Wine, Weirdoes and Wildebeast

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 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.


Outcasts of Society no more: Doctor Who fans

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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.

Doctor Who and the fake TARDIS



It is really sad that I am now old enough to talk in terms of things that happened twenty five years ago.   I was about 5 years old and Britain was in the grip of Thatcherism.  The football team were terrible and Michael Foot was making secret plans for Britain to join the Warsaw pact.  Times were hard for a 5 year old with ginger hair and a black school coat growing up in an era when duracell commercials ran on TV round the clock and gave bullies the great idea of associating me with the batteries slogan about “The copper coloured top.”  School was awful as we had a 2 foot tall four hundred year old Italian woman teaching us who could barely speak English and loved to smack us around with her mini ruler.  All in all it was pretty bloody miserable.

The one bright spot in my life was sitting down in front of the TV each week to catch the latest installment of my favourite show “Doctor Who.”  As you can imagine it came as quite a surprise when my Dad announced suddenly that I was going to miss a day of school so that I could go to London and meet the “Doctor” in person.   I assumed that the Doctor had come to Earth specifically to meet me and it wasn’t until about 5 years later that I put the pieces together and realised that it wasn’t real.  My Dad worked in PR for the Post Office and the powers that be decided to have a letter writing competition for kids.  To launch the campaign they would take a picture of a youngster delivering mail to the Timelord and my Dad savvy as he was managed to land that role for me.

It was always exciting to go to London but to meet my favourite TV star was something else.  The event was held at Hendon Police college where the Met train most of their bobbies.   The reason they chose Hendon was because there were actual Police boxes there which could easily pass for a TARDIS as far as most people were concerned.  I on the other hand wasn’t deceived.  The real TARDIS was bigger on the inside than the outside and furthermore it didn’t have any windows whereas this police box had two.  I tried to explain this to Nigel Fitt a fellow from my Dads work who accompanied me for the day.  He was one of those kind of guys who had a deep voice, curly dark hair, wore gold chains and smoked Cuban cigars.  He wasn’t a kid kind of guy and seemed to think that a wink and a pat on the head would make everything OK.  Not ruddy likely.  I was insistent that the “TARDIS” was not the actual Time travelling machine from the television show.  The poor old postman was probably wondering how he got roped into this gig with a whiny kid when the star of the moment arrived.  To most people he was known as actor Peter Davison.  As far as I was concerned he was “Doctor Who.”  Initially I was a little annoyed with him when he also tried to claim that the cheap replica police box was his actual time machine but after a while I accepted his story about disguising it from people.  The cameraman eventually told us to get into position and pose for our publicity shots.  I remember that it was really hard to focus because hundreds of trainee policemen started to gather around us.  Their instructor was angrily ordering them back into class but they were obviously Who fans and massed around the TimeLord trying to get into the snaps.  Anyone who didn’t know what was going on could have been forgiven for thinking that they had stumbled across a “Z cars” convention as the young coppers in their smart new blue Met issue sweaters gathered around.

Once we had taken the snapshots the Doctor asked us if we wanted a ride back to the Post Office HQ where my Dad worked.  Naturally we agreed as it’s not every day that you get chauffeured around by an alien/TV actor (depending on your point of view).  His car was amazing.  It had all kinds of digital displays and gadgets in it and it was blue !  OK that sounds pretty lame now but in 1982 any car with cushy seats and a radio was pretty flashy.  For me it was a nice change to ride around in a car other than my Dads beaten up old brown Ford Cortina.  You’ve heard of people leaving a trail of exhaust fumes as they jet off on vacation well never mind the fumes our family would leave the actual exhaust pipe behind when we left town.  That old car was a piece of junk but this car was something else.  It was the nearest thing to KIT on Knight Rider I had ever encountered and it seemed to travel at supersonic speed through the grizzly streets of London.  Sadly though it was time to say goodbye and the good Doctor left myself and my companions outside Post office HQ in London.

That was the last time I ever saw him but even worse it was the last time anyone would see that car.  The following day cricketer Ian Botham borrowed it to use in a charity car race.  Botham evidently wasn’t the greatest of drivers and he smashed it up.  I was furious when I heard about the crash on the news and I never watched a game of cricket again in protest.  In fairness I was on the lookout for a reason to avoid Britains dullest tradition anyway but I still can’t look at Botham without thinking about how he destroyed the Doctors car.  The sad thing is that my Mum who was a grown adult at the time also holds a grudge against Botham but then again she is the same person who claimed that Roman soldiers lived in our kitchen !

Good Doctor Who Interviews

Ray Brooks Interview

Victor Pemberton Interview