Either way it wasn’t a great location to be with a faded starlet who was blowing smoke rings and who was rumoured to have seduced unsuspecting fans at recent conventions. Now wasn’t the time for any bs so I abruptly told her she was needed on stage and then retreated rather rapidly to the safety of the hall.
The day moved along without too much drama until Sophie Aldred showed up and suddenly all hell broke loose. Sophie was one of those people who looked fairly attractive on TV but was much better looking in real life. That apart she was also still young and she didn’t smoke. Dorney was in the middle of asking John Woodnutt about filming at Loch Ness when word broke that she had arrived. The next thing I knew chairs, cups and bodies were being hurled around the room as the mob scurried after her. I didn’t have to wrestle anyone to get to her since I was the host and in fact she came looking for me. It was kind of cool having this chat with an attractive TV star in front of all these jealous Who fans. I felt like the coolest man in the town at that moment in time. In all honestly though compared with the average “Who” fan even a 700lb, two headed, mutant dwarf with leprosy would have seemed pretty cool with or without Miss Aldred but whatever I was the one who got to hang out with the celebrities for half the afternoon with only a couple of bunsen burners and the skeleton of a recently dissected rat for company. Terrance Dicks (who had survived an earlier visit to our fan group) and Barry Letts (who I had previously interviewed over the phone) arrived soon after and helped my Dad prove that when there is good wine available that even the most sterile of environments can serve a prupose as an impromtu bar.
All in all the day was a great success. There were a few uncomfortable moments like when Philip Featherweather (who as ever was wearing his egg stained tuxedo) got into a row with Barry Letts about which quarry one episode from 1973 had been filmed in. I always wondered what would become of weirdoes like him and recently I discovered he has put “Who” behind him and become a busker on the streets of Cambridge. I don’t know if it was the whole quarry thing that caused his life to change or the fact that nobody wanted to hang out with him anymore but either way there is at least the chance now that a rain storm might wash that yoke of his lapel.
When everything was done I ended up going to the pub with a group of sychophants who tried to attach themselves to me in the wake of the conventions success. I sat half listening to them harp on about how we could have another con and it would be bigger and better. Over their heads I could see Gary Lineker on “Match of the Day” and images of Eric Cantona and Manchester United were crying out to me “Ditch these losers….watch the footie……”. The voices won and not long after I cut my ties to “Doctor Who” fandom forever. I still have a book that is autographed by the various celebrities I met during that fateful year and they all wrote what seemed like pretty genuine messages about wanting to come back to any more events I hosted. It was not meant to be though. My world was a far cry from the pipe smoke filled rooms of the BBC where tweed jacket wearing boffins would read the “Guardian” and debate the merits of marxism. Without the anoraks and weirdoes I was nothing to them and so as quickly as the “Herts and Essex Borders Local Doctor Who Fan group”was born it came to an end.